The Histories of the Beach Dolphins
The Crookedfin Lineage
Crookedfin, aptly named for her crooked dorsal fin, was an original Monkey Mia beach dolphin.
Crookedfin started visiting the beach sporadically in the 1970's, but it was clear that she did not like to visit the beach when the male alliance of Sicklefin, Snubnose and Bibi were around. However, after the three males died from exposure to pollution from a septic tank leakage in 1989, she visited frequently up until her death in 1992. Crookedfin was always hesitant in allowing people to touch her and would beg for fish less often than other beach dolphins. When she died, her son, Cookie, was suddenly orphaned at 3.5 years, but seemed to find solace in associating with his older sister, Puck, and his long-time male associate, Smokey, another orphan of the same age. Puck continues to visit the beach to this day, but Cookie chose not to be involved in the beach feeding. Ever since he was weaned, Cookie has stayed away from the beach and is frequently sighted in Red Cliff Bay. Cookie bears large shark bite scars on his peduncle (tail stock), from an attack a few years ago.
Puck was most likely Crookedfin's first surviving offspring. Like her mother, Puck visited the beach sporadically in the 1970's and 80's. However after her first calf (who died within days) was born, she became a regular visitor. Puck had five calves after that; the next two, Petal and Pépé, died within a couple of months after birth. Her fourth calf, Piccolo, was the first to survive to weaning. In 1994, Puck became entangled in a fishing net while chasing mullet. The fishermen did not notice, but fortunately Dr. Janet Mann had been following Nicky nearby and saw Puck struggling in the net. She alerted the fishers to release her from the net before she drowned. Puck had become wrapped in the net and couldn't surface to breathe. Piccolo was still quite young, just over one year of age, and was clearly panicking during the incident, whistling loudly and zipping back and forth. All the ridges on Puck's fin are scars from the incident, and if you visit Monkey Mia you might also see the net marks on her head. To date, netting is still allowed in Red Cliff Bay.
Piccolo, born in 1992, was the first calf born to a provisioned mother to survive and show an interest in people at the beach. Piccolo is very close to her mother, and they spend much of their time together, both at and away from the beach. Puck and Piccolo probably have the strongest mother-daughter relationship in Red Cliff Bay. When she is not with her mum, she is often with her girlfriend, Shock.
In 1999 the DPaW rangers attempted to hand feed Piccolo, while researchers Amy Samuels, Cindy Flaherty and Kym Pearce observed closely. Piccolo seemed more interested in the attention than the fish. During the feeding trial Piccolo tried to offer the ranger a fresh whiting she had caught (pictured below). This was possibly a tastier option than the dead fish she was being offered to her! Eventually however, Piccolo did start taking fish from the rangers and she is now one of the five provisioned dolphins. In February 2004, Piccolo made the transition from taking fish from the rangers to taking fish from supervised tourists.
In early 2004 Piccolo also gave birth to her first calf, Eden, making her one of the youngest dolphins to give birth in Shark Bay, at just over 11 years of age. Eden has now been successfully weaned and has ventured off to explore the rest of the bay, but she still comes back to the beach for an occasional visit. In 2007, Piccolo gave birth to a second daughter, Flute, was is doing well and quite large for her age, and who regularly visits the beach with her mother and grandmother.
Puck's next daughter Kiya was born in 1997 and she often came to the beach with her mother. Kiya was attacked by a shark in 1999, and if you happen to visit the beach she's easily recognizable by the shark bite scar on the left hand side of her body. Nevertheless Kiya survived and has flourished, and is expected to have a calf of her own soon.
Puck's next calf was born in early December of 2002 and only lived for a few months until it died on March 31st, 2003. This calf was named Wada, which is an Aboriginal word meaning "Pearl". On March 31st, Puck and Wada came to the beach for the first feed of the day but neither of them came back for the second feed. When Puck returned later in the afternoon, Wada was nowhere to be found. The most likely case was that Wada was taken by a shark sometime between the first and last feed of that day.
Puck then gave birth to her first surviving son, India, in 2004. India was very close to his mother and continued to spend a lot of time with her even after he was weaned, despite being a very proficient forager. However, when her next calf was born, India had to move off and start spending time with boys his own age in order to start forming an alliance.
Samu is Puck's newest calf, born on December 12th, 2009, and named in honor of Dr. Amy Samuels, a longtime researcher at Monkey Mia who passed away in December 2008. Puck and Samu are now famous as the stars of a BBC wildlife documentary about the Dolphins of Shark Bay!
Piper is the newest member of the Crookedfin family, born to Piccolo on October 26th, 2011.
The Holeyfin Lineage
Nicky is the daughter of Holeyfin - one of the first dolphins to visit the beach and accept fish from humans. Nicky, named for the nick in her dorsal fin, was born in 1975 and is one of the most reliable beach dolphins in the history of Monkey Mia! She visits the beach almost everyday, even during mating season! Nicky and Puck, the two main beach females, get along reasonably well, but they still occasionally get into spats. Puck, unlike Nicky, is well integrated into the Red Cliff Bay larger community of females.
Nicky's younger sister, Joy, born in 1979, rarely visits the beach or spends time with her older sister. Even after both Joy and Nicky began having calves, they still spent little time together.
Nicky's first daughter Nipper was lost during the same septic incidence as Bibi and his friends in '89; Nipper was just over one year of age. Nicky's second calf Finnick had the misfortune of being hand fed at a very young age. Regular provisioning made Finnick dependent on humans for food, and apparently unwilling to catch his own fish. He became emaciated and died one year after he was weaned. Nicky's next born son Nakita died in 1994, before the beach feeding policies were changed. Nicky's fourth calf Holikin was born in August of 1995 and was successfully weaned at 32 months, the youngest age recorded for the beach dolphins. Holikin, named after his grandmother Holeyfin, was small but energetic. Up until 2003, he was often seen hanging out in Red Cliff Bay with other young males. However, Holikin has not been seen since and it is thought that he, like most of Nicky's calves, has died too. Nomad was born to Nicky in November of 1998. While he was still nursing, he had a tendency to wander hundreds of meters away from his mother- hence the name "Nomad". Like Holikin, Nomad was small, which was readily apparent when he swam next to his best friend Sparky, who was much larger even though they were born only a few days apart. Nomad died in 2002 just after his third birthday.
In December 2002, right around the same time that Puck had Wada, Nicky had another calf, who was named Yadgalah, the Aboriginal word for "friend". Yadgalah was successfully weaned in 2006. On Christmas Day of 2006, Nicky gave birth to a son, Yule, who only lived for a few months. In summer 2008 she gave birth to her newest calf, a girl named Fin, who accompanied her mum to the beach almost every day. Fin has now been weaned and enjoys playing with her friends from the beach and her cousin Ecstasy.
The Surprise Lineage
Surprise, named for her tendency to suddenly show up at the bow of researchers boats, is another provisioned adult female. Surprise was known to researchers as an adolescent before she began visiting the beach. It wasn't until 1990, when Holeyfin escorted Surprise into the beach, that she became a regular visitor.
Nicky didn't seem to share Holeyfin's affinity for Surprise. She frequently attacked Surprise in the first couple of years when she would come into the provisioning area. Holeyfin would then have to defend her friend Surprise from her own daughter. Researchers suspect that without Holeyfin's help, Surprise would never have become a beach visitor.
When Surprise first began visiting, she often refused fish, showing little interest in the hand feeding. This interest changed one year later, when she had her first calf. However, even today Surprise accepts less fish from the rangers than the other females. She is an impressive forager, constantly chasing and catching her own fish.
Shadow was Surprise's first known calf. He was born in December 1992, but only survived a few months. Her next born calf, Shock was successfully weaned and was always very large for her age. Like her mother she is an impressive forager, hunting predominantly in the shallow flats northeast of Monkey Mia. Shock gave birth to her first calf, a girl named Startle, in 2007. Though Startle flourished as a calf, she was attacked by a shark soon after she was weaned in 2011 and disappeared shortly thereafter.
Sparky is Surprise's second surviving calf. Sparky was born in 1998 is doing exceptionally well- he is a mischievous and frisky dolphin, and like his older sister, very large for his age. Sparky's next sibling is Burda who was born in January 2003. Keeping with the theme of the beach dolphin calves that were born that year, Burda's name is the Aboriginal word for "star". Burda has also been successfully weaned and now spends his time hanging out with his brother Sparky and other friends offshore.
Surprise had another boy, Shiver, in 2006. Shiver also suffered a serious shark attack when he was little, and now sports a serious of distinctive shark bites on his peduncle. Despite that he has also been successfully weaned and keeps busy playing with his niece Static, little sister Sonic, and friends Flute and Samu.
On November 17th, 2010, Surprise gifted us with a little girl dolphin, Sonic. Sonic was named after an acoustic research project which will help us learn how young dolphins learn to echolocate. Sonic was soon followed by her niece Static born on November 24th, 2011, who will also be a part of the acoustics project.
The Beautiful Lineage
Researchers know little of Beautiful's matriline. Bibi began visiting the beach in the early 1980s, after his mother's death. He eventually brought in his alliance partners, Snubnose and Sicklefin. All three males disappeared in 1989.