Shark Bay's History

Shark Bay Shipwrecks

Shark Bay’s treacherous coastal cliffs and shallow bays have caused the wreck of numerous ships over the years. Whalers, cargo boats, fishing boats and pearl luggers have all come to grief, with some loss of life. A number of shipwrecks are of historic significance, including the Dutch merchant ship Zuytdorp (1712), the Norwegian whaler Gudrun (1901) and a lifeboat from the Kormoran, the German surface raider that destroyed the Australian warship HMAS Sydney in November 1941.

Tale of survival

While the whereabouts of some wrecks are known, most have never been found. The approximate location of many Shark Bay wrecks can be seen here. However, some shipwreck survivors’ camps have been discovered around the Shark Bay coastline.

One camp is associated with the wreck of the 335-ton French whaler Persévérant. Built of oak and sheathed with copper, she dragged her anchors in a storm and was blown ashore on Dirk Hartog Island in 1841. The 25-man crew struggled to Cape Levillain, on the northern tip of the island, where they camped in the sandhills for ten weeks. Five men died of scurvy and are buried on the island, but the others sailed four whale boats on a treacherous – and to some, fatal – journey to Indonesia. Archaeologists have discovered brass buttons, glass, ceramics, clay pipes and other artefacts at this camp site.

Shipwreck icon

Click here to see the Shipwreck Map.

Shipwreck fact sheets

  • Zuytdorp fact sheet link

    Discover more about the wreck of the Zuytdorp here.

  • Gudrun fact sheet link

    Learn the strange story of the Gudrun here.

Learn more about Western Australia’s fascinating maritime history at the Western Australian Maritime Museum. You can also discover more about Shark Bay’s shipwrecks at the Shark Bay World Heritage Discovery Centre in Denham.