Dolphins have lived in the Gippsland Lakes for as long as local people can remember. They were mistakenly assumed to be the common bottlenose variety. In 2011 these dolphins were recognised as a new species: the Burrunan dolphin.
Burrunan is an Aboriginal word in the Boonwurrung, Woiwurrung and Tauurung language meaning ‘large sea fish or the porpoise kind’. The scientific name for this species is Tursiops australis.
Small populations of these dolphins occur in the Gippsland Lakes and in Port Philip Bay.
The Burrunan dolphins are the only dolphins in the Gippsland Lakes and are seen anywhere from Lake Wellington to Lakes Entrance.
For more information go to http://ammcf.org.au/burrunan-dolphin/ or search on Facebook for Australian Marine Mammal Conservation Foundation
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Boaters urged to protect Lakes dolphins
People enjoying their summer activities on the Gippsland Lakes have been urged to take care on the water to help protect the rare Burrunan dolphin and the safety of other Lakes users.
Identified for the first time in 2011, the Burrunan dolphin, also known as Tursiops Australis, has a population of around 50 in the Gippsland Lakes. There is a population of 100 living in Port Phillip Bay.
International dolphin expert Dr Kate Charlton-Robb, from the Australian Marine Mammal Research Foundation, said it was critical that people be aware of the creatures when boating on the Lakes.
“It is incredibly special to have such a rare species of dolphin living in the Gippsland Lakes and we encourage those who use the Lakes to do everything they can to protect it,” she said.
“People can still enjoy the wonderful experience of dolphin-watching”, Dr Charlton-Robb said, “but boats should stay at least 100 metres from the dolphins to ensure their safety and should not approach the dolphins”.
“Everyone can play their part in looking after the dolphins by removing litter including plastic bags and making sure that fishing lines are not left behind to create a hazard”, she said.
Dr Charlton-Robb was among a small team of Australian researchers who first identified the Burrunan dolphin, which was previously thought to be a type of bottle-nose dolphin, found all over the world. When researchers compared the skulls and DNA of these dolphins with older specimens from Museum Victoria, they discovered the dolphins were unique.
The Victorian Government has contributed $250,000 through the Gippsland Lakes Environment Fund to support the research, which will monitor the dolphin to help protect and sustain the species. The research will be used to set up a management plan to protect the indigenous dolphin.
Over the next two years, Dr Charlton-Robb will monitor the habits, migratory patterns and life-cycle of the species.
The research will study the size and structure of the dolphin population and its levels of residency through genetic and individual dolphin fin identification. It will assess the migration – highlighted by the influx of dolphins over winter – and identify breeding and feeding grounds.
The findings aim to improve understanding of the Burrunan dolphin’s behaviour, which can be used for its specialised management, protection and conservation.
Executive Officer for the Gippsland Lakes Ministerial Advisory Committee, Martin Richardson, said the funding was part of a broad program of investment into understanding and managing the health of the Gippsland Lakes and its unique environment.
“The Gippsland Lakes are internationally recognised for their natural features, migratory birds and other flora and fauna”, Mr Richardson said. “The information sessions for community members of all ages are a great way of sharing information and fostering appreciation of the Lakes environment”.
“The wonderful thing about our Lakes is that people are able to get out and enjoy recreational experiences in a world-famous eco-system”, Mr Richardson said. As well as information on our unique dolphins and other wildlife, the sessions will provide children’s activities and tips on safe and responsible boating for users of the Lakes”, he said.