It’s been a busy time lately and I have been a bit lax about blogging about Ella Bay itself but today I will make amends!
On Monday 29 June and Tuesday 30 June 2009 I had the most awesome dolphin sightings at Ella Bay that anyone could wish for!
It all began on the Monday when I stepped out of my car at the council car park and an Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin leapt out of the water directly in front of my vehicle. I hot footed it to the shore with camera in hand so fast I had to race back after a couple of minutes of photos to lock my car and turn the engine off!
It was a clear day on Monday and the dolphins were in a playful mood jumping out of the water and socialising. The pod consisted of about 5 dolphins and I spent every moment of the 34 minute sighting trying to count them! At times they appeared to be chasing small fish as although they were generally heading south they circled and splashed around a lot.
I have a special technique for photographing animals in action its called press the button plenty while you have the chance and check the results later at home. And boy did I get a surprise when I got home and discovered amongst the pod there was a young dolphin!
The photos were immediately sent to three Australian dolphin experts who all agreed it was not a baby calf but a sub adult/juvenile.
It is fantastic to confirm this shallow water coastal dolphin species is living and breeding around Ella Bay! My sincere thanks also to Blanche Danastas at Marine Wildlife Australia for her assistance too!
The following day I could not resist another visit to Ella Bay to see if my new found aquatic friends would return. After a chat with a concerned and interesting local I trotted down onto the sand and there they were just like the day before!
There did not seem to be as many dolphins this time probably 4 and they were less boisterous however I did manage to get a few good photos. Seabirds were travelling with the pod and they were obviously feeding on baitfish.
Tuesday’s sighting was a lot shorter than Monday’s as the whole pod sounded and disappeared for no apparent reason.
Unfortunately minutes later the reason became apparent when a boat raced around the point and drove at high speed right through the area that the dolphins had been using.
The dolphins did not return.
I am disappointed that the federal government did not add migratory marine species and the marine environment to the assessment criteria for the Ella Bay urban development/resorts. These Dolphins will obviously be negatively impacted by a population of 5000 people in this coastal wilderness.
Amongst the hundreds of pages of EIS statements provided by the proponent there is no mention of the developments effect on coastal dolphin species which I also find very disappointing. Ella Bay provides the shallow water habitat this coastal species requires to live, reproduce and hunt for food.
Indeed Satori’s own environmental consultants BAAM state in their response to comments document “BAAM (2006) did not address purely marine species, which should be the subject of assessment by marine experts” (Beginning of page 3 of the report, PDF file).
It appears these assessments will not be happening despite BAAM’s recommendation.
Indo–pacific humpback dolphins are a shy and cautious species in this area and this was clearly illustrated yesterday when they ceased feeding and totally dispersed to avoid the oncoming boat.
This threat is referred to as behavior modification and with a projected population of 5000 people Ella Bay will experience a significant and environmentally detrimental increase in marine traffic i.e. boats jet skis etc. Sort of like the effect of having a racetrack in your own lounge room if you get my drift! Marine traffic of this nature can stress dolphins as they have to change their normal behaviour to endure it. Important activities such as hunting, socializing and courtship are all impacted to the detriment of the pod.
Significantly, it is very likely that the Australian Indo-Pacific humpback is a distinct species as was found with the Australian snubfin dolphin Orcaella heinsohni. For decades the Australian snubfin was believed to be the more widely distributed Irrawaddy dolphin Orcaella brevirostris however in 2005 the Australian snubfin dolphin was described as a unique Australian species. Many scientists are predicting a similar outcome for Australian Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (on the CSIRO website).
Ella Bay is very fortunate to have such beautiful and distinguished cetacean residents. It is my sincere wish that Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett AM MP takes direct action to halt this inappropriate development at Ella Bay and protect this marine wilderness environment for marine species such as Ella Bays Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins.