Rockingham’s claim to fame is its ecotourism opportunities. Not only do they have an island that is home to penguins and sea lions, but there is also a breeding ground for bottlenose dolphins just off the coast. I signed up for the Wild Encounters tour in hopes of getting to meet some of these dolphins I’d heard so much about! A shuttle bus picked a bunch of us up from the train station in Perth (only a block or 2 from my hostel) and drove us down to Rockingham, about an hour south.
We hopped on the boat, listened to some briefings, then made our way toward sea. Soon enough, we came across our first dolphins. The crew split us up into 6 groups with about 6-7 people in each. Each group wore a different colored weight belt (without the weights) to minimize confusion. They would call 3 of the groups to the back of the boat, where we anxiously sat along the platform with our masks on, waiting for the word to jump in. First they send out a “contact point” so that the dolphins can become friendly with someone in our group (a guide with her own scooter).
When they’re relaxed and ready, the 3 groups jump in together. I was a blue belt. So my job was to slide into the water and grab the blue belt of the person in front of me. That way we all ended up making a chain so we could just float on the surface. The guide in front was equipped with a scooter to propel us closer toward the dolphins.
The 1st time we jumped in with the dolphins, we saw 2 playing around with each other and spiraling toward the surface. So cute! They really are gorgeous creatures. From then on, we took turns with the other groups in the boat, jumping in and observing the dolphins in their natural environment. I think the best part was just watching everyone else’s excitement when we spotted dolphins and the anticipation before jumping in the water with them.
On the boat, I made friends with Roman – a Swiss guy about my age who was also there by himself – and he happened to be a scuba diver as well. It was nice having someone with the same outlook as me to compare notes. While the trip was really fun and everyone else was so pumped about the dolphins, I think Roman and I were slightly disappointed just because we’ve been spoiled by our diving. The visibility in the water was only about 3-5 meters at best, so unless the dolphins were right in front of you, it was pretty difficult to see them. It was also frustrating being at the mercy of your guide and group. Most people on the boat didn’t seem very comfortable in the water, so instead of floating motionless on the surface, they were splashing around and kicking, which didn’t help the viewing situation. Oh, if I could have had my fins!
The dolphin viewing from the boat was amazing because there were dozens in the water at any given time. But the process of actually swimming with them seemed a little forced. The crew seemed a little disappointed as well though, so I think I may have just caught it on a mediocre day. Regardless, it was still a really nice experience. Amazing views. Beautiful creatures! And a very friendly staff. I also think it’s a really positive program to hold wild encounters with marine life, rather than watching them perform tricks in captivation. (Like SeaWorld, yuck!) Dolphins can live up to 50 years or even longer, but in captivation, they tend to live around 20-25 years maximum. Dolphins are very social creatures, so when they become captivated, many of them become stressed and even depressed, thus leading to a shorter life span. Pretty sad…
That being said, we had a really fun day. Lots of sun and activity and great views! Once we docked, we had about an hour to kill before they finished making our DVD copy of the day. So Roman and I stationed ourselves at a pub with 4 other Australian women from our tour. Great entertainment! We parted ways after the bus, but Roman met up with me and Britt at the Perth train station shortly after for our Sunday Session at Cottesloe that we’d heard so much about. (A must do!) Roman stayed for dinner but was still pretty jet lagged so he made his way home early. Britt and I were determined to have ONE night out in Perth, so we barhopped from the Cottesloe Hotel to the OBH (Ocean Beach Hotel). I was certainly impressed with the number of people who made it out… the OBH had at least 4 different rooms with bars that we could find, 2 of which had live music. I think the whole point of a Sunday Session is to start early though, so we kinda missed the boat. I think we were both relieved when they kicked everyone out around 10pm… bed time!!!