Dolphin Discovery Centre, Dolphin by Jo Castro at ZigaZag
Dignity and innocence. So vulnerable and yet this wild dolphin swam right up to us

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.

Dolphin Discovery Centre, Dolphin by Jo Castro at ZigaZag
My attention was held in my breathing and the dolphin’s smooth traverse through the blue of the ocean.

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.

Dolphin Discovery Centre, Dolphin by Jo Castro at ZigaZag
From top left clockwise. The Bunbury Observer, Jon our guide and skipper, a research boat from Murdoch University, Looking back on the Dolphin Discovery Centre lookout, At the cut on the Leschenault Estuary, The Bunbury Tower.

“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.

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“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.”

Dolphin Discovery Centre, Dolphin by Jo Castro at ZigaZag

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.

Dolphin Discovery Centre, Dolphin by Jo Castro at ZigaZag

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.

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  1. I’m glad you had such a great experience with the dolphins. What a fun trip! We always love seeing dolphins in the wild. The most we’ve seen was during a Mexican cruise last year. Love those close-up shots of the dolphins!

  2. This sounds like such a lovely experience – interacting with dolphins in the wild, not in a pool, which seems to be the norm in so many countries.

    I’ve had Western Australia on my radar lately; it’s far away, and my kids aren’t keen on really long flights, but a chance to meet dolphins in the wild would be a persuasive argument. Is Bunbury near Perth?

  3. Hi Sophie, aww that’s great and it is a beautiful untouched State. Bunbury is only one and a half hours from Perth! See you soon, I hope!

  4. I love dolphins! This looks like a simply amazing outing – thanks for giving us a taste of it through your photos and wonderful story!

  5. When our family was kayaking in Hilton Head, South Carolina, several dolphins swam up to us — literally close enough to touch. It’s the quietest my kids have ever been. We sat like statues and watched, completely mesmerized! 🙂

  6. What an incredible experience – I had no idea that interacting with dolphins in the wild was even possible! We have attended dolphin interactions a couple of times. The first was in a pool enclosure in the Bahamas and wasn’t that great. The second was at the new facility at Atlantis in the Bahamas when it first opened. We had to don wetsuits and walk into the ocean for that one and our family had a private experience with a marine biologist and a dolphin. Even though it wasn’t in the wild it was still so incredible to spend that half hour or so interacting with such an amazing creature!

  7. There’s something very special about interacting with the dolphins. I too feel a sense of calm when I can sit and watch them for as long as they will allow. They often visit close to the boat at Rottnest and we still get excited to see them.

  8. Hi Jo, the dolphins are one of the most adorable ceatures. I’ve seen them in the wild but have not experienced a close encounter with them. Your encounter with them is so spiritual, so special; I wish to have a chance to be that close to them some day. I love the close up shots of the dolphins and the quote from Tolle.

  9. Years ago kayaking we saw about 500 dolphins in the wild – and what a sight it was especially since we were in a deserted area of British Columbia.
    What a lovely tour and I like the way you weaved the quotes in from Tolle too.

  10. Thanks Leigh, and Wow sounds a wonderful sighting in British Columbia.

  11. I hope one day you experience a close encounter with dolphins, Marisol. Yes, they are such special creatures. Thanks for your appreciation and comments here 🙂

  12. It must be wonderful to have them swimming around the boat at Rottnest, Jenny, how lovely. Yes, I don’t know what it is about them but they do invoke a special response from many people.

  13. Your experience in the Bahamas sounds very special and I expect was really informative with a marine biologist on hand. I think you’re going to have to come to WA one day and see them in the wild and perhaps swim with them in the ocean too:)

  14. I can imagine the kids being in awe, and mesmerised. Dolphins just seem to have this ability to render us humans speechless!

  15. Thanks Jackie, and so glad my words and photos gave you a taste of WA and its dolphins.

  16. Hello Inside Journeys! Yes, they are such gentle creatures and it is a privilege living in a place where we see them often. Thanks for popping by.

  17. There is something wonderful about a wild animal approaching out of curiosity. I can imagine not wanting the experience to end. It is lovely that they are not afraid to do so.

  18. Hi Johanna, I met the dolphins of Monkey Mia in 1986 and will never forget it. Wonderful creatures and one senses they are much brighter than we are. We see them often here and there around Jervis Bay, it’s magical.

  19. Hi Seanna, yes I also get the sense that they are brighter than we are. I’d love to get to Jervis Bay one day and see ‘your’ dolphins too !

  20. One word – WOW!! I swam with dolphins in Florida (Discovery Cove) but only for 15 mins, wish it lasted longer. Dolphins are such friendly creatures and someday I would love to swim with them in the wild in WA. I’m sure it would be a totally different experience 🙂

  21. I think any dolphin experience is amazing Sabrina, but I’d say the wild ones are pretty rare and will only get rarer. Visit us soon in WA 🙂

  22. Catherine

    Yet another fabulous post thanks Johanna. It was a previous post you wrote about Bunbury’s dolphins which finally motivated me to volunteer to work at the Dolphin Discovery Centre, something I’ve been “gunna” do for many years. It’s one of the BEST things I’ve ever done! A tourist from London told me last week that we MUST get the word out to the world about our precious dolphins. He loved every minute of his dolphin expreience!

  23. Oh that makes me so happy, Catherine! And I’m so glad you’ve been enjoying it. I agree with the tourist from London about getting the word out about the dolphins in Bunbury.

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