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The Port River Dolphins

Billie with HorseIn late 1987 a photograph appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser. It showed a young dolphin and a horse swimming together in the gray light of early dawn.  The photo attracted Mike’s interest and initiated a 20 year study of the local dolphins which continues to this day.

Infant with MotherThe dolphin in the photo has become known as Billie and her story encapsulates in many ways the story of these highly urbanized dolphins.  Billie was an orphan when first encountered in 1987 but the fate of her mother is unknown.  In the twenty two or three years of her life she has experienced being trapped behind a lock, held in captivity and has had four of her six calves die in infancy.  One of her surviving calves became trapped in an industrial sump and was only rescued by a lucky accident.  We don’t know why so many of Billie’s calves have died but suspect the polluted waters which she calls home have played their part.

Mike PhotographyMike’s patient, non invasive observations and photographs over the years has revealed that about thirty dolphins spend most of their time in the Port River estuary; an equal number visit regularly; and a further hundred or more visit on an occasional basis.  Identifiable dolphins have been named and their fates tracked.  Sadly, there have been many deaths and injuries caused by humans, some deliberate (shootings, stabbings and being speared) and some accidental (boat strikes and entanglements).

Adelaide Dolphin SanctuaryThe area has now been declared a dolphin sanctuary and is regularly patrolled by government rangers.  WDCS continues to fund Mike’s research and he is currently Chair of the sanctuary’s advisory board.  The Sanctuary is 118 km² extending from the upper reaches of the Port Adelaide River to North Haven, through North Arm and Barker Inlet, extending into Gulf St Vincent to Pt Gawler Conservation Park.  You can visit the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary Home Page here

Conditions for the dolphins in the estuary are gradually improving but their environment is still subject to many pressures, including increased tourism and other recreational activities, industrial development and an increase in the number of people living in the area.  We cannot relax in our attempts to protect these dolphins and the environment on which they depend.