DOLPHINS have become victims of their own popularity when they come close to shore in Western Port.
After years of becoming an attraction at Balnarring for appearing to swim alongside racehorses being exercised in the shallows, there are now concerns about dogs also joining the dolphins in the water.
Dolphin Research Centre executive director Jeff Weir said he had received reports of “dogs, paddlers and swimmers pestering dolphins in Western Port”.
He had also received “many calls” about vessels in Port Phillip doing the same.
In December, the DRI launched a campaign to persuade boaters to keep their distance from dolphins in Port Phillip and Western Port (“Going to water with social distancing” The News 20/12/20).
“Dolphin Distancing is not just a quirky twist on COVID,” Mr Weir said. “We saw some appalling harassment of whales and dolphins on the few winter days this year when boats could get out between COVID lockdowns.
Mr weir last week said dogs being near dolphins was “particularly concerning when very young calves are present”.
“People often say that they have been there for years and their dogs have always swum out to the dolphins and the dolphins are still here – so what’s the problem?
“The issue is that many small interruptions to a dolphin mother’s feeding, resting, nursing, protecting behaviours – albeit small in isolation – add up to potentially threatening levels.”
Mr Weir said dolphins may move as a result of stress “but, just like us, there is evidence that they will stay where the food is and put up with very stressful situations to the point that it takes a toll on them”.
“Because it’s so difficult to determine the limit of stress dolphins can cope with, it’s best to minimise stresses where we can,” he said.
Approaches to address the issues in Western Port included changing “the social norm” so most people did the right thing; giving community talks; and starting a university intern and community research program.
The study results would help the DRI “to better understand the dolphins use of Western Port and what areas are important, and the time they are spending feeding, resting, nursing, socialising or interacting with other species”.
“This will be ongoing and help DELWP Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning) to budget for wildlife officers to focus on Western Port.”
Regulations state that boats (including paddle craft) should not approach within 100 metres of a dolphin; jet skis must be at least 300m away; swimmers 30m; and dogs 300m. Fines can be up to $4000.