If you’ve ever wanted to see a dolphin up-close in its natural habitat, and, if you’re lucky, even feed it, there’s no place to do it at than Monkey Mia, the only beach in Australia that dolphins visit every day.
The stunning waters of Shark Bay Marine Park, on the coast of Western Australia, are home to a diverse population of animal species, from dugongs to loggerhead turtles, but it’s the dolphins that visit Monkey Mia nearly every morning that draw more than 100,000 visitors to the beach each year.
The wild dolphins started getting used to people in the early 1960s, when local fishermen started throwing them fish. Slowly but surely, they gained the dolphins’ trust, and the dolphins have been swimming up to the shore ever since.
It didn’t take long for rumors of friendly bottlenose dolphins hanging around the area to spread, and before long the popularity of the resort reached new all-time highs.
However, by the 1980s, marine researchers noticed a bad trend: as adult dolphins became more dependent on humans for food, their calves’ mortality rate grew a lot, and things got so bad that, according to some experts, 90 percent of them failed to reach adulthood.
Luckily, conservation authorities started regulating dolphin feeding.
Today, only a handful of dolphins visit Monkey Mia beach every day, and they are only fed a fraction of their daily needs, to make sure that they still go out hunting and teach their young the skills required to survive.
And lucky visitors are only allowed to feed the dolphins under the supervision of authorized staff.
“We only feed them around 10 percent of their daily food intake,” Marine park coordinator Luke Skinner said in an interview. “This ensures they have to still forage for themselves and go and hunt for 90 percent of their food sources. We go out there with a bucket of fish and, if they show interest, we can offer them one.”
Monkey Mia is home to about two hundred bottlenose dolphins, but only five of adult females are fed by humans, and park rangers can identify each one by its unique fin shape. If some of the regular customers stop showing up for long periods of time, other wild dolphins are trained to visit the beach daily, because the show must go on.
Feeding wild dolphins is somewhat of a controversial issue, as research suggests it can negatively affect the animals’ birth and survival rates, but there are experts who believe that the Monkey Mia dolphin experience does more good than bad, and that any negative impact is on the individual, not on the larger population of dolphins.
Images from web – Google Research