Watching dolphins from the shore is an incredible gift, but experiencing time together with them in the water is something else all together. It’s an experience I have longed to do for so many years and now that I have, I can’t think why I waited so long. I am still buzzing from the day, still smiling – the feeling of the clean, clear-blue water is still washing over me. I’m so glad I finally took the plunge and spent an afternoon on the classic boat, Polperro, cruising Port Phillip Bay.
Did you know that we have our own unique species of bottlenose dolphin, the Burrunan, right here in Port Phillip Bay? I didn’t and I’ve lived in Melbourne for 25 years. The Burrunan dolphin, Tursiops australis, was only recognised as a species as recently as 2011 and is already considered endangered.* They exist in small, isolated populations, and the crew on Polperro seem to know most of the group in Port Phillip (about 100 animals) and they have kept an amazing photographic record. They have also named many individuals – mostly recognising them from scars, markings and behaviour.
There was a moment in the water when time stopped completely and two of these magical dolphins swam right underneath me – their slinky, glistening silver skin just there. They even looked like they were smiling up at me.
However, as magnificent as the Burrunans were, the tour is not just about the dolphins.
Out at Chinaman’s Hat, an octagonal structure serving as a shipping channel marker in the bay, Australian fur seals ‘haul-out’ to sunbake, rest, sleep, burp. They actually seemed excited when they saw Polperro coming, and many jumped into the water to get close to the boat. As I entered the water to snorkel and held on to one of the buoy ropes, seals were everywhere; young ones, streamlined and quick, and older, fat ones that were super relaxed. They seemed as thrilled to swim with me as I was to be with them. I was never nervous or scared. The Bay is quite shallow; the sandy bottom clear below, making visibility excellent. Two fully trained and experienced guides help everyone to get the best view.
Spending time with these cheeky seals was such a highlight for me. They are so playful and fun – hanging upside down one minute, spinning free in the water the next. One even ‘kissed’ my snorkel mask, its huge brown eyes staring into mine. What a moment.
Not far from Chinaman’s Hat is another structure that was chock-a-block full of Australasian gannets nesting with chicks. I often see gannets fishing when I am out surfing, but I have never seen them nesting, and their babies are so huge. Huge, white and fluffy – so unlike their graceful, sleek parents.
Port Phillip Bay’s aquatic life is a well-kept secret, even for locals. But I don’t want to keep it a secret any longer. I want everyone to know how fantastic this experience is. It will lift you up, make you feel connected to nature and fill you with wonder. It will make you care about the Bay and all of our waterways. It will make you want to go back again and again. I cannot wait for the next time.
- The Polperro departs from Sorrento Pier on the Mornington Peninsula (about a 90-minute drive from Melbourne) twice daily from October to May, 8 am and 12 pm.
- Passenger numbers are strictly limited so everyone has ample opportunity to get wet, or watch dolphins at play from the deck.
- All gear, including wetsuits and snorkels, is provided along with change areas below deck. There is complimentary tea, coffee, hot chocolate and delicious scones.
- While Polperro boasts a 98% success rate, dolphins are, of course, wild animals – there is no 100% guarantee that you will see dolphins on your chosen booking. Visit http://polperro.com.au for more information or to book.
Polperro have been active campaigners for marine national parks, regulatory reform, and marine education, and supporters of dolphin research as an essential means of providing greater protection for these animals. They embrace a range of strict, environmentally-based business practices to minimise disturbance to both the dolphins and the marine environment.
Please note: This article is an honest review and has not been sponsored in any way by Polperro Dolphin Swims or affiliates.
*Arguably, further research is currently required to establish a stronger consensus on the taxonomy of the Burrunan species as separate. There exist numerous arguments to the contrary.
Banner image courtesy of Troy Muir.