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The Great Barrier Reef’s Great Eight and Where to Find Them

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Sandy beach along The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Travelers are aware of the famous Big Five on safari in Africa, but when exploring the colorful world of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, keep an eye out for the Great Eight.

They are known for inhabiting the wide expanse of the Great Barrier Marine Park and whether scuba diving, snorkeling, or riding in a glass-bottom boat, you can get up close and personal with the remarkable visions that demonstrate the marvels of the marine world.

With some of the most popular marine animals that call the coral reef home, you can experience the splendor and hidden charms of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef during your trip.


  1. 1. Clownfish
  2. 2. Sharks
  3. 3. Manta Rays
  4. 4. Maori Wrasse
  5. 5. Potato Cod
  6. 6. Giant Clam
  7. 7. Turtles
  8. 8. Whales
  9. Ready to Plan Your Great Barrier Reef Trip?

1. Clownfish

Clownfish on purple anemone in The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The clownfish is one of the Great Barrier Reef’s most popular marine animals. Its bright orange and white colors stand out against the purple tips of sea anemones rustling in the ocean current.

Ever since Finding Nemo landed in theaters, clownfish have become one of the biggest celebrities of the coral system. They prefer to settle in sheltered reefs and shallow lagoons, protected by the swaying tentacles of sea anemones.

Best Places to Find Clownfish: Magnetic Island | Lady Musgrave Island | Green Island | Whitsunday Islands

2. Sharks

Woman snorkeling with large whale shark in The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The world’s oceans host 370 species of shark and the Great Barrier Reef supports a smaller variety of uncommon species, such as tiger and hammerhead sharks, as well as more common species like the blacktip shark, grey reef whaler, and white tip reef shark.

The majority of sharks that call reef systems home are not harmful to people and are an important part of the entire ecosystem. No matter the type of shark, they remain an exciting and cherished vision of marine life at work for scuba divers and snorkelers.

Best Places to Find Sharks: Whitsunday Islands | Osprey Reef | Prudhoe Island | Heron Island

3. Manta Rays

Manta Ray in The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The largest of the ray family, manta rays resemble gigantic birds, using their enormous wingspan to propel them. Mantas glide gracefully and despite rumors or misrepresentations, they are harmless and better known for their acrobatic stunts in and out of the water. Unlike their cousins, stingrays, manta rays do not have barbs. They generally travel alone across long distances in search of plankton and fish larvae, demonstrating their grace as they fly through the water.

Best Places to Find Manta Rays: North Stradbroke Island | Manta Bommie Dive Site | Lady Elliot Island

4. Maori Wrasse

Aerial view of channel through Hardy Reef in Australia

Hardy Reef, Australia

The giant, endearing, big-boned Maori wrasse loves to play with scuba divers and snorkelers like a puppy greeting its owner. They tend to follow newcomers around like faithful friends on the Great Barrier Reef. The large fish can grow over six feet long and weigh nearly 400 pounds. Juveniles prefer the sandy, shallow ranges around the interior reef, while full-grown Maori wrasse linger around pontoons on the outskirts of the reef where the seafloor slopes.

Best Places to Find Maori Wrasse: Lady Musgrave Island | Port Douglas | Hardy Reef | Blue Pearl Bay

5. Potato Cod

Potato Cod by corals in The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The potato cod has a curious personality, studying scuba divers and snorkelers with a skeptical, attentive eye. They aren’t afraid to get close and start an intimate dialogue, with their wide mouths constantly opening and closing.

Their giant gills flap in the water as they move. They can reach up to eight and a half feet long and weigh up to 240 pounds to create an intriguing and even intimidating introduction as they edge closer to you during a scuba dive or snorkel session.

Best Places to Find Potato Cod: Cod Hole | Osprey Reef

6. Giant Clam

Giant colorful clam in The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Giant clams are the only marine animal on the list of Great Eight that do not move, instead fastening themselves to the reef for their entire existence. The exterior resembles a boulder or rock protruding from the colorful coral system.

When the clam opens its jaws it exposes a captivating interior, often considered its soul. Kaleidoscopic colors are visible when the clam’s jaws open, all surrounded by its nearly 4-foot tall frame.

Best Places to Find Giant Clam: Lizard Island | Flynn Reef

7. Turtles

Sea turtle in The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Six of the world’s seven seafaring turtles make their homes along the Great Barrier Reef. Instinct drives the turtles to the shores each year, where they mate in the shallows along Queensland’s eastern beaches.

The six species of turtles found from north to south along the coral network are loggerhead turtles, green turtles, hawksbill turtles, leatherback turtles, Olive Ridley turtles, and flatback turtles. While the species are different, their nesting timeline along the eastern seaboard is similar.

Best Places to Find Sea Turtles: Mon Repos | Lady Elliot Island | Heron Island | Fitzroy Island

8. Whales

Whale jumping at the Gold Coast in Australia

Gold Coast, Australia

The largest attraction of the Great Barrier Reef in terms of size, whales explore the marine playground, with a variety migrating through the warm waters of the Coral Sea when venturing to and from the Southern Ocean.

The most commonly spotted whale species include minke and humpback. The dwarf minke and humpback whales are common in the warmer waters of north Queensland in the winter months. Seasoned whale-watchers share stories of humpback whales leaping from the water or reaching their fins out from under the surface of the sea.

Best Places to Find Whales: Hervey Bay | Gold Coast | Cairns | Sunshine Coast | Point Lookout

Ready to Plan Your Great Barrier Reef Trip?

Scuba diver with potato cod in The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Visiting the Great Barrier Reef is an adventure that allows you to explore marine life in a new and exciting way. With colorful coral and vibrant life spanning an exceptional breadth of Australia’s eastern seaboard, a trip to the reef can give you soft sands, sightings of exceptional wildlife, and underwater adventures unlike anywhere else in the world.

Find inspiration for your best trip with our Australia Tours & Vacations and discover more information with our Australia Travel Guide.

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