Rakali on Geelong’s waterfront
Many visitors to our floating Christmas Tree on our waterfront during the early evenings often saw ruffles in the water, or even spotted a strange creature swimming along. Some of these visitors even remarked that the animal looked like a rat or even a small otter.
The animal seen was more than likely a Rakali (Hydromys Chrysogaster), a native rodent that is very common around calm shallow waters in the eastern parts of Australia and even into New Guinea. The Rakali is quite at home living around our bay and waterways.
Up close the creature looks much friendlier than a rat, it has small eyes, tiny ears and lots of busy whiskers protruding from its flat face. The Rakali has webbed feet and a thick waterproof fur that is usually brown to black with orange to cream underbelly. The creature’s body can grow to a length of about 370 mm and its white tipped flat tail can grow nearly as long.
The animals usually live for about 3 – 4 years and breed between September and March. The Rakali usually gives birth to between 3 and 5 young and can breed several times a year depending on the food source in their habitat.
The territorial males are nocturnal, so they are mostly seen coming out in the early evening to search for food. Their diet consists mainly of small aquatic life including fish, insects, crabs and even eggs.
The Rakali are fairly solitary, so it will be unlikely you will see large numbers in any one place. They are usually fairly shy, but if you sit quietly the Rakali will usually go about its business and you can get a good look at them as they swim around or forage for food.
The Rakali is also known as a water rat, but in 1995 the indigenous Rakali name was given to the animal help positively lift its profile and to differentiate it from the unpopular rat. The Rakali is one of only two amphibious native animals in Australia, with the platypus being the other.
During the depression years the Rakali was heavily hunted for its beautiful thick fur, today the creature is protected and populations are estimated to be substantial. Like many of our small native animals they are prone to pollution and predators like cats, foxes, eagles and even snakes.
Now that our Christmas Tree has been packed up and put away until our next festive season the Rakali will still be fossicking and swimming around the Geelong Waterfront. One of the best spots to try and see them is in the shallows near Cunningham Pier and around the Blue Lights that shine under the Carousel landing.
Close up photos by Andrew McCutcheon thanks to www.rakali.com for their help.