Roebuck Bay locals While you’re in Broome, join a whale watching tour and you may spot one of the rarest dolphin species in the world - the snubfin, says Dianne Bortoletto.
roome is known for its beauty, for Cable Beach, the ancient landscape, the Staircase to the Moon and for having a laid-back vibe, but what many don’t know is that it’s also home to the world’s largest known population of the incredibly rare snubfin dolphin. Snubfin dolphins live in Roebuck Bay, on the other side of town from Cable Beach, and it’s teeming with marine life. The bay has two more dolphin species, namely the bottlenose and humpback, an array of fish, manta rays, eagle rays, dugongs and six of the seven different species of turtles worldwide. The bay attracts 100,000 migratory shore birds that feed during the summer to fatten up before migrating to Siberia in winter. Scientists call the bay a “cetacean biologist’s dream”. On board a spacious catamaran with accredited tour operator Broome Whale Watching Tours, we head out to Roebuck Bay in search of the snubfin dolphins. Instantly I’m in awe of the colours of nature – the rusty-red dirt, the green scrub, the huge blue skies and the opaque aqua ocean. The morning already feels magical. While I scan the ocean, owner of Broome Whale Watching Tours Cameron
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Birch explains that snubfin dolphins are designed to live in zero visibility. “Roebuck Bay is a tidal bay over mud flats and, as a result, it makes the water murky and muddy. That’s the perfect environment for snubbies - they are an estuarine dolphin and like shallow coastal areas. They are not an oceanic dolphin at all,” Cameron says. We see a small pod on our morning cruise and follow them from a distance so as to not disturb them. Unlike bottlenose dolphins that have a nose and are agile and fast, snubfin dolphins are very slow moving and have round heads with no beak. Snubfins are also able to bend their necks, which they
do as part of their hunting strategy. Jason Fowler, Marine Projects Officer at Environs Kimberley, said snubfin dolphins are incredibly intelligent because they are able to hunt in an environment where other dolphins can’t. “The visibility is zero because of the macro-tidal environment and the mudflats. Snubfins have really welldeveloped feeding strategies where they spit water out of their mouths, and when it lands on the surface the baitfish panic and often jump straight back toward the snubfin, and the dolphin just picks them up,” Jason said. “Roebuck Bay is very productive – the mudflat is covered with a fine layer of algae growth, which is the basis of the food chain - millions of prawns and animals living off that and the whole food chain comes into effect, baitfish, other fish, so there’s a lot of food for snubfins. “In fact, the mudflats have the highest diversity of marine invertebrates in the visitbroome.com.au
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