Secret Sightings

Executive Director of the Dolphin Research Institute, Jeff Weir shares his thoughts on a new project that he wants Merricks Beach locals to share in – but it doesn’t come with bragging rights so be sure to keep it under your sunhat!

There’s a secret in the waters of Western Port that we want to understand but keep quiet at the same time. It’s about some unusual dolphins and a bay that is very different to Port Phillip Bay which has both resident bottlenose and common dolphins.
The Dolphin Research Institute (DRI) has records of Western Port dolphins spanning three decades, with regular sightings of bottlenose dolphins in the southern half, especially along the western and eastern shores.
Will Webster from Merricks Beach has spent much of the COVID-19 lockdown as a Monash Uni intern with DRI, developing a new project that aims to uncover some of the mysteries of the bottlenose dolphins that frequent local waters from Somers to Flinders. He is asking questions like: How many are there? What are their patterns of movement? What happens to the calves when they mature? Why does Port Phillip have about 160-180 resident dolphins and Western Port only a couple of dozen? What are the human impacts?
Will has also helped in the creation of a new web-tool called ‘PodSurveyor’ to record dolphin sightings. We are now also encouraging locals to report “ad-hoc” sightings through our PodWatch app. (You can save a shortcut to PodWatch on your phone.) Have a look at the tutorial for PodWatch at this link: and the direct link to PodWatch is here:
It’s important to reinforce that DRI are keen to record cases of harassment so that we can help to build a case with wildlife managers to support the protection of these unique dolphins. Important for the same reason, are the dolphin watching rules: Swimmers should not deliberately approach dolphins closer than 30 metres. Sailboats, (including paddleboards etc.) 100 metres, and Jetskis should stay 300 metres away. If they approach you then stay calm, enjoy the experience and let them swim off.
These remarkable dolphins are a joy to locals and the Institute’s goal is to protect them through understanding their needs and threats. At the beginning of this article I said “understand and keep quiet at the same time”. We go out of our way to speak in general terms about Western Port dolphins unless we are talking to locals or managers. It would certainly not be in the dolphins’ best interest if their precise location was outed on one of the lifestyle programs – so “mum’s the word”.

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