Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wildlife Wednesday - dolphins

Nicky, the dolphin, who visits daily and is in her 30s
It's always been a dream of mine to go to Monkey Mia, Western Australia, and see the dolphins (well, as a dream, it was more like swim with the dolphins and find out I'm the world's greatest dolphin whisperer - all due to a crazy woman at Sea World when I was 18 but that's another story!). In August, I went and it was better than my dreams.

70 people stood along the shore waiting for the dolphins on the morning I went (and that's a small crowd). We weren't allowed in the water, unless directed. We were not to touch the dolphins or make a lot of noise or splashing. There were quite a lot of 'rules' and only a few DEC staff to enforce them. And do you know what? People obeyed. People were lovely. People were in awe of the dolphins. People of all nationalities, all manner of tongues, stood there and admired nature's beauty. And that's what impressed me more than anything else. The dolphins made humans behave (yes, I'm a horrid cynic about people on mass).

So let me share some of the Monkey Mia story.

In the 1960s fishermen started feeding the dolphins when they came in. The dolphins began to expect the fishermen and waited for a feed - easy feeding here!

Dolphins can be identified by body markings or nicks and cuts in their fins. One dolphin, Holeyfin, was identified for over 20 years appearing every day for a feed. In 1995, she was found dead from a stingray barb to the heart (like Steve Irwin), she was 35 years old.

Nicky and her calf (near side, halfway down body)
Her daughter is Nicky, who is in these photos. Nicky comes daily for a feed and has lost many of her calves due to her need to be in shallow water to feed. Calves can only feed in deeper water and want to suckle every 10 minutes - yep... imagine that!? (I think they can manage not suckling for a longer period, especially when older but not sure of this!) On the morning we were there, her calf kept coming in to get her to go out and feed him/her but she wasn't interested until she got fed, which took about 30 minutes.

Sometime in the late 1990s-early 2000s, DEC (Department Environment and Conservation; or whatever they may be called now as that was changing) changed the management of Monkey Mia, which had been run to suit humans and not dolphins. Research had shown some of the ways Monkey Mia worked was terrible for the dolphins (causing stress, making females lose calves, etc). So now, rather than people all feeding the dolphins heaps of fish, all in the water and making a lot of noise, a DEC staff member walks up and down the line of people standing in the shallows and talks about the dolphins. Nicky follows the DEC staff member until the fish are thawed and then a selection of the crowd are invited to feed 3 fish to whichever dolphins come in for a feed (on our morning there were 3 dolphins to feed - Nicky, Puck and Surprise).

This means the dolphins aren't stressed, they get their feed (but they still need to go hunting to get their quota for the day - which means they teach their young to feed and hunt), they aren't chased by people, people get to see and photograph them up close, and the females go back out to deeper water to feed their calves. Win-win.
Dolphin and calves

So from 8 am to 12 noon, there are 3 feeding periods for the dolphins. We went early and caught the first sighting and first feeding. I expected I'd want to stay for the whole show, but I didn't. I'd seen the majesty of the dolphins, I'd experienced the best of humanity, and I was happy to head off to the next great adventure.

I'm not sure I'll ever forget my morning at Monkey Mia. If you have the chance of going, it is quite special. And with only the mothers coming in for a feed now, I wonder if the calves will take over their role when the mothers die. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future.


  1. I've never been to Monkey Mia. Thanks for sharing.

    1. It made me relive it sharing, so no trouble at all.

      Cate xo