Protecting Whyalla's treasure

PROTECTION: Wildlife advocate Dr Laurice Dee says barriers and educational signs at the marina are a must to help change the dolphin feeding culture in Whyalla.
PROTECTION: Wildlife advocate Dr Laurice Dee says barriers and educational signs at the marina are a must to help change the dolphin feeding culture in Whyalla.

With dolphins being promoted as one of Whyalla's hidden treasures, wildlife advocate Dr Laurice Dee, PhD says it's imperative that measures be put in place to ensure their safety.

Dr Dee, who has been following the lives of the Bottlenose Dolphins in the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary for many years, is advocating for barriers and signs to be erected at the marina to inform the public that feeding or touching the dolphins is off limits.

The Whyalla News has been provided with links to videos of many people touching and/or feeding dolphins in the Whyalla Marina on social media.

Feeding wild dolphins can not only cause them to become ill if the fish is contaminated, it is also illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Dolphins that are hand-fed from boats can become accustomed to being fed this way which can result in them being hit by boats or jet skies when reaching out to humans for food.

The Department of Environment and Science advises that boats should be at least 50 metres away from dolphins to ensure they are safe.

"Mothers can teach their young the easy was to fish is by going to boats and piers for free handouts. This can create a domino effect with the same habit being taught from one generation to the next," Dr Dee said.

Dr Dee says it's impossible to stop feeding Whyalla dolphins altogether, but introducing a feeding program similar to what is run at the dolphin resorts in Monkey Mia and Tangalooma could be beneficial.

"A true, low-key program run by some trained professionals should help the dolphins become less dependent on humans for food," she said.

Dr Dee said she was concerned that the Whyalla City Council 'hasn't been serious about protecting the dolphins since it's the law'.

"The council needs to put together a massive plan to help the dolphins and make it a priority," she said.

"People unlawfully interacting with the dolphins has caused the dolphin population to decimate over the years."

Whyalla City Council CEO Chris Cowley said council is in the process of putting together the terms of reference for a dolphin management plan.

Mr Cowley said the plan would need to provide protection measures, educational opportunities and research mechanisms which protects the dolphins and 'allows them to remain off our shore for everyone to watch in complete safety for all'.

Initial work on the management plan has involved talks with Natural Resources Eyre Peninsula (NREP), Port River dolphin experts and organisers of a dolphin watch program on Kangaroo Island.

"We will be working closely with NREP, other government departments, environmental bodies, marine experts, organisers of dolphin programs, the community and all interested stakeholders to get information that will help form a workable, sustainable plan," he said.

"We wouldn't like to comment on any suggested measures until we have more information. Signage appears an obvious area to be worked on but we want to put together a comprehensive plan that covers all bases.

"Our own community has a big role to play in this process and we will be seeking their assistance and feedback along the way."