As I was paddling in the sea, a dolphin swam right up to me, turned its head to the side to get a good look at me, then sped off to catch a fish! That was just one of the magical moments spent in Monkey Mia, a National Park in WA dedicated to dolphin conservation.
Monkey Mia is the only place in Australia set up to enable safe interaction with wild dolphins. The dolphin visitations started in the 1960’s when a fisherman used to feed the dolphins fish remains from his catch and from then on, the dolphins came regularly to get a good feed. The news spread that dolphins were coming up to the shore which started to attract visitors.
Unfortunately hand feeding the dolphins wasn’t too good for them and before it was regulated by the Wildlife protection agency, they found that all but 1 out of 12 calves born to hand fed females died. Research showed that dolphins that were given food handouts lost their ability to hunt and the calves of their overfed mothers starved to death because of neglect. Thankfully since the new feeding regime was introduced in the mid 90’s, the survival rate of calves are 10 out of 13.
So now they control feed the wild dolphins every morning and the dolphins show up on the dot! A few lucky visitors are chosen to hand a dolphin a fish which the dolphin gently takes. Males are not fed as they have been known to become aggressive. Instead they only feed chosen adult females with good survival skills. They all have names and they recognise them by their fin shapes. When the feeding buckets of fish have been emptied, the rangers swill the buckets out with water which the dolphins know means the end of feeding time and they at that point swim away.
The dolphins are so used to interacting with humans now that some hang about to play and chase fish around swimmers and come almost up to the waters edge. There is a fish etiquette among the dolphins and that is if a fish is being chased by another dolphin, then they don’t charge in and take it away for themselves, unlike the pelicans which we saw do just that!
We were also told not to be fooled by the dolphins smile! Their smile is a fixed expression that we interpret as being friendly. They can be grinning like a cheshire cat, then hone in and take your arm off!! This information broke all my illusions that dolphins are all dreamy, mystical and spiritual. I’m sure some of them are and if they ARE highly intelligent and supposedly our sea loving cousins, then its fair to say that not all humans are particularly nice either!
Dolphins are a species like no other. They use sonar clicking to determine how far away things are. They have X-ray vision and can see a baby in the womb of the mother. They have been recorded as having incredible healing abilities and are known to single out people who have terminal illnesses and then swim around them which seems to open up hearts and bring about feelings of joy, ecstasy and healing. But it is play that the dolphins are best at. They play for no other reason than to enjoy themselves and I have witnessed dolphins many times racing a surfer on a wave and to then get really excited when they win! We have a lot to learn from the dolphins.
I feel very sad that we still endorse theme parks keeping dolphins in small swimming pools and making them do tricks for our entertainment. Even if the dolphin looks like it is smiling and enjoying itself, it really IS NOT!
So Glen and I had a wonderful day sloshing about in the turquoise waters with Kiya, Piccolo, Puck and other dolphin friends at Monkey Mia. We also visited Shell beach not far fro Monkey Mia which is part of the Shark Bay world heritage area. The beach is made up entirely of the Hamlin Cockle and trillions of these tiny shells stretch to 120km long, quite a spectacle.
We also visited the Stromatolites which are ancient formations which are found in the shallow water and the sea edge. They are one of the oldest living life forms dating back 3,500 million years.
There are lots of protected bays stretching along the Shark Bay coastline and we picked one called Whalebone bay to camp up for the night. We perched the dreamtime right on the waters edge, and as the golden sun slid behind the still waters, we watched the sky slowly turn from a golden red to an inky black which then revealed an array of bright twinkly stars and a setting orange crescent moon.
Thank you Monkey Mia for your magic!