Concerns about the dependence of dolphins in the Whyalla Marina on being fed by humans are growing after a pregnant dolphin was spotted leaping out of the water for a fish.
The moment was captured by resident Angela Antonio, and has wildlife advocate Dr Laurice Dee, Phd, very worried.
Dr Dee said stress from abrupt movements could cause damage to the pregnant dolphin's placenta.
"Loss of the fetus could occur if something should happen to the placenta," she said.
"The pregnant dolphin also faces the risk of losing her unborn calf if she gets injured from hitting the boat during the jump and/or falling back on the water hard.
The feeding also could cause further long-term issues, like the dolphin resuming the begging behavior after birth and putting her newborn at risk of being hit by a boat.
"Extremely young ones spend a great deal of time on the surface while learning to swim and dive," Dr Dee said.
"As uncoordinated beings, the little ones tend to dart around and stray from their mothers. They face the risk of being hit by boats.
"Another concern is that the mother-to-be may teach her calf to go up to boaters, as well as members of the public, for free handouts."
But this isn't new to Dr Dee, who says she first became aware of illegal feeding of dolphins in Whyalla years ago and the lack of action on the issue was 'beyond disappointing'.
She said a number of measures should be enacted by the Whyalla City Council to help ensure the safety of dolphins in the marina and inform the public:
- Large signs need to be set up to remind the public of the rules meant to protect the dolphins. They should be placed in appropriate locations where no one can miss them.
- Members of the media should be contacted to inform and educate the public about the dolphins and how they should be protected.
- Employees at tourist info centers should be contacted to do the exact same.
- Barriers need to be set up in certain locations where the public cannot be up close to the dolphins in the marina.
- Officers [rangers, marine safety, and/or police] need to be present inside and outside of the marina to catch and fine the ones that break the rules.
Dr Dee said the council and various departments needed to work together to come up with a plan of action to protect the dolphins.
"If members of the council want everyone to enjoy the dolphins for many more years to come, they must ensure that the dolphins are safe and protected at all times," she said.
Whyalla City Council Acting CEO Kirsten Clark said signage had been installed at the Whyalla Marina advising the community of the actions and restrictions which are required to be adhered to for the care of the dolphins.
"This includes notification of the strict fines that apply for persons caught feeding, deliberately approaching or harassing dolphins," he said.
"As part of the development of our iconic loop jetty, we will be developing new signage. The format, style and content has yet to be determined, but we will be considering all suggestions when we reach that stage of the process."
Mr Clark also advised that Council 'does not have any delegated powers under the National Parks and Wildlife Act', which governs dolphin management.