06th November, 2023

The Swan River is home to a surprising variety of fish, birds and animals. While some of them will be hiding in the water’s depths, several species of wildlife can be spotted on a cruise up or down the Swan River. So, keep your eyes peeled as you cruise along the water and see how many of these animals you can spot.

1. Black swans

Black swans
Black swans

The name of the Swan River will give you a clue about one bird you can hope to see on your cruise! The Dutch captain who gave Rottnest Island its name, William de Vlamingh, also christened the Swan River after observing its majestic black swans. Unlike their European counterparts, black swans have mostly black plumage, except for the white feathers under their wings. Despite being found over much of southern Australia, the black swan is iconic in Western Australia. It’s the official bird of the state and features on its coat of arms.

2. Swan River dolphins

The Swan River is home to a pod of 20 – 25 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. These highly social marine mammals form close networks and can live up to 40 years. Swan River dolphins spend part of their time in the waters along Perth’s coastline and part of their time in the estuary. They are generally found in deeper water where they can catch fish but have been seen as far up the river as Caversham. We sometimes spot them from our Barrack Street Jetty office. But the best place to keep an eye out for them on your cruise is around Fremantle Port.

3. Australian pelicans

Australian pelican
Australian pelican

One of the Swan River’s most easily spotted birds is the Australian pelican. These large water birds are smaller than other pelicans. Their wingspan grows up to 2.6 metres compared to the 3.6 metres of Dalmatian pelicans. However, they have the longest bill of any living bird, measuring an average of 42 – 46 centimetres long for males. Australian pelicans are highly nomadic, following the availability of food. While often seen standing on the rocks under the railway bridge at Fremantle Port, pelicans can be spotted right up and down the Swan River.

4. Bull sharks

Like all ecosystems, the Swan River also has its predators. Bull sharks are the apex predator of the Swan River, preying on fish, turtles and even dolphins. Unlike other sharks, bull sharks can live in the brackish waters of estuaries and have been caught as far up the river as the Swan Valley. They grow to an average size of 230 cm and can live approximately 50 years. Despite the fear that sharks can instil in swimmers, shark attacks in the Swan River are rare.

5. Cormorants


As you cruise along the river, you’re sure to spot cormorants ducking under the water or drying their wings on the riverbanks. As the cormorant’s feathers aren’t water resistant, they fan them out to dry while perched on land. In Noongar culture, cormorants transport the souls of the dead to their final resting place.

6. South-western snake-necked turtle

In fresh waters upstream of the Swan River, you might be lucky enough to spot a south-western snake-necked turtle. These small turtles with elongated necks spend the summer in hibernation in underground burrows or beneath leaf litter or fallen trees. Once the rain arrives in winter, they venture out to feed and lay their eggs. Sometimes they can be spotted crossing the roads around wetlands and the river as they search for new habitats.

7. Western Australian seahorse

In the shallow, silty waters in the lower areas of the Swan River, the Western Australian seahorse uses its tail to hold onto ropes and seagrass around jetties and boat moorings. They are slow moving but camouflage excellently with their surroundings. So probably you won’t actually see a Western Australian seahorse in the Swan River, but isn’t it nice to know they are there?

8. Brown jellyfish

Brown jellyfish
Brown jellyfish

One of the most common creatures to see in the Swan River is brown jellyfish. Look over the edge of the boat and you’re bound to spot some bobbing around to the flow of the water current. Brown jellyfish prefer salty water, so they are particularly prevalent in summer and autumn. While their long tentacles don’t produce a painful sting, it’s still best not to touch them.

9. Swan River fish

Up and down the river, you will see people relaxing on the riverbanks with fishing sticks in hand. Plenty of people throw in a line in the hope of catching dinner from 130 different species of fish found in the Swan River. Some of the fish that live in the Swan River include mulloway, whiting, black bream, tailor, flathead and flounder.

10. Blue manna crabs

As you cruise under the bridges along the Swan River, you may notice some signs warning readers not to eat mussels or crab guts from the river. Blue manna crabs are a popular catch in the Swan River, so popular that limits are placed on how many crabbers can take home. While you won’t have the chance to throw in a crab net on your Swan River cruise, there are plenty of seafood restaurants in Perth that serve up these delicious crustaceans.

For an urban waterway running through a busy metropolitan area, the Swan River is home to a surprising array of life. As you admire the views from your Swan River cruise, be sure to keep an eye out for the birds, fish and marine wildlife that call the river home.

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