Australia’s beautiful sandy island is home to more than just pristine beaches, mysterious shipwrecks and vast dunes – a pod of playful residents flock to the shores each night for much-anticipated treats. Words: Joanna Reeves
A jagged-edged fin glides past, slicing through the emerald waters and casting ripples around my shins. Seconds pass, and I hear the dolphin before I spot him again: a sudden whoosh of air and a spray of water through his blowhole. A solo light on the jetty picks out the dark-grey silhouette darting through the shallows, just inches from my legs.
“When I say now, drop your hand beneath the surface,” Emma, the dolphin care expert, says to me. “Beware – Echo’s greedy!” On the command, I dip my hand and the fish I’m holding is eagerly snapped up. I catch a glimpse of the mammal’s sleek curves before Echo dashes off, circling and splashing his companions.
It’s 7pm and I’m up to my knees in water at Moreton Bay. Just off the coast of southeastern Queensland, Moreton Island is known for its steep dunes, mystical wrecks and caramel swathes of powdery sand. It’s also home to a handful of playful bottlenose dolphins that gather at the shore of the west coast in anticipation of evening snacks.
It all started with Eric, a dolphin who started regularly visiting the jetty of the Tangalooma Island Resort in the 1980s for scraps from guests fishing there. Eric was swiftly renamed Beauty by the Osbornes – the resort owners – when ‘he’ turned up one day, suckling calf in tow. As Beauty’s family grew over the years, Betty Osborne began trying to hand-feed the friendly pod – with great success.
In 1992, the Tangalooma Dolphin Care and Research Program was born, with official dolphin-care protocols approved by the Marine Park Authority – only a fraction of the creatures’ daily food requirement is supplied to prevent dependence, for instance. Today, the team at the resort’s on-site Marine Education and Conservation Centre monitors the bay’s 12 flippered residents and provides insightful talks on the area’s marine life.
Best of all, guests can join staff in feeding the majestic mammals – just watch your fingers with Echo.
Details: The wild dolphin feeding experience is available for guests of the Tangalooma Island Resort, or via day trips from Brisbane (a 75-minute boat journey away). www.tangalooma.com