Monkey Mia

22 Mar

We’re playing pearl diving. A heavily suntanned, retired couple bob around in the warm turquoise sea, talking about investments and stock prices. On the fine yellow sand some toddlers are building a sandcastle and three bikini clad backpackers lie on their towels reading fat novels. A little way out, there are small fishing boats, rods dangling hopefully over the side. A group of young men throw a ball noisily in the shallows. You could be on any beach anywhere in the world, except for maybe in North Yorkshire, where hypothermia would have set in by now. You could, if it wasn’t for the five dolphins swimming up and down the shore, playfully chasing minnows and weaving curiously around the delighted humans.

Monkey Mia is an unusual place. No more than a holiday resort really, in Shark Bay, one of only twenty-odd places in the world that meet all four World Heritage criteria for places of natural importance. One of the area’s biggest drawcards is the stromatolites, the living descendents of the earth’s earliest producers of oxygen. They’re not much to look at, rock-like creatures that bubble occasionally, but ex-geologist husbands find them very exciting. Scientists aside, most people come to Shark Bay for the stunning wildlife, dugongs, rays, turtles, sea snakes and the famous dolphins. In the 1960’s, a small caravan park was established at the end of a dirt track in a place called Monkey Mia. People would come to fish and the local dolphins soon worked out that if they hung around in the bay they’d get a free feed. Before long, people were coming to Monkey Mia just to feed the dolphins and their images graced postcards all over Australia.

I have to say that I was in two minds about visiting a place to feed dolphins, it sounded a bit cheesy and commercial, like a glorified aquarium. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. After it was discovered that unregulated feeding was altering the dolphins’ behaviour and causing serious problems to the population, the Department for Environment and Conservation turned the area into a reserve and took control of the feeding programme. There are now very strict no touching rules, areas which are for dolphin swimming only and continuous research into their behaviour. Only five mature females are ever fed and they’re only given a small snack, never enough fish to stop them hunting for themselves. Despite this, many more dolphins come into the beach every day. They know they’re not going to be given fish, they just like interacting with humans. The dolphins who come into the beach today are the children and grandchildren of the first animals to be fed. Dolphins spend a third of their day socialising, and these particular dolphin families have chosen to include humans in their coffee morning.

We continue our game of pearl diving, stopping now and then to watch as the beautiful creatures race past in pursuit of a long tom. The long tom lives to see another day but the dolphins don’t seem to mind. And nor do we.

10 Responses to “Monkey Mia”

  1. English Grandma 22/03/2011 at 11:40 am #

    Sounds idyllic!

    The first day of Spring didn’t bring much sunshine here….we’re still waiting…

  2. fourgotospain 22/03/2011 at 1:18 pm #

    Isn’t it luscious?! We had Sadie’s birthday there and it was magical. Next time I get married it’s going to be at Monkey Mia for sure ;)

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily 23/03/2011 at 11:57 am #

      We were sort of there for Eve’s birthday too. It was actually a couple of days before, but we pretended that it was her birthday treat. They have a calf called Fin now!

  3. Mum in Malta 22/03/2011 at 5:57 pm #

    Oh wow that looks fantastic! When we were in Spain we saw dolphins swimming in the surf from the beach and it was fantastic to see them in the sea rather than at Sea World where I’d seen them before. They’re such gorgeous creatures, I’m very jealous!

    • itsasmallworldafterallfamily 24/03/2011 at 10:36 am #

      It really was lovely, and a bonus that the sea was so warm!

  4. Kelly 23/03/2011 at 8:36 pm #

    I want to go to the beach and see the dolphins *stamps foot*

    Stop making me jealous.

  5. Sonja 25/03/2011 at 1:22 pm #

    I would love the opportunity to get so close to dolphins. I’m glad they’re protected, too.

  6. Camels & Chocolate 25/03/2011 at 3:25 pm #

    I did the swimming with dolphin thing in Cuba before (it was a bit commercialized), but then I was in Bonaire last summer, and on the way back from my last dive, a pod of more than 200 dolphins materialized, playing with the boat and “escorting” us back to the resort. It was the coolest thing ever!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Birthday lunch, Akha style « It's a small world after all - 28/05/2011

    [...] cinema, backfired because we were in outback Australia.  To make up for it, we hot footed it to Monkey Mia the following day, which really was [...]

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