One of the most memorable events on our trip was our close encounter with wild dolphins. We drove 2 hours south of Perth city to the town of Bunbury, where 500 dolphins call Koombana Bay home.
An unassuming little centre called the Dolphin Discovery Centre, is situated right next to the beach facing the Indian Ocean. A few times a week, dolphins swim near the shore to playfully interact with visitors!
As it states on the website, amazingly:
We don’t clearly understand why the dolphins continue to visit the Zone today however research does suggest that the small amount of food they receive as a reward for their visit is not the only attraction. There are many dolphins that visit the Zone regularly that do not receive any fish and many of them stay for extended periods of time for interaction with the human visitors. Sick and injured dolphins also treat the beach as a haven, with some repeatedly visiting during periods of illness or injury.
|Our very knowledgeable guide|
It was a magical experience. To witness a completely wild dolphin swim directly towards a line of humans, playfully going back and forth, as if it were basking in all the admiration…
I used to think that the brouhaha about captive dolphins was much ado about nothing, but after seeing them in the wild, it just made me realise how much more meaningful it was to interact with them up close without keeping them in a small tank.
I suppose it is only then, that they can lead the lives that they were made for – our guide said that the females are always either pregnant or having a calf swim alongside. Gestation takes a full 12 months, and they only mate from Jan-Feb, interestingly. Murdoch University has a research cabin next to the centre and students are currently studying population genetics via collecting the dolphins’ DNA, by pinging a little biopsy dart at them.
After the dolphins swam off, the girls busied themselves in the sand. It was such a lovely day. Such a perfect mingling of elements, the warm Australian sun, bright blue sky, glittering water and fantastic breeze… I could have stayed there for hours…
The centre also conducts boat trips out, and excursions where folks can swim with the dolphins. However, that is more costly, ranging from $49 to $149 respectively for adults. In contrast, all we saw cost only the price of admission, which is $10 per adult, and $5 for kids above 4. Eminently reasonable, I felt!
We also enjoyed ourselves walking around the small aquarium tanks indoors, getting acquainted with Eli the long Moray eel who decided to swim out and display his full 1m length, two octopi, two crayfish and an interesting large rock pool with so many starfish (also called Sea Stars).
The very friendly volunteers there let the girls touch sea urchins (non-poisonous of course), sea stars and showed us three camouflaged flounders.
We watched a short 3D dolphin show, and two IMAX style videos. The discovery centre is not swanky now, but has its unique homey charm. Which is why I felt a tad sad when our guide mentioned that there are plans to refurbish the centre in 2 years to one that was much bigger, better, shinier.
I hope the feel remains warm and cosy, which might still be possible given the passionate volunteers that the centre is so blessed to have. After all, it’s the software that gives a place its character, regardless of how large and shiny.