The sound covers an area of and varies in depth from to . The sound is bordered by the mainland to the north, by Vancouver Peninsula on the west, and by Bald Head and Flinders Peninsula to the south. Although the sound is open water to the east, the waters are partially protected by Breaksea Island and Michaelmas Island. There are two harbours located within the sound, Princess Royal Harbour and Oyster Harbour, each receive excellent protection from winds and heavy seas. Princess Royal Harbour was Western Australia's only deep-water port for around 70 years until Fremantle Harbour, south of Perth was opened.
King George Sound was first discovered in 1791 by the English explorer George Vancouver, Vancouver named it after the reigning monarch, King George III.
The next Europeans to visit the Sound were whalers Capt. Dennis of The Kingston, and Capt. Dickson aboard The Elligood who caught three whales in August 1800. This expedition left an inscribed piece of metal behind to be found by Flinders crew in the following year.
Nicholas Baudin arrived in the sound in February 1803 aboard Le Geographe to rendezvous with Louis de Freycinet aboard the Casuarina before doing further exploration of the West Australian coastline. During the course of their stay the ship's naturalist, Francoise Peron, collected 1060 new species of shellfish and a large number of starfish from the sound.
Phillip Parker King visited the Sound in 1818 aboard the cutter Mermaid while en route to conduct a nautical survey of the North West Cape, and Frenchman Dumont d'Urville visited it in 1826 aboard the Astrolabe.
On December 25 1826, the British ship Amity, under the command of Major Edmund Lockyer, arrived at King George Sound to establish a military outpost. Lockyer named his settlement "Fredrickstown", but this name never gained wide acceptance. Instead the settlement and surrounding locality were usually referred to as King George Sound. In 1832, Governor of Western Australia Captain (later Admiral) Sir James Stirling declared the settlement a town and renamed it Albany, but the broader locality continued to be referred to as King George Sound for many years.
Until the construction of Fremantle Harbour in 1897, King George Sound contained the only deepwater port in Western Australia, and so was the favoured location for delivery of mail and supplies from abroad to Western Australia. These were then transported to Perth and Fremantle by road or coastal shipping until the early 1890s, when the completion of the Great southern railway provided a quicker service.
In 1914, King George Sound was the last Australian anchorage for the fleet taking the first Australian and New Zealand soldiers, later to become known as ANZACs, to Europe. A memorial to the ANZACs of the Desert Mounted Corps has been established on top of Mount Clarence. Albany was where the first commemorative dawn service was held on ANZAC Day, 25 April, 1923. The contribution of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, president of Turkey from 1923 until 1938 is recognised by naming the entrance into Princess Royal Harbour as Ataturk Channel.
The Cheynes Beach Whaling Company began operating out of Frenchman's Bay that is located within the Sound in 1952 with a small quota of 50 humpback whales that was eventually increased to 175. At the peak of the whaling activity in the Sound the company was taking between 900 to 1100 Sperm and Humpback whales in a year. Humpback whaling was banned in 1963 which in turn decreased the viability of the operation. In 1978 the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company closed down after increasing environmental lobby group pressure, it was the last whaling station in Australia.
The fringing vegetation around the sound includes both the saltmarshes of Oyster Harbour and Princess Royal Harbour, and the sandy beach vegetation. Saltmarshes contain a variety to species including samphire, seablite, astartea, wattle, greenbush, shore rush, twig rush and saltwater paperbark Freshwater species also occur in areas where substantial freshwater seepage occurs. Sandy beach areas contain a mix of shrubs and sedges such as the grey white cushion bush, coast sword sedge, knotted club rush, sea rocket, pigface and false caper.
A large, wild mussel population was known to exist in the sound, and now commercial mussel farms operate within the area that grow and harvest Blue mussels. It is estimated that 203 species of fish inhabit the Oyster Harbour, Princess Royal Harbour and King George Sound, with Australian Pilchards Sardinops sagax neopilchardus making up 97% of the total fish catch. Other species that are commonly found include Australian Herring, leatherjackets, cobbler, King George Whiting, Tailor, Australian Anchovy, Garfish, Sand Trevally, Tarwhine, Flathead, Tuna, Snapper, Australian Salmon, Yellowtail scad, Sea Mullet, Striped trumpeter, Long-toothed flounder, Dusky morwong and Long-finned goby.
Seals are known to inhabit the sound in various locations along the coast and on the islands. The species that are sighted most often are the Australian Sea Lion and the New Zealand Fur Seal. Species that have been sighted, but are considered to be occasional visitors, include the Subantarctic Fur Seal and the Leopard Seal.
Dolphins are also found in the area, and are occasionally caught and drowned in fishing nets or stranded. The Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis and the Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates have both been recorded in the area. Southern Right Whales and Humpback whales frequent the area between the months of July and October when they congregate to mate and calve in the protected waters of the sound. Other whales that have been spotted in the area include Minke Whales, Blue Whales, Short-Finned Pilot Whales, False Killer Whales and Killer Whales. Sperm Whales were known to visit the sound during the whaling era but none have been sighted recently, although a pod was detected further out in the Southern Ocean in 2002.
The sound becomes a perfect habitat for migratory wading birds during the summer, when an estimated 2000-3000 birds flock to the area to feed in the shallow mudflats of the harbours. Some of the species that can be found during the summer months include the Red necked stint and the red knot as well as sandpipers, Grey Plovers, red capped plovers, Lesser Sand Plovers, grey tailed tattlers, whimbrels, common greenshanks, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, White faced heron and stilts. Other birds that are commonly seen around the sound include cormorants, pied oystercatchers, sooty oystercatchers, Pacific gulls, caspian terns, pelicans, osprey, white bellied sea eagles,
King George Sound includes many islands and some islets, these are all composed of granite with accumulations of soil on most.
Islands of note include:
The tidal range in King George Sound (including Princess Royal Harbour and Oyster Harbour) is with spring tidal range of . Tidal levels can remain static for periods of time. Semi-diurnal tides are frequent and diurnal tides are occasional.
The temperature of the water in the sound is slightly different to that of the open sea.
|Location||Mean Summer Temp (°C)||Mean Winter Temp (°C)|
|King George Sound||20.5||13.6|
The salinity level within the Sound remains relatively constant ranging between 34.8 to 35.5 '‰' , the lower levels occurring during heavy winter rain events when large volumes of freshwater enter the sound from the King and Kalgan rivers.
The former whale chaser, Cheynes, was sold for scrap in 1961 and subsequently sunk between Michaelmas island and the northern shoreline of the sound. Another chaser in the fleet, Cheynes II, was blown ashore on Geak Point near Quaranup in Princess Royal Harbour in 1990 and is still there to this day approximately off-shore.
A wooden Barque, the Fanny Nicholson was being used as a whaling vessel when it was run ashore during a gale in 1872, the remains can still be seen in the shallow water in Frenchman's Bay. Another whaling barque, the Runnymede, met a similar fate in 1881 when it was also driven aground during a storm in 1881.
Two wrecks located within the sound are protected by the Department of Matitime Archeology at the Federal level, these are the wooden Barque Athena that was sunk in 1908 and the Wooden boat Elvie that sunk in 1923.
In 1868, Northumberland, a wooden Barque laden with 2000 tonnes of coal was grounded on a reef off Bald Head near the entrance to King George Sound. The ship was eventually freed and sailed into the sound with a broken rudder, the crew eventually abandoned ship and took to the life boats. Northumberland foundered and sunk between Cape Vancouver and Breaksea Island.
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