WHILE social distancing will go down in history as one of life’s necessities in 2020, the principle is now being extended into the sea to protect dolphins.
“After 30 years, we are trying to get smarter with an evidence-based approach to behaviour change. We call it dolphin distancing,” the Dolphin Research Institute’s executive director Jeff Weir said.
Boaters are being urged to place a “Dolphin Distancing” sticker on their vessels to “create a new norm” in Port Phillip and Western Port waters.
“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.
“Our plans for DRI’s fourth decade have Dolphin Distancing firmly embedded. After 30 years we know there are no quick fixes and you can trust us to be here for the long haul.
“We want to build a strong community of Dolphin Distancers. It’s crucial for our dolphins’ welfare.”
There are already fines for boaters deliberately approaching dolphins closer than 100 metres (whales 200m), including paddled vessels, 300m for jet skis or 30m for swimmers.
Mr Weir says the institute believes its new approach is a world-first, for improving behaviour around dolphins.
“Rather than blaming, shaming and complaining, we are asking the community to be part of the solution by creating a new norm on the water,” he said. “Our bays are giant nurseries for about 140 bottlenose and 40 common dolphins. We also get visits from killer whales – the largest of the dolphin family – as well as humpback and southern right whales.
“It is remarkable to have these animals in our marine backyard, and they deserve our respect and best efforts to protect them.”
Dolphin Distancing was not about spoiling the experience of seeing whales and dolphins “just showing respect for the animals and their environment”.
Every summer for three decades, the institute has tried to get people in boats to be respectful around dolphins.
“Media releases, education programs, signs on boat ramps, surveys of boaters, bumper stickers, calls for more policing – we’ve done them all. But no more,” Mr Weir said.
He said dolphins were curious and sometimes approached boats, adding that “the important thing is to show respect and not deliberately approach them”. Details: www.dolphinresearch.org.au. or to report dolphin sightings email dolphinresearch.org.au or call 5979 7100.
First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 22 December 2020