Last in Series - Great Ocean Adventures: Saving the Spinner Dolphin

Wednesday Feb 28
great ocean adventures: the spinner dolphin (8/8) 19.15–20.00

Daredevil explorer Monty Halls concludes his investigation of magnificent beasts of the deep by finding out more about a much-loved marine mammal. Brazil is his destination as he heads off in search of the spinner dolphin, which is among the most acrobatic of sea creatures.

Monty starts off in the city of Laguna in southern Brazil. This quiet fishing community is known for a remarkable and long-standing example of cooperation between man and dolphin. Bottlenose dolphins here engage in a ritual that involves rounding up mullet, then rolling around on the surface of the water as a signal for fishermen to throw in their nets. In this mutually beneficial arrangement, some of the fish caught fall into the dolphins’ mouths. So important is the dolphins’ role that if they don’t turn up on a given day, the fishermen don’t even bother to cast their nets.

These dolphins and other wildlife in this area are now protected by strict legislation, but this was not always the case. The southern right whale, for example, was once hunted to near-extinction. Thankfully, subsequent efforts to save it mean that Monty can take to the skies for a bird’s-eye view of these stunning creatures at the Santa Catarina whale sanctuary.

Even more stringent wildlife-protection legislation is in place at Monty’s final destination, 350km east of the Brazilian coastline. The idyllic archipelago of Fernando de Noronha is made up of 21 islands whose unique geography make them a natural haven. “If I was a fish this is definitely where I’d want to live,” enthuses Monty, who encounters a stingray, a moray eel and a spiny lobster on his first dive here. More striking still, however, is what he calls “one of the largest fish shoals I’ve ever seen” – a tightly packed group of sardines swimming in unison, to hypnotic effect.

On another dive, Monty comes face to face with a green turtle, then later finds out about the Tamar Ibama project, whose aim is to protect these and other endangered sea turtles. Thanks to the efforts of projects like this, numbers are increasing.

But foremost on Monty’s mind is the fact that Fernando de Noronha is home to the largest colony of spinner dolphins on the planet, and this is what he has travelled all this way to see. He has found out that the dolphins come to Dolphin Bay to rest, before heading out in search of food. The fact that they generally turn up between 5am and 7am means that Monty must contend with a “hideously early” start. Armed with binoculars, he joins local expert Fabiana on the cliffs high above the bay, and is quickly rewarded with a sighting of the dolphins. The fact that they are heavily protected means that there are severe restrictions on the amount of contact allowed, particularly in the bay itself. But Monty has been given special dispensation for a single dive as the dolphins are leaving the bay. He is full of hope as he leaves his clifftop vantage point and heads out in a boat. Will his dedication be rewarded with the ultimate close encounter?

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