Thursday, January 23, 2014

Monkey Mia: Dolphins, Dugongs, and a Sea Snake

Monkey Mia is a private facility located along Shark Bay in Western Australia.  Shark Bay consists of about 900 miles of winding coastline, which creates a lot of bays sheltered from the ocean.  Underwater in these bays grow fields of sea grass.  This environment creates a great place for large amounts of marine life, including sharks, rays, dugongs, sea snakes, and bottlenose dolphins.

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
Now about that tail… take a close look at it.  Does it look like a mermaid tail?  It is thought that sailors a long time ago believed they saw mermaids, but were actually seeing dugongs!

Dugong tail
Dugongs are very big and eat sea grass.  Because of their diet, they are sometimes called sea cows.  Dugongs can get to be almost 10 feet long and can weigh up to about 1100 pounds.  They can live to be about 70 years old.  Females have one calf after a year of pregnancy.  They can hold their breath for about 6 minutes before they need to surface and breathe air.  As they live in only shallow water, don’t move very quickly, and reproduce slowly, they have been easy targets for hunters in the past, and have also been hurt by people destroying their habitat, and have also been mistakenly killed by fishermen.  Because of this, their numbers have been declining in many of the places that they live.


The primary reason we visited Shark Bay and Monkey Mia was dolphins.  Jamie especially is crazy about dolphins!

Monkey Mia Bottlenose Dolphins
Monkey Mia is a place where people have been feeding wild bottlenose dolphins for about 45 years.  It started with fishermen who would feed dolphins off their ships, and then became more formalized over the years.  At one point, people were feeding and touching the dolphins without much oversight, which led to the animals being stressed, mothers ignoring their young, and dolphins even starting to bite people.

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
The dolphins were amazing.  We all got to feed a dolphin, and that was quite an experience.  But it was equally great to just watch these fabulous animals swim around and interact with each other.  Even after the feeding, there were often dolphins swimming up and down the beach, sometimes fishing, sometimes playing, and sometimes perhaps just hanging out.

Dolphin close-up
Jamie feeding a dolphin
Jason feeding a dolphin
While we were waiting for one of the feedings, a sea snake came close… perhaps a bit too close, actually.  Sea snakes are one of the most venomous creatures in the world.  A bite from one can kill a person.  However, they are not aggressive and virtually never bother or bite people.

Sea Snake
We had a great time feeding the dolphins.  But we had a long discussion about it afterwards.  The question we asked ourselves was whether this was good for the dolphins or not.  We decided to come up with a list of benefits for the dolphins and problems that this could cause the dolphins.

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!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Local online news story on

We didn't realize this was written about us, but saw web traffic coming from this link.  A nice little story written on the St. Louis Park Patch site about us.  Patch is a neighborhood focused news and information site.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ningaloo Reef, Coral Bleaching, and Red Kangaroos in Western Australia

Here's a 7 1/2 minute video about our visit to Cape Range National Park and the Ningaloo Reef, in Western Australia.  We had our first exposure to the "outback,"explored some beautiful gorges, saw some really unique wildlife, and did some fabulous snorkeling.  We also learned about the impacts of climate change on coral reefs, and specifically what happened at Ningaloo from some friends we made at Australia's Department of Parks and Wildlife.

Study Guide Questions:

1. What is the difference between a fringing reef and a barrier reef?

2. True or False: Coral is made by a plant.

3. Is white, bleached coral healthy?

4. What causes the bleaching of coral?

5. What is the name of a baby kangaroo?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Unexpected Australia & Crossing the International Date Line

When traveling, sometimes things don’t go quite as planned.  The next leg of our trip took us from Seattle to Perth, on the west coast of Australia.

It was supposed to take 26 hours and 3 flights.  However, one of our flights was delayed, and because of the long, long lines at immigration in Brisbane, Australia (over 1000 people!), we missed our connection to Perth.  The next flight wasn’t until late in the day, so we ended up having an unexpected day in Brisbane.

So we took a shower in the airport, checked our bags, and took the train into Brisbane for the day.  The weather was beautiful, and it turned out to be a great day.

Brisbane from the Botanical Gardens

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Galapagos, El Niño, and Climate Change

In our previous post we talked about human impacts on the Galapagos.  There is one more human impact that we’ll discuss in this post on The Wilderness Classroom, and that is climate change.

Other Climate Change Links: Will Steger Foundation
EPA's Climate Change for Kids
Tiki: Climate Change for Kids

Galapagos: The Impact of People

Most people come to the Galapagos because of the amazing wildlife.  But we also wanted to learn about the impact that people have.  This is really important because both the population of the Galapagos and the number of visitors to the Galapagos are growing by quite a bit.

Read this post on the Wilderness Classroom site to learn about human impacts on the Galapagos.

Landfill on Santa Cruz Island
©WWF Galapagos Program / Maximilian Martin

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Kare11 NBC (Minneapolis) news story

A few weeks ago, Kare11 spent a few hours with us while we were presenting to classrooms at Peter Hobart Elementary School.  Here is the story that Lindsey Seavert put together about our trip.

(Photo is from Kare11)