West Coast Day 132 - Shark Bay

Tuesday, Dec 01, 1998 at 01:00

ExplorOz - David & Michelle

We awoke this morning to rain - how fortunate that we were not camping! It is also very windy and quite cool. We had to don our tracksuits to venture outside. By midday, we had visited every shop and business in Denham. The rain had stopped and the sun was shining - the temperature was a pleasant 29 ° C. David and I packed up our things and drove out to Monkey Mia. The Monkey Mia Resort is right on the beach where the bottle-nose dolphins come in to the beach for a hand feed and has accommodation from grassed camp sites up to self-contained beach frontage villas. The price ranges from $7 per night to $170 per night. The resort is fantastic offering guests full use of facilities - free. These include, a hot tub and pool surrounded by a large grassy sunbaking area; all-weather tennis courts; a shop selling everything from souvenirs to 1hr film processing; a supermarket; dolphin research and information centre; cruise boats; beachfront restaurant and cocktail bar. We are paying $17.50 per night to stay here on a powered camping site, we have a beach view (white sand and turquoise water), and there is no one around us. I feel as if we are staying in the most luxurious resort and not just camping.

I have asked many locals their opinion as to the best place to windsurf and the overwhelming response is that many people do it but the TIGER SHARKS are out there. The lady at the Tourist Information Bureau in Denham said her family has been in the area for 100 years and TIGER SHARKS are an extremely common occurrence. She said the waters go out for a couple of hundred metres at only knee depth but still the sharks come in. She has seen many TIGER SHARKS over 10 feet long. David reckons its all bull bleep but he's not the one who has to be out there with his legs dangling in the water. I am literally spooked by all the TIGER SHARK reports I'm hearing and it is really frustrating sitting on the beach listening to people complaining about how windy it is!

We had a lovely afternoon for our first day at Monkey Mia. We sat in the hot tub overlooking East Side bay and wandered around the resort. At the far end of the beach, there is a jetty where all the action is centred. Two yellow buoys are situated 50m off and this is the area reserved for the dolphins.

The dolphins don't usually come in after 1pm so we spent some time at the dolphin information centre. The centre runs 2 different videos per day. The first one runs at 9am, 11am then 1pm. We watched the second video shown at 3pm. We learned about past and present dolphin research conducted at Monkey Mia and observed the techniques used to identify each individual. Sharks commonly attack dolphins and each one sighted around Monkey Mia has been recorded and named according to its distinctive dorsal fin shape such as Holeyfin, Crooked Fin, Nicky, Captain Hook, Real Notch, Sharky etc. The video explained that dolphins do not swim in a pod, as do whales, but rather they swim in sets - that can change. Dolphins are not always the gentle, friendly creatures we expect. The males are especially aggressive and we saw footage of males "herding" females and even "kidnapping" females from other sets. For this reason, the male dolphins are not fed from the beach, as are the females. There are 3 adult female dolphins and their calves that visit the beach most days. They are Puck, Nicky and Surprise. More than 70 other dolphins have been identified by researchers in the Monkey Mia area. About a dozen of these dolphins visit irregularly and venture quite close to the shore - so you never know who is going to turn up! There is quite a large group of dolphins interrelated and the researchers are trying to put together a family tree. It is difficult work, because although they know who mothers whom, the fathers of the calves are unknown. All attempts are made to minimise contact with the dolphins and so tagging and DNA testing has not yet been done.

David and Michelle at a statue made from the world's largest shell block at Monkey Mia.

We had arrived at Monkey Mia at a very special time as the inshore dolphins calve once every four years. A young calf had just been born to Puk, one of the regular beach females, and she had started to bring the baby in to shore. The rangers explained that it is important not to feed the calves until they have proven to be completely independent, this usually takes up to 4 years. We were instructed not to enter the water if the calf was visiting, as the first few weeks are a critical time for the survival and well being of the calf. Mother and calf need time to adjust, to feel confident that they are safe and welcome visiting the beach.

We were very impressed with the information centre run by CALM (Conservation and Land Management) and the whole Monkey Mia Resort. We agreed to stay for as long as we felt we needed to get the most out of our visit.
David (DM) & Michelle (MM)
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Always working not enough travelling!
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