Dolphins at a distance

Phil CoulthardSouth Western Times
All types of craft were out on Koombana Bay at the weekend.
Camera IconAll types of craft were out on Koombana Bay at the weekend.

Dolphins, dolphins everywhere. What an incredible few weeks we have experienced in Koombana Bay with dozens of dolphins sighted resting, feeding and socialising.

For the past 17 years I have had the privilege of spending most summer days on the water observing and interacting with dolphins and I can honestly say this year has been one of the best.

The last few weeks in particular have been extra special with the male and female dolphins now in full breeding mode along with an early arrival of herring schools to create a week-long feeding frenzy rarely observed this early in summer.

The big tides and low swells have also cleaned up the water creating almost perfect visibility along the coast.

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No doubt this is the reason many of you who own watercraft have equally enjoyed hitting the water with an incredible number of boats, jetskis and kayaks spending lots of time with the dolphins.

As always, areas like The Cut and north along Buffalo Beach have been popular for dolphin watching and the majority of those who take the chance to enjoy their company keep a respectful distance and avoid the temptation to chase, herd, swim with or feed them.

Unfortunately there is a growing minority who ignore the State laws in place to protect dolphins from harassment and continue to breach these for their own entertainment.

The irony of this increased harassment of our dolphins over past month has been the long-awaited introduction of the new Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016, which replaced the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 on New Year’s Day.

The new Act addresses the failings of the old Act in a number of ways, including the increased protection of big marine fauna such as whales and dolphins with defined distance guidelines for those in boats and in the water.

In addition to these new regulations, the State Government has also introduced a long list of financial penalties for those in breach, which DBCA wildlife rangers now have the power to enforce at any time.

For this reason I would strongly advise all members of the public to become familiar with the new Conservation Act Regulations before heading out to interact with our spectacular dolphins on their next boating trip.

The Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 is available from the State Law Publisher’s website.

Understanding that dolphins are curious and playful by nature, there are clearly described exceptions to these regulations that have been put into place which is great.

A person for example does not contravene regulations if the animal approaches the swimmer or the vessel is under way and the dolphin chooses to ride the bow wave.

It’s the intentional feeding and chasing of dolphins along with the reckless driving of boats and jetskis alongside and above the dolphins that creates the risk and needs to be stopped.

All boat owners should review the existing Marine Safety Boating guide and become familiar with the gazetted no-go zones and associated speed limits introduced by the Department of Transport.

You can pick up a copy at the local DOT office or download a full PDF version at their website.

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