The Beach Dolphins

Most mornings between 8am and noon, two adult females accompanied by their offspring visit the beach to receive fish from the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation, and attractions (DBCA) rangers. Visitors to Monkey Mia are able to enter the shallows and assist in the feeding under the supervision of the rangers.

Very strict controls apply to the feeding of dolphins within the Monkey Mia area; it is illegal to feed them unless under DBCA ranger supervision. If you have enquiries about feeding, contact the Department of Parks and Wildlife. If you are interested in volunteering to help the rangers with the Monkey Mia beach dolphins, please contact the Volunteer Coordinator at monkeymiavolunteers@westnet.com.au.

While other dolphins often visit the beach, only a maximum of five adult females can be fed. Kiya is the most recent dolphin to start accepting fish from DBCA rangers. The other offspring and grandoffspring of provisioned females—Sparky, Burda, Eden, India, Shiver, Flute, Fin, Samu, Sonic, Piper, Wirriya, Summer, Pan and Jindi—have not been hand fed. Currently Kiya and her older sister Piccolo are the only provisioned dolphins. Four provisioned dolphins have died in recent years. Nicky, the daughter of Holeyfin, died in 2015. Shock, daughter of Surprise died in 2018. Puck and Surprise both disappeared in March 2019 during the height of shark season.

The provisioned dolphins as well as their offspring, who also visit the beach, each belong to a family tree: the Crookedfin Lineage, the Holeyfin Lineage, the Surprise Lineage, or the Beautiful Lineage.


Current Provisioned Dolphins

Kiya

Kiya was born in 1997 and is Puck’s fifth calf who often visited Monkey Mia beach with her mother. In 1999 she was attacked by a shark and has a scar on the left hand side of her body that is easily recognizable. Kiya has since birthed three calves, Khamun, Wirriya and Jindi. Khamun was born in 2009 and passed away just a year later but Wirriya, born in 2012, is alive and well. Kiya began accepting fish in 2015 when she was 18 years old. Kiya had daughter Jindi in December of 2018. So far, both mom and baby are doing well.

Kiya eyeing the camera at the beach.
Photo Credit: Caitlin Karniski
Kiya’s fin.
Photo credit: Taylor Evans

Piccolo

Piccolo, born in 1992, was Puck’s fourth calf and first to survive to weaning. Piccolo was very close with her mother, but when she was not with Puck, she was often found with her friend Shock. Piccolo witnessed Puck’s 1994 encounter with a fishing net while chasing mullet. The fishermen did not notice the entangled Puck struggling to breathe, but fortunately Dr. Janet Mann was following Nicky nearby and saw Puck struggling. Due to this quick action and help from the fishermen Puck survived. At just one year of age Piccolo was still quite young and was clearly panicking during the incident, whistling loudly and zipping back and forth. This scary encounter for young Piccolo did not stop her from being interested in people at the Monkey Mia beach. When DBCA rangers attempted to feed Piccolo in 1999, she seemed more interested in the attention than the fish. However, she quickly learned to accept the fish too. In February of 2004, Piccolo started taking fish not only from rangers but also from supervised tourists visiting Monkey Mia. Piccolo gave birth to her first calf, Eden, in 2003. At just 11 years old, this made Piccolo one of the youngest dolphins to give birth in Shark Bay. Eden was successfully weaned but still comes back to the beach for an occasional visit, and is now accompanied by her son, Summer, Piccolo’s first surviving grand-offspring. Piccolo gave birth to her second daughter in 2007, Flute, who is doing quite well and is large for her age. She regularly visits Piccolo at Monkey Mia beach. In 2011, Piccolo’s first son, Piper, was born. Piccolo has since birthed 3 more calves, Harp, Dizi and Pan, but Harp and Dizi passed away the same year they were born. Her most recent calf, Pan, was born in October 2018 and despite a shark attack that left her half a tail fluke, she is very active and swimming normally.

Piccolo and Pan swimming together.
Photo Credit: Taylor Evans
Dr. Janet Mann and Piccolo at the beach.
Photo Credit: Lena Bichell

Former Provisioned Dolphins

Shock

Shock was Surprise’s first daughter, born in 1994. Like her mother, Shock was an avid forager in the seagrass beds just off of the Monkey Mia beach. She began accepting fish in 2007, and though she was a regular beach visitor, she was usually the last to show up to a feed and the first to dart away to return to her normal dolphin activities. Shock had three calves, Startle, Static, and Bilyuna, but unfortunately, none of them survived past weaning. Shock disappeared from the beach unexpectedly in 2018 at the age of just 24. She is survived by her brothers Sparky and Burda, and her sister Sonic.

Shock by Monkey Mia beach.
Photo Credit: Ewa Krzyszczyk
Shock swimming at the surface.
Photo Credit: Megan Wallen

Nicky

Nicky was born in 1975 and was one of the oldest dolphins that scientists tracked from birth before her death in 2015. This is largely because she and her mother, Holeyfin, were fed by fishers and later tourists. Nicky often visited the beach at Monkey Mia daily with her daughter, Fin, born in 2008. Nicky had her first calf, Nipper in 1987, but she learned some bad habits from her mother, Holeyfin, including begging from boats. Nicky was a bit too reliant on fish handouts and as a result did not spend as much time looking after her offspring; nine of her offspring have died either before or soon after weaning. Her seventh and only surviving calf, Fin, is alive and well and the first of Nicky’s calves to reach adulthood. Nicky disappeared in July 2015 and her last calf, daughter Missel, survived her by only a few days.

Nicky and Fin
Nicky and her only surviving calf, Fin.
Photo Credit: Yi-jiun Jean Tsai
Nicky
Nicky’s is Joy’s older sister.
Photo Credit: Yi-jiun Jean Tsai

Puck

Puck was born in December of1976 to Crookedfin, who was one of the original old females fed at Monkey Mia. As a young calf, Puck accompanied her mother everywhere and had little fear of humans. Puck visited the beach and even when she was uninterested in fish handouts, she often still swam alongside beach-goers. She is an excellent mother and has a very large family including her younger brother Cookie (of whom she began to take care of when their mother Crookedfin passed away), two daughters, Piccolo and Kiya, and two sons, India and Samu. She also has six grandchildren, with some great-grandchildren on the way. The marks on Puck’s fin were caused by a fishing net. In 1994 Puck was feeding mullet and darted into a fisherman’s net, where her catch was. She became wrapped up in the net and Piccolo, her very young daughter at the time, panicked as Puck couldn’t surface to breathe. Fortunately, researchers nearby noticed what had happened and alerted the fishermen who helped get Puck out of the net. Although cut and bleeding badly, Puck survived her injuries. Puck served an important dolphin for our research as we knew her entire life history, including every calf she had and every calf she lost. Away from the beach, which she visited almost every day, she was a talented hunter and led an active social life. Additionally, Puck was the center of several documentaries, most noticeably the 2011 production of “The Dolphins of Shark Bay” by BBC. Pamela Turner also wrote a children’s book by the same name that recounts Puck’s life. She passed away in March 2019, leaving behind a great legacy and a large family.

Puck
Puck: the matriarch of a large family.
Photo Credit: Margaret A. Stanton
Puck posing
Puck looks like she’s posing for a photograph, but she’s really posing to get a fish.
Photo Credit: Margaret A. Stanton

Surprise

Surprise, born in 1979, was a juvenile dolphin when she suddenly showed up at the bow of the scientists’ boat for a bowride in the 1980s. This often startled the researchers, which is how she became known as “surprise.” She was a shallow-water specialist that spent most of her time in seagrass beds, catching an incredible array of fish, including spiny flathead. Back then she wasn’t one of the ‘official’ Monkey Mia dolphins but was often observed with her friend Holeyfin (Nicky’s mother). By 1990 the rangers in Monkey Mia decided to offer Surprise fish; she was excited but tentative. Eventually, Surprise became a regular when she had her own calf in 1992. In 1994, Holeyfin’s calf Hobbit was killed by a tiger shark. It was Surprise that came to Hobbit’s defense, making contact with the shark; she also stayed with Holeyfin for a long time as Holeyfin guarded her calf’s lifeless body. Surprise lost her first calf, Shadow, but had five surviving calves: Shock, Sparky, Burda, Shiver, and Sonic. Despite her strong social ties, Surprise also liked to spend time on her own, often hunting in the seagrass beds north of Monkey Mia. In Surprise’s last few years, she suffered a very serious shark bite and lost her adult daughter, Shock. Scientists often called her the ‘sweetest’ dolphin, as she was also gentle with other dolphins and with the children that visited the dolphins at Monkey Mia beach. She passed away in the fall of 2019.

Surprise being feed at Monkey Mia.
Photo Credit: Dolphin Information Centre
Surprise with a shark bite.
Photo Credit: Dolphin Information Centre