December 05, 2013 •
We Remember Billie
Billie, above, tailwalking. Photo ©WDCS / R. Hurrell.
In her 24 years, Billie has had a tumultuous life. She was born around 1985 but was without her mum at 12 - 18 months. This is a very young age for a young dolphin to be orphaned, however she found friendship with a horse, an ex-policeman and his dog, swimming alongside them during their training sessions in the Port River. This behaviour was captured on photo at the time by Martin Jacka (see homepage) and made international news.
A childrens book has also been based on this story.
When the bicentennial Tall Ships visited South Australia in 1988, Billy went missing.
Soon after Billy went missing, a dolphin was found trapped in the Patawalonga Lock at Glenelg, South Australia. Named "Pat" after the Patawalonga, this dolphin spent 3 weeks in captivity (the then Marineland at West Beach). When released she had the number "3" frozen on her dorsal fin, indicating she was the 3rd dolphin released from captivity from this aquarium. It is now illegal to keep marine mammals in captivity in South Australia.
After some initial confusion, it was realised that Pat the girl dolphin was in fact Billie (previously spelt Billy because she was thought to be a boy).
On her return, Billie slowly socialised into the local group of dolphins and was seen regularly in the inner Port River.
Billies life continued to fascinate us with her tail walking. This is very unusual for dolphins in the wild. It is assumed she saw this behaviour while in captivity and copied it.
In her last few years, she was seen tail walking more regularly. Two other dolphins in the Port River have also been seen tail walking, Wave (also on WDCS adopt-a-dolphin program) and a smooth fin. This behaviour has made international news and can be seen on You Tube.
Billie was also an avid bow rider, leaping in the wake made by the river tugs. She not only enjoyed leaping around boats, she surprised many by also tailwalking in front of boats, and has photos and videos of her tail walking in front of the ship Accolade. WDCS dolphin adopters will fondly remember many photos published of Billie and her energetic behaviour with boats. Many of these photos have been brought to us by WDCS team members Barbara Saberton and Marianna Hawkes.
Billie gave birth to seven calves, of which five did not survive to maturity.
Her last calf, Chelsea, a female, died in June 2009, aged of 4 months. Chelsea appeared energetic up until her last few days, however an autopsy revealed that she was severely malnourished.
Billies two surviving calves are Rosso and Marianna. Marianna (a male dolphin with a female name) is regularly seen in the inner parts of the Port River and was often seen with or close to Billie even after Chelsea was born.
Our knowledge of Billie and her life is known to us through the over 20 years of dedicated research by Dr Mike Bossley, AM. This study is one of the longest studies of a dolphin population anywhere in the world. Much of what we understand about how dolphins live in the wild, how they socialise and interact is because of the commitment of Dr Mike. Billie was a significant inspiration for him to begin his long term research and conservation work. Thank you Dr Mike for your ongoing dedication.
Billie has been a special dolphin amongst the wonderful Port River dolphin population. Billie died in August 2009. Vale Billie.
You can make a donation in memory of Billie here. Donations of over $30 will receive a special Billie memorial pack.
Related programs linksSpecies
South West Pacific