Shark Bay History
Shark Bay was discovered on 25 October 1616 by Dutch Captain Dirk Hartog who stepped ashore at Cape Inscription (Dirk Hartog Island) to become the first recorded European to set foot on Australian soil. An engraved pewter plate was nailed to a wooden post to record his historic visit for posterity.
Dutch Captain De Vlamingh revisited the site in 1697. He was followed two years later by buccaneer William Dampier - the first English Captain to explore the West Australian coast. Dampier bestowed Shark Bay with its present name in July 1699 before sailing for Timor.
The French followed in Dampiers wake. In 1772 Captain Louis-Francois Saint Alouaran arrived at the northern tip of Dirk Hartog Island (Turtle Bay) and formally claimed the continent for France two years after the British claimed Australia at Botany Bay. In 1801 a French scientific expedition under Captain Nicholas Baudin aboard the Geographe arrived in Shark Bay. Accompanied by the vessel Naturaliste, Captained by Emmanuel Hamelin with anthropologist Francois Peron aboard, the ships explored and chartered a wide area of Shark Bay. Many landmarks and coastal features carry French names to this day.
The guano, pearling and pastoral industries came to prominence in the Shark Bay area during the 1860s. Captain Henry M Denham aboard HMS Herald completed charting the entire Shark Bay coastline in 1858. The town of Denham is named in his honour. American whalers also visited Shark Bay from as early as 1792. By the turn of the century the guano and pearling industries had collapsed and the pastoral and fishing industries were the mainstay of the local economy.
Sandalwood has also been exported on and off for over 100 years with the first shipment going to south east Asia in the 1890s. Today the Monkey Mia dolphins, fishing, salt production at Useless Loop, pearl farming and tourism, are the main industries within Shark Bay.
The area became World Heritage listed in 1991 and Marine and National Parks cover some 2.2 million hectares.
The Aboriginal name for Shark Bay is “Gathaagudu” meaning “two bays”. The Aboriginal people of the Shark Bay area are descendants of the Malgana tribe. They are the traditional owners of the Shark Bay area and are one of twelve language groups to be found in the Yamatji region which extends from Exmouth in the north, to Dongara in the south and across to Sandstone in the east.