Volunteering with the dolphins

A few weeks ago, we signed up for the volunteering program at the Monkey Mia Reserve to help the rangers with their famous dolphin experience. We expected a little bit of dolphins and a lot of boring chores around the facilities. I think we both saw the place as a small Marineland or attraction park. It turned out that we were quite wrong, for the better I should say!

Welcome to Monkey Mia!


Monkey Mia. It’s a lovely tiny beach resort in the shallow waters of shark bay.


It feels like a small village along the beach. The name comes from the Monkey, first ship that sailed there and Mia, aboriginal word meaning “home” or “shelter”. But really, it’s all about the dolphins..



G’day from our new beach office!


At 7.30am, the “Fish Room” is busy with volunteers getting things in order for the dolphins feeds. Notes from the rangers are all over to remind us how to deal with equipment, data collection or frozen fishes. Over the next few days we will meet Ian, Nicole, Eve, Lucie, Francois, Aureline and a few others.


The Dolphins Experience at Monkey Mia doesn’t follow a set schedule. The feeds only happen if the dolphins come to the beach area, up to 3 times per morning. The Rangers can recognize the dolphins by the shape and marks on their dorsal fin.


By 8am, the crowd is waiting on the beach.

By 8am, the crowd is waiting on the beach.


Amy starting the talk about the bottle-neck dolphins of Monkey Mia and what the experience will be about.

Amy starting the talk about the bottlenose dolphins of Monkey Mia and what the experience will be about.


No one has touched the dolphins in over 15 years. It irritates their skin, but mainly the rangers want to keep them “wild” animals, without unnecessary human contact or dependencies.


Vollies hard at work. We would report which dolphins came, at what time, the crowd attendance, along with tides movements and other weather data.


Soso was always the fastest to clearing up the signage on the beach!

Soso was always the fastest to clear up the signage on the beach!


Once the ranger is in the water and start the experience, everything needs to happen within a given timeline. Fish prep and feed had to take place within 15min. So that the dolphins don’t stay away from their calves or the rest of the group for too long.

Dolphins food preparation: frozen Yellowtails, Whitings and bony Herrings … Each dolphin has a specific diet and ration that had to be diligently respected.


Back in the water, a couple of dolphins are waiting for the feed to officially start.

Back in the water, a couple of dolphins are waiting for the feed to officially start.


And while the ranger is giving his speech, the dolphins are getting closer and closer, observing the crowd and getting their picture time.


Feed time! Today started with 2 dolphins, so 2 vollies went in the water. Volunteers don’t feed the dolphins, we had the hard job to pick out people from the crowd so they could hand the fishes to the dolphins.


Dolphins can only get up to 500g of fish per feed, so a total of 1.5kg if it comes for the 3 feeds. This way the feeds only account for a maximum of 10% of what an adult dolphin need – about 12kg/day – so they have to keep hunting on their own.


and suddenly, more dolphins on the horizon! They must have realized that food was at stake! On the radio, the rangers shared the names of the new comers: “Kiya, Piccolo, Puck, Samu..” and asked us to bring the other buckets for them.


There are over 40 regular dolphins visiting Monkey Mia all year long. However, not all of them can get a free snack. Rangers have selected 5 females that presented the right behavior and that kept breeding properly even with the human interactions. So even if 10 dolphins came but none are the selected 5, the feed wouldn’t take place.


With more dolphins, we now need more people to feed them! Solene was kinda standing out of the crowd and got her chance to feed Surprise!





Hand in the air, signal that we are down to the last fish of the bucket. The feed is almost over.


But someone didn’t get its snack! Crazy pelican “Rogue” just landed near the dolphins trying to snap the last fish from the vollies’ hands!


After a quick diversion involving fish and a yellow bucket, we managed to get her out of the water waiting for her free food. It’s all under control is saying Ian.


It’s now 8.30 and the first feed is over. We will be watching the horizon for the rest of the morning to see if the dolphins come back for a 2nd and 3rd experience. Time to drink some coffee 🙂


By 10.30am, we finished the 3rd feed… and decided it would be more interesting to try on the dolphin suit than to shred paper or swipe the boardwalk until 1pm, so here I am taking pictures with 3year-olds commanding me to “get back in the water!”


Our party of vollies

Our party of vollies


Beer and pizza party at the Monkey Bar!

Beer and pizza party at the Monkey Bar!



Being on the “staff” side of this tourist attraction was a very interesting experience.

  • Stating the obvious, we spend much more time with the dolphins than anybody else!
  • We also had a good rhythm: be at the fish room at 7.30, get off at 1pm and do a bit of Woofing for the camping, ie get free accommodation in exchange for 1.30h of swiping and cleaning everyday. We had free time left and really enjoyed it, rather than lingering all day on the beach or at the restaurant.
  • We enjoyed perks, like discounts here and there and even a free cruise on the catamaran.
  • Lastly we stayed for 6 nights, so we got to know people. We made new friends among the vollies, but also got to know the rangers, the general manager, the cleaners and bar tenders by their names and this made the experience much more personal.

We weren’t just customers, we were part of something.




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