Forget the Fab Four, the Fab Five are here! The Fab Five are 5 icons from Australia’s Commonwealth Marine Parks. These 5 icons are Southern right whales, Giant Australian cuttlefish, Australian sea lions, Great White sharks and White-bellied sea eagles.

There is a website about Finding the Fab Five. It can be found at .

Perhaps you already know a little about eagles, whales, sharks, cuttlefish and sea lions. These five species, however, have special characteristics of their own. More details about them all can be found on the Finding the Fab Five website.

There are 7 Commonwealth Marine Parks In South Australia (and 19 State Marine Protected Areas). These areas protect marine habitats and the species that live within them. Australian marine parks provide a safe place for marine species such as White-bellied sea eagles.

According to “Wildlife Fact File”, the White-bellied sea eagle, Haliaeetus leucogaster, is one of over 200 related species found around the world. According to ‘Bird card’ No.27 in the Fact File (African Fish Eagle), “There are at least 217 species in the family Accipitridae, among them the white-bellied sea eagle.”

According to iNaturalist , “There are an estimated 10 thousand to 100 thousand individuals, although there seems to be a decline in numbers. …… A field study on Kangaroo Island in South Australia showed that nesting pairs in areas of high human disturbance (as defined by clearing of landscape and high human activity) had lower breeding success rates. In the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, nests have been vacated as human activities have encroached on the eagles’ territories. Elsewhere, the clearing of trees suitable for nesting has seen it largely disappear ….”

Further, “The white-bellied sea eagle is listed under the marine and migratory categories which give it protected status under Australia’s federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. As a mainly coastal species, it is vulnerable to habitat destruction in Australia’s increasingly populated and urbanised coastal areas, particularly in the south and east of the country, where it appears to have declined in numbers. However, there may have been an increase in population inland, secondary to the creation of reservoirs, dams and weirs, and the spread of the introduced common carp (Cyprinus carpio). However, it is rare along the Murray River where it was once common. It is also listed as Threatened under Victoria’s Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988), with possibly fewer than 100 breeding pairs remaining in the state. On the 2007 advisory list of threatened vertebrate fauna in Victoria, the white-bellied sea eagle is listed as vulnerable.

“There are fewer than 1000 adult birds in Tasmania, where the species is listed as Vulnerable under Schedule 3.1 of the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995. In Tasmania it is threatened by nest disturbance, loss of suitable nesting habitat, shooting, poisoning, trapping, and collision with power lines and wind turbines, as well as entanglement and environmental pollution. Estuaries are a favoured habitat, and these are often subject to environmental disturbance. White-bellied sea eagles have been observed to increase their hunting ranges to include salmon fish farms, but the effect of this on breeding success is unknown. The white-bellied sea eagle was important to different tribes of indigenous people across Australia.”

Also according to iNaturalist, of 3954 observations world-wide, 2279 observations have been recorded in Australia, and just 87 of those observations have been recorded in South Australia. 33 observers have reported those 87 sightings. These South Australian figures are low compared to the national figures.

The Finding the Fab Five website provides a wealth of information about White-bellied sea eagles at .

Although White-bellied sea eagles are birds, they rely on our Australian marine parks for the fish and other food sources that they need to survive on. “It is the protection of the prey items within marine parks that make them an essential component in maintaining the safety of magical and threatened birds such as the White-Bellied Sea Eagle.”

The other four icons live in the protected waters of our Australian marine parks. These are Southern right whales, Giant Australian cuttlefish, Australian sea lions and Great White sharks.

The Giant Australian cuttlefish annual breeding aggregation near Whyalla remains under threat from fishing and development. It is imperative that we provide them with as much protection as possible via our Australian marine parks.

The same goes for the Southern right whales, Australian sea lions and Great White sharks. Each of them remain under threat from fishing and development. The southern right whales utilise Australian marine parks to safely migrate, feed and breed.

Australian sea lions at Seal Bay, Kangaroo island

(Taken by Steve Reynolds)

Over 80% of the total population of Australian sea lions are found in South Australia and 48 breeding sites are to be found along the state’s coastline. Over the last four decades, however, there has been a 64% decline in their population and there are now less than 11,000 Australian sea lions left, so protecting them is more important than ever.

Australian marine parks provide a safe place for marine species such as the Great White shark. Not only do the parks protect the sharks from fishing pressure, they provide all of the fish and prey for Great White sharks to eat.

Great white shark

(Taken by David Muirhead)

The Fab Four (The Beatles) only lasted for about a decade. We need the Fab Five to go on for ever, so please support our Marine Parks and help to protect all marine species, especially the five major icons – Southern right whales, Giant Australian cuttlefish, Australian sea lions, Great White sharks and White-bellied sea eagles.

For more information on the Finding the Fab Five project, please contact University of Adelaide researchers Professor Melissa Nursey-Bray ( and Dr Nina Wootton (

(Data for any of the Fab Five species can be found on iNaturalist.)

By Steve Reynolds

Steve Reynolds is the current President of MLSSA and is a long-standing member of the Society. Steve is a keen diver, underwater explorer, photographer and is chief author of the Society's extensive back catalogue of newsletters and journals.

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