It’s not everyday that you get to commune with wild dolphins, and so when I was invited to visit the Dolphin Discovery Centre in Bunbury, I jumped at the chance.
I love dolphins and getting close to them seems to invoke a stillness in me, and at the risk of getting a little spooky, they make me feel a sense of being at one with the universe as if they are surrounded by some sort of a magnetic field full of mystery.
Perhaps it has something to do with their inquisitive nature and their vulnerability. I’m not sure, but I do know they intrigue and humble me to the point where I’m lost for words and quite spellbound by their presence.
At our beach encounter we waded into the ocean and two wild dolphins (8 weird and wonderful facts about dolphins) swam up to the group, so close that you could just about touch them.
Perhaps Eckhart Tolle has it in one …
“You are not separate from nature. We are all part of the One Life that manifests itself in countless forms throughout the universe, forms that are all completely interconnected. When you recognize the sacredness, the beauty, the incredible stillness and dignity in which a flower or a tree exists, you add something to the flower or the tree. Through your recognition, your awareness, nature too comes to know itself. It comes to know its own beauty and sacredness through you!” Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks.
Discovering Wild Dolphins in Bunbury
After the beach encounter we head out on a small boat into Koombana Bay, a bay which offers both shelter and food and is perfect for dolphins. There’s a warm breeze, it’s a perfect late summer’s day, a gentle easterly is blowing and Jon is our skipper and guide.
There’s the thump of the sea against the boat’s tin bottom, a slip, slop and slap.
The water is crystal clear and the ocean today is like a mill pond as we motor towards what’s known as The Cut on our search for dolphins.
It’s all so un-touristy, and soon we are at the mouth of the estuary, into which 3 rivers run. We’re alone except for a tiny Murdoch University research boat.
And then we see the dolphins. OhMiGosh. Lots of them.
There are not tens of boats anchored here, tourist or otherwise. In the distance I can make out the black and white chequered lighthouse, Rotary Tower on Marlston Hill and the strange shaped Bunbury Tower which looks like a milk carton or a strange concrete hedge-hog and all I can hear now that the engines are cut is the squawk of Terns and Cormorants that lift of to fly, their wings heavy with water, leaving a trail of sparkling droplets in their wake.
“This is a unique place,” Jon tells us. “It’s one of the best places in the world to see bottlenose dolphins. And it’s nearly always nice calm water for them in the sheltered bay.
We are at the head of the Leschenault Estuary which is 15 kms long and at the far end merges into the Collie River. “Some of the dolphins swim all the way to the end of the Estuary and up the river. You’ll see that they are smoother and sleeker and without so many battle scars as those found in the bay,” Jon says.
“There is evidence of some shark attacks on dolphins in the bay but not too many because sharks prefer deeper water but dolphins often get injured by boats as well.”
We see dolphins fishing and feeding, and Jon points out a group of young males frolicking together. “That’s a young male alliance,” he says, “like a gang, a close knit group, and look there’s a female with a pink underbelly – that means she’s ready to mate. November to Easter is breeding time.”
Jon tells us that some of them are probably catching and eating Taylor, Whiting, Herring or Mullet which they have to swallow whole, head first so that the barbs don’t get stuck in their mouths
“About 20 – 60 dolphins, mostly mums and calves are resident and live in the bay. It’s a unique little bay; safe, with sheltered waters and lots of food. Because it’s only about 4- 8 metres deep, it’s fairly shallow and ideal for mums and babies. The Mums treat it like a maternity ward.”
“In total there are 250 identified dolphins that visit the bay – they have all been photographed and all have names,” Jon says. “The bay is a bit like a dolphin meeting place, a dolphin club or pub. There were 17 new calves born last season – but calves only have a 60% survival rate – they might die due to shark attacks, stress, or from getting entwined in fishing tackle.”
Dolphins natural curiosity about humans brings them into close contact with boats and in the past there were no boats in Koombana Bay but now it’s a popular recreational area for fishing, boating, water skiing and jet skis.
“Vital for the survival of Dolphins is that all the people, businesses and industries around the bay are aware of their responsibilities in maintaining the quality of the marine environment,” Jon says.
Fast Fact: In the sea between Mandurah and Busselton you could be lucky enough to see up to 500 dolphins in a pod
Everyone was silent as we watched the dolphins. Chatter stopped. People looked, and listened, and seemed to anticipate a connection with these sleek mammals. “A great silent space holds all of nature in its embrace. It also holds you.” Eckhart Tolle. And it felt as if we were all one.
We cruise gently back to shore. My mind is full of dolphins. Then we see a flotilla of very expensive looking motor boats arrive at the Sailing Club. They cruise towards the shore in perfect formation, like a scene from a James Bond Movie. It all looks to be crisp white suits, smart caps and champagne.
I have been transported out of my daily life, away from my everyday worries and concerns into a watery world of mystery and peace.
And now I’m in a James Bond Movie?
Life changing. Seriously!
The Dolphin Discovery Centre, Bunbury
- You’ll find the Dolphin Discover Centre on the arc of Koombana Bay along a beautiful stretch of beach with a look-out/viewing point for dolphin watching.
- There are ‘Swim with dolphin’ tours, beach encounters and eco-boat trips.
- In the main building you’ll find an interpretive centre along with marine life such as sea horses, turtles and octupus which are being rehabilitated ready for life back in the ocean. There’s also a gift shop and a café.
- You could watch the 3D dolphin movie (7 minutes)
- Or you could adopt a dolphin. How about Tangles, Shanty, Osho, Nicky, Levy or Shredder?
- You’ll find up to 40 volunteers from all over the world. “I love the interaction with tourists and the dolphins, and I enjoy helping to keep the beach clean and educating kids about marine life,” Bec, one of the volunteers told me.
Disclaimer: Jo’s eco-boat trip was complimentary.
I’m linking to Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox today. Why not pop over and check out some more awesome travel stories.
Have you ever had a dolphin encounter? I’d love to know where in the world and why it was special for you.