Experience dolphins in their natural environment

Established in 1994, Bunbury’s Dolphin Discovery Centre enables some 60,000 visitors per year to gain a better understanding of dolphins in their natural environment.

Located on beautiful Koombana Bay, this wildlife experience is remarkedly just a few hundred metres from the CBD.

The Discovery Centre is a not for profit operation that relies heavily on the efforts of its 150 volunteers. Many volunteers are local residents, however, the Centre also runs a program where young people from overseas can sign up for a six week stint of volunteering.

The Discovery Centre aims to provide conservation and protection for local bottlenose dolphins, to educate the public about these popular mammals and their habitat, undertake research involving PhD students from Murdoch University and deliver an informative tourism package that helps to finance all of the above.

Thanks to a $950,000 grant through Western Australia’s Royalties for the Regions, the Centre is soon to undergo stage one of a major redevelopment that will ultimately see its interpretive area triple its current size. A circular theatre will provide a virtual experience of being in a fish bowl with a dolphin pod in its natural surrounds.

The virtualisation being developed by the Australian Centre for Digital Innovation will enable visitors to see dolphins feeding, a pod protecting a calf from a shark attack, and a birth. It will be the only experience of its type in Australia.

As a wild dolphin experience the Discovery Centre cannot give a 100 per cent guarantee that visitors will see dolphins in the interaction zone, however few come away disappointed.

In stage two of the planned re development new second level will provide enhanced views of Koombana Bay, and dolphins when they swim close to shore as well as providing a modern café and function room.

In winter 30 to 40 mothers and calves are in the vicinity, while in summer when the males return up to 150 animals join the pod.

The Discovery Centre offers controlled interaction with dolphins from the beach under the watchful eye of staff and volunteers.

“We provide a minimal impact experience of dolphins in their natural environment – no dolphins are in captivity,” David Kerr said. “This means little disruption to dolphins’ daily activities and there is minimal feeding so as not to create any dependence.

“Our cruise and swim tour boats position themselves in the Bay and then leave it up to the dolphins whether they want to come over and interact.

“Our marine biologists monitor the behaviour patterns of the dolphins, such as feeding or mating, and if this is occurring swimmers will not be permitted to enter the water.

“Our average time before seeing dolphins is seven minutes, but again this is all up to the dolphins to decide if they want to come over.”

David Kerr said that the aim is to have Stage 1 of the redevelopment completed by October.

“We believe that a larger facility with additional interpretive experiences will swell visitor numbers well over the current 60,000 per year,” he said.

“Stage 2 of the redevelopment is valued at $5 million and we hope this can commence in the next 18 months depending on the successful application for funding.

“We believe this expansion will value add for the whole community with additional visitors providing a flow on economic boost for Bunbury and the South West region.

“There is a growing trend for ecotourism and natural experiences. This will also add to the South West’s clean and green image delivering benefits on a wider scale across the region.”

The Dolphin Discovery Centre is located close to the CBD and is open seven days a week.