What is it about dolphins that makes us humans so eager to spend time with them? Well for starters, dolphins are supremely intelligent – as smart as apes, in fact. Also they are incredibly playful and for humans, that can be quite infectious.
Many dolphin watchers have reported that while they are in the presence of these beautiful marine mammals, there is a huge sense of excitement and euphoria, being witness to pure and natural joy and freedom. Afterwards, perhaps when lying in bed or in another quiet moment, the feeling shifts to calm and peacefulness, remembering the grace and elegance as these animals moved through and above the water.
Dolphin watching is an activity that many people dream of doing their whole lives, even if they’ve never been near an ocean. For others, the ultimate wish is to actually swim with the dolphins and this is possible in many places in Australia.
Being an island, Australia is surrounded by ocean, and whales and dolphins are regular visitors to our coastlines. The industry is booming such that in 2008, this particular tourism sector was worth more than $31 million to the Australian economy.
It is regulated by the Australian Whale Sanctuary and applies to all people interacting with whales and dolphins, including commercial operators and recreational visitors.
Did you know dolphin watching is possible in every Australian state?
Situated almost nine hours to the north of capital city, Perth, Monkey Mia is world renowned as one of the world’s most reliable spots for dolphin watching. It is also the only place in Australia where dolphins visit the shore every day and not just on a seasonal basis.
Rangers are employed to ensure the dolphins remain safe from over-zealous humans and they select a number of visitors to hand-feed them at designated feeding times. Monkey Mia is home to a highly respected science lab that researches the behaviour and biology of bottlenose dolphins.
Darwin Harbour in the Northern Territory is an important breeding and feeding ground for dolphins, known the world over for its significance. With a lifespan of up to 40 years, many of the dolphins live their whole lives there which provides scientists with an incredible opportunity to study them.
An eco-cruise operator in Darwin frequently introduces passengers to the three species of dolphins found in the harbour.
On the west side of Moreton Island in Queensland is Tangalooma, a resort that used to be a whaling station back in the 1950s and 1960s.
An express catamaran takes day trippers over to the island – or guests can stay in the resort accommodation – where the most popular activity is dolphin-feeding. The species that visits is the inshore bottlenose and 127 dolphins have been individually identified from Tangalooma’s beaches.
The beauty of the program is that the dolphins are all wild and are not trained or called to the beach. They are fed only the highest quality fish bought from local professional fisherman.
The Tangalooma Research Foundation financially supports the program and data is collected every night regarding the biology, ecology and behaviour of Moreton Bay’s prolific bottlenose dolphin population.
Port Stephens is a two and a half hour drive up the coast from Sydney. All year round, up to 120 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins make their permanent home in the waters off the coast which makes it one of the world’s most popular dolphin-watching destinations.
They can be seen from various shoreline vantage points, playfully darting out of the water as if putting on a display for the humans watching them. To get closer, visitors can embark on half day and full day cruises. The dolphins will frequently show off by riding the bow waves of the vessels.
Visit picturesque Port Phillip Bay, one of Australia’s largest inland bays for dolphin watching in Victoria. It features safe swimming beaches and quite shallow waters. Around 100 to 150 species of bottlenose dolphin live in the bay which features three individual marine sanctuaries and a thriving ecosystem.
A population of around one hundred ‘Burrunan’ dolphins was officially confirmed as a new species in 2011. At Port Phillip Bay, visitors can take cruises with licensed operators and watch as the dolphins dart and dive in and out of the water, escorting the vessels through the area.
Some even offer the opportunity to put on a wetsuit and snorkel and dive in to swim with the dolphins.
Tucked away on the northern shore of Frederick Henry Bay, Primrose Sands is a tiny, sleepy seaside community about 28km from Hobart. A pod of seven dolphins makes regular visits to the waterway and locals have long held the secret that the animals enjoy swimming up alongside kayakers.
The dolphins have been known to come in to the beach as close as waist deep water where surprised swimmers have been excited and delighted to have the company.
The beachside Adelaide suburb of Glenelg is a drawcard for tourists in summer for its beautiful white sand and a fascinating shark museum. Visitors to the area can commune with the local dolphins by joining a dolphin-watching day cruise and even swim with the dolphins in their natural habitat.
The glorious sunset cruise commonly features dolphins racing and playing in the clear, calm water, eager to impress their human watchers.
Whichever Australian state you are in or decide to visit, there is a dolphin watching opportunity to enjoy. This is just a small sample of locations around the country.
It’s reassuring to know that regulatory authorities keep close tabs on operators to ensure that the dolphin populations remain safe and are not overwhelmed by human activity.
Swimming or kayaking with dolphins or hand-feeding them typically leaves participants with lasting happy memories. One of the greatest lessons the human race can learn from dolphins is to live life with a gentle, playful approach, causing harm to no one and focusing keenly on the beauty of nature.