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Growing up with the amazing Adelaide Port River dolphins

A group of bottlenose dolphins lives in the Port River in the city of Adelaide, Australia. Adelaide is also home to marine biologist Dr Mike Bossley who set up a project 32 years ago to study and protect these unique dolphins and WDC has supported Mike’s work for much of this time. He has some very committed long-term project volunteers, including Marianna Boorman.

I asked Marianna to tell you her story of growing up alongside the dolphins, volunteering her time to protect them and their unusual home in the city. I promise you won't want to miss her gorgeous video of dolphin mum Mouse teaching her baby, Squeak, how to catch fish - just amazing.

Squeak, one of the Port River dolphins
Squeak, one of the Port River dolphins

If you are able to make a donation, it will help us protect these unique and vulnerable dolphins.

I have grown up alongside and loved these dolphins for as long as I can remember.  I first met many of them during family trips out on my grandparents’ boat. When I was 13 years-old, I began volunteering for Mike working with him on his bottlenose dolphin conservation project, supported by WDC.  I am very grateful to Mike for taking so much time to share his knowledge with me and helping me get to know the individual dolphins. Over 25 years later, I’m still volunteering! Through Mike and WDC, I’ve learnt an incredible amount about these dolphins including how to identify individuals and how to study in detail various behaviours including fishing, mating, socialising, resting, travelling and bow riding.

Marianna Boorman and Mike Bossley in 2005
Marianna Boorman and Mike Bossley in 2005

Some individuals are well known locally and Billie was one such dolphin.  She had a rather unusual habit for a dolphin - she would swim alongside race horses, joining them for their exercise sessions in the Port River.  Billie was also famous for her ability to tail walk. At times she would even tail walk in front of tug boats and ships as they travelled up and down the river. Billie also tail walked right next to me as I watched from the shore, almost as if to surprise me.

Billie tail walking while Marianna watches
Billie tail walking while Marianna watches

Incredibly, her good friends Wave and Bianca learnt to tail walk too.  As time went on, other dolphins including Wave’s calves Ripple and Talulla, and Bianca’s calf Oriana, also learnt to tail walk. The dolphins were clearly learning this behaviour from one another.

Wave tail walking
Wave tail walking

In 2005, I was out on the water with my parents and was very excited to see Billie with a brand-new calf. The calf’s fin was still flopped over - a sure sign that the calf was a newborn. I was honoured when Mike named the baby Marianna in recognition of my volunteer work. I have enjoyed watching Marianna and many other calves grow up and develop strong bonds and friendships with other dolphins.

Dolphin Marianna with friends Bubbles, Mouse, Hunter, Rosso and Star
Dolphin Marianna with friends Bubbles, Mouse, Hunter, Rosso and Star

Some of them now have calves of their own. It is always very exciting when a new baby joins the pod but it is heartbreaking when one of the dolphins we know and love dies.  It is particularly devastating when a dolphin’s death is a result of human activity. Back in 1998 when I was doing my school work experience volunteering with Mike, two dolphins we knew were found dead with gun shot wounds. This opened my eyes to the range of threats dolphins face from people and also just how callous some people can be.

As a volunteer with WDC I give school and community talks about the dolphins, distribute flyers and work with the media to raise awareness about the need to help and protect the dolphins. I have been involved in rescues of entangled, sick or injured dolphins. I have also worked on several campaigns including the reduction of speed limits for boats and for permanent signs to be put in place to remind people of the Marine Mammal Regulations. I continue to spend countless hours monitoring the dolphins and doing what I can to help protect them.

Marianna gives a school talk with Splash the dolphin

One of our very well-known resident dolphins, named Mouse, often comes close to shore when herding and catching fish. We’ve watched her teach her calves how to do this and various other fishing techniques. I was fortunate to video Mouse with her six-month-old calf Squeak who was trying to keep up with her while she was surface fishing. Mouse was turning over on her back and racing after small garfish.

Swimming upside down enables dolphins to get closer to the surface. The fish jump out of the water trying to escape which attracts seagulls that swoop down for a meal. It’s a great sight to see. Sometimes when they are fishing very close to where I am standing, they seem to be looking back at me. I am sure they know I am watching them and sometimes they appear equally as interested in me as I am in them.

I am now very lucky to be a mother myself and my three beautiful children Michael, Lily and Robbie help me monitor the dolphins. We have been fortunate to spend plenty of time together watching dolphins and have seen some wonderful interactions and behaviours. The children are learning just how special dolphins are and how important it is that we protect them and their environment from harm.

Marianna's children Michael, Robbie and Lily watching dolphins
Marianna's children Michael, Robbie and Lily watching dolphins

We are so fortunate to have these dolphins living wild and free so close to the city of Adelaide. I believe it is incredibly important that we do all that we can to protect them and their habitat and that future generations can also grow up enjoying them and getting to know these beautiful creatures.

Please help us today with a donation

Your gift, whether large or small, will help us protect the Port River dolphins.

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