Have you ever heard of a dugong? We had not. Have you heard of a manatee? Dugongs are similar to manatees, but are a bit smaller, have a different shape tail, and live only in the ocean (manatees spend time in both the ocean and in fresh water rivers). An estimated 10,000-15,000 dugongs live in Shark Bay -- the largest population of dugongs in the world. According to one of the rangers at Monkey Mia, this is about one-tenth of the world’s dugong population.
|Dugong photo from Julien Willem on Wikipedia|
|Dugong we saw on a boat trip in Shark Bay|
Dolphins!The primary reason we visited Shark Bay and Monkey Mia was dolphins. Jamie especially is crazy about dolphins!
|Monkey Mia Bottlenose Dolphins|
Now, however, rangers from Australia’s Department of Parks and Wildlife tightly control the feeding process. There are only 5 female dolphins that are fed, and they are only fed a maximum of 3 times a day. The total amount they are fed is about ¼ of their daily nutritional needs, so they don’t become dependent on feedings from humans. And no one is allowed to touch the dolphins.
|Group getting ready for a dolphin feeding|
|Dolphin feeding chart - we did the ones on Thursday the 12th|
|Jamie feeding a dolphin|
|Jason feeding a dolphin|
This is actually Jamie and Jason’s list. Before reading their list, we’d suggest you stop and come up with your own lists. Then compare it with theirs. We’d love to hear from you about your lists!
Benefits for the Dolphins:
- Rangers and researchers learned about dolphin behaviors from studying these dolphins.
- Researchers learned that it’s not good to feed and pet dolphins.
- People that visit learn about dolphins and want to help protect them and their habitat. (This point led into a discussion about zoos as this is one of the rationales for zoos)
Problems for the Dolphins:
- People used to touch them
- Feeding dolphins and not letting them find food on their own
- The babies of the fed dolphins were not getting enough milk because the mothers were hanging out in shallow water all the time waiting for food. In shallow water the baby dolphin can’t get underneath the mother to get milk. Babies of fed dolphins were dying more often than babies of dolphins that were not fed.
- It’s unnatural
- They get used to humans and go up to humans. This could be bad because there’s more of a chance for a person to be bit. Also sunscreen that people put on irritates dolphins eyes.
- They can get hurt by boats if they are begging for food from people on the boats.
In the end, whether this is good for the dolphins or not is a really tough question. If you compare the benefits and problems, it probably is not good for these individual dolphins, but it does have some benefits for dolphins in general. There is no right answer here.
But, as you can see from Jamie’s reaction, it is a pretty incredible experience.
Lastly, here's a short video of some of the Monkey Mia dolphins (and the unexpected sea snake!).
Sources and good links for more info on dugongs: