10 of the Most Photographed creatures of the Great Barrier Reef

A loveable little orange clownfish named Nemo has a lot to answer for. The Great Barrier Reef has never been so popular since Nemo and his fabulously forgetful girlfriend Dory splashed onto the big screen. We understand why! You want to come to Queensland to find Nemo. Who doesn’t? But long before this cute clownfish made headlines, there were plenty of other marine species in Tropical North Queensland worth getting your feet wet for.

Here’s a few of our favourites.

Minke Whales

Sometime between May and August, dwarf minke whales migrate to Tropical North Queensland in what scientists believe is their place of courtship and mating. Thanks to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park authority, and strict controls, a number of tourism operators in Cairns and Port Douglas have permits to take tourists on a swim-with-whales experience. Their visits are generally short and always unpredictable so it’s a rare and very special experience to see these guys up close and personal in the wild.

Dwarf minke whale makes a close approach. Photo: Rob Prettejohn

Giant Cod

There’s one place in TNQ that’s famous for spotting this funnily-named, and questionably handsome fish. It’s the aptly-named Cod Hole, which is at Ribbon Reef, on the Outer Great Barrier Reef beyond Lizard Island. You’ll need to board an extended dive charter trip to dive with these gentle, oversized fish. They love photobombing scuba divers!

Tomato Rock Cod

Wild Dolphins

One of the pure delights of any boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef is the opportunity to see wild dolphins surfing the bow of the boat. Keep an eye out for fun-loving frolicking dolphins who view any boat as fair game for a bit of bow surfing!



There’s no doubt that diving with sharks is the sort of experience you’ll not likely forget. It’s right up there with bungy jumping and sky diving for adrenalin junkies. If you’re that way inclined there are a number of opportunities to dive with sharks in Queensland. A number of charter boat operators in TNQ offer shark diving off the northern Ribbon Reefs. Boats depart from either Cairns or Port Douglas.

Ask the team at our tour desk when the best tours are operating.

Whitetip Shark at Reef Edge
White tip reef shark by Wavelength Marine Charters


Coral Spawning

Just once a year, four to six days after the full moon each November, coral spawning explodes along the Great Barrier Reef. Tourists flock here to witness thousands of tiny sperm and egg bundles released in what is truly a spectacular display. A number of tourism operators depart from Cairns or Port Douglas offering night-time snorkel and dive trips during this time. Though the actual timing is unpredictable, tourism operators keep a keen eye on conditions and usually have a fair idea of when the coral is about to go off.

Gavin the Parrot Fish

Sometimes in Queensland, our fish are so friendly, we give them names, like Gavin the Parrot Fish. This beautiful Bluebarred Parrot Fish is the ultimate photo bomber – you can’t take a shot without him sticking his fin in somewhere. One of the best ways to meet Gavin is by taking the Seawalker experience on Green Island, which is located off the coast from Cairns.

Maori Wrasse

This big, beautiful fish, so named after its Maori-warrior like markings on its face, is also a bit like Gavin, a friendly photo bomber. You’ll find a couple of characters who have become a bit like old friends who come for a visit and never leave! Snorkelling or diving with these gentle creatures is a very special experience.

Humphead Maori Wrasse from Wavelength Charters

Giant Grouper

So it’s not the prettiest of fish, but few people realise that the Giant Grouper is actually the aquatic emblem of Queensland. Also known as the brindlebass, brown spotted cod or bumblebee grouper, you’ll find this slow swimming species pretty much anywhere there’s a coral reef. If you prefer not to get wet, then head to On the Inlet in Port Douglas to see George the Grouper come in for his nightly feed at this dockside restaurant.

Clownfish (aka Nemo)

Last, but by no means least, is Nemo, that friendly clownfish and his Pacific Blue Tang girlfriend Dory. You’ll pretty much find these two anywhere along the Great Barrier Reef where you can swim and snorkel. You might also remember Jacques, the cleaner shrimp from the movie. He can be found along the Great Barrier Reef cleaning stations.

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