Early morning – Snapper Creek. Anticipation is high – We are going to swim, or at least paddle with, and feed the wild dolphins. We were in luck, as the weather was perfect, and it was merely a short walk or drive from our accommodation to the Boat ramp, adjacent to the yacht club.
The Dolphin command centre opens at 7am, and it is wise to get their early, as this means you get to spend more time with the dolphins. The Dolphins usually come in around 7am in summer, but feeding does not occur until 8am, and costs just $5.00. They don’t take any money until you actually get handed the fish, to save any confusion. However, wading in the water with the dolphins swimming around one’s legs, up until the time of feeding, is completely free of charge. And for me, this part of the Dolphin experience was priceless. A group of around 20 people had assembled, all eagerly waiting, and watching, and within minutes, two dolphins appeared.
We were so excited and they came in so close. We placed our hands in the water and the Dolphins blew kisses and gently swam in and around our legs, occasionally brushing our bodies and hands with their nose. It is better not to touch their body, for their own protection, as they are wild dolphins and we can inadvertantly pass diseases on to them. Everyone washes their hands in condys crystal solution prior to entering the water.
The dolphins that visit Tin Can Bay are the Indo-Pacific_bottlenose_dolphin . A pod of about 9 dolphins feed and interact with humans, and this is their territory. They will fiercely defend it, should another dolphin try to ‘muscle in.’ It is not always a male that is head of the dolphin pod, but in this case, it is, and his name is Mystique. It is Mystique that determines which members of the pod are permitted to come and feed each day. In this case, he let Patch, one of the females, from his pod, come in and feed with him. At other times, one or two of the babies are allowed to come to the shoreline. These kinds of dolphins have a life span of around 40 years depending on how much stress they suffer in their lives.
Some of the threats to dolphins include Sharks, and humans, especially where development of the marine environment is concerned. The dolphins possess a sonar that can detect disturbances up to 2.5 miles away. So, dredging and development will scare off dolphins completely. This family group is the third generation to come in and feed and interact with humans at Tin Can Bay. It all started with Mystique’s grandfather, who had become injured and was hanging around the inlet for protection. The Prawn trawler fishermen began throwing scraps to the injured dolphin and this continued for some time, until one day, he brought along a mate to feed. And so the tradition began, being passed down from father to daughter and then to Mystique himself, and this “knowledge” is once again passed to the young calves, which are presently aged 18 months and 4 years.
It is such an amazing experience to be in the water with the dolphins for a whole hour while they frolicked and swam in and out of our legs. Fully trusting, fully experiencing us, and us so thrilled to be so close to these amazing creatures.
The staff at Barnacles dolphin centre give out only 3 kilograms of fish to the dolphins each day. This is akin to getting a cup of tea and a biscuit, so they are not likely to become solely dependant on handouts from humans for their total food intake.
When it came time to feeding the dolphins, my young daughter was scared that they might bite her hand. But they were so very gentle, even the smallest tots could experience hand feeding a wild dolphin in absolute safety.
The staff, who are all volunteers, doing it for the love of the Dolphins told me that the Dolphins are particularly attracted to disabled people and will exhibit protective behaviours toward them. The dolphins can even pick up the heartbeat of the unborn child, in a pregnant lady and may pay extra attention to them by clicking, or blowing dolphin kisses ( squirting through their blowhole).
I really have to commend the staff at Barnacles for a fantastic experience. They are present, but not obtrusive, very friendly, give an interesting and informal, but nevertheless informative presentation. They obviously care about the dolphins and are not at all interested in making it a commercialised activity. They want to keep the dolphins visiting, and keep them wild, and want Tin can Bay to remain the sleepy little fishing village, untouched by major development.
There is a visitors’ book to sign, if you wish, ( in typical Tin Can Bay fashion, it is a ordinary A4 ruled writing pad). And, if you skipped breakfast to meet the dolphins, the local SES crew run a sausage sizzle on the weekends and public holidays. This was Good Friday, yet the community was out, working hard.
I can not say enough how thrilled we were with the whole experience. After the feeding most people wandered off, but the dolphins lingered for a little longer, just to make sure that there was no more fish on the menu. And then, they were gone…. and we were left to ponder one of the most unique experiences of our lives… all for the meagre cost of $5.00
Day 1 of my adventure in Tin Can Bay can be found here: travel-diary-two-days-in-tin-can-bay