Seeing the beautiful Burrunan dolphin jumping and flipping can be one of the true joys of visiting and boating on the Gippsland Lakes.
Recent research by Dr Kate Charlton-Robb and the team at the Marine Mammal Foundation (MMF) has found that 77% of sightings involved interactions with boats, jet skis and other vessels.
“There are government regulations in place to protect dolphins and other marine animals,” explained Dr Charlton-Robb. “These state that powered or unpowered vessels, including kayaks and stand up paddle boards cannot approach within 100m of dolphins. Jet skis need to remain 300m away.
“In summer we found that there were almost five regulation violations per hour of sighting – this is staggering!
“There will be times when you are boating in a narrow waterway and this won’t be possible. But the sentiment remains the same – let the dolphins choose if they want to interact with you.
“There are so many occasions where dolphins will choose to jump around the bow of a boat, surf in the wake or swim underneath you as you travel along. This is all perfectly fine as the dolphin has decided it wants to play.”
There is a resident population of only 65 dolphins living in the Gippsland Lakes and research has shown they head toward Loch Sport during summer and back into the area between Raymond Island and the Entrance in winter when there are less boats in the Lakes.
“Research has shown a dramatic shift in the way the dolphins use the Gippsland Lakes across the year,” continued Dr Charlton-Robb. “We believe the increase in boat traffic is a concerning driver of this shift. This could cause stress as basic, but important, activities such as resting, feeding and playing are being interrupted.
“The increase in boat traffic might also cause sensitive dolphins to move from busier areas to more quiet areas – affecting their behaviour and condition. This small and important population of dolphins must be protected from stress, including exposure to boat activity. We’re monitoring what the threats are to the dolphins and will need the community’s help to address them.”
If you’re boating in the Gippsland Lakes, you can pick up the handy guide to Safe Boating with the Burrunan Dolphin. The guide includes stories and information about the Burrunan and importantly details about the regulations designed to help keep them safe.
“Dolphins use sound for all their communication and they are on the same frequency as the boat engines, so it becomes a very noisy environment,” continued Dr Charlton-Robb.
“Add to that the large influx of people on the Lakes who aren’t familiar with the dolphins, and the fact that you’re not supposed to approach them, and the dolphins start to experience regular, if not constant, interruptions to their basic daily activities.
You can pick up a copy of the guide to safe boating at visitor information centres and boat-based businesses around the Gippsland Lakes. For more information about the Gippsland Lakes Burrunan dolphin visit www.marinemammal.org.au.
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