A chance meeting about 3 months ago at Middle Head between Jackie B, Denise E and Shona Lorigan, the Vice President of ORRCA, was a win for the Storytellers. Shona lives and breathes ‘our dolphin’ and didn’t need much persuasion to join us to and tell its story, despite the evening being miserable and wet.
Shona began by setting her timer alarm on as she confessed she can easily get carried away talking about her dolphin, one of her real pleasures in life. She gave us some background on ORRCA which only has volunteers, rather like Wires, and is licensed by the National Parks to care and rehabilitate all marine mammals up and down NSW coast. They have no paid employees, no office, and all their equipment is in people’s houses. Their president is a postman, and they have many vets, scientists and teachers in their ranks. Shona came from a finance world originally, a marketing executive for many years, before she travelled the world with her husband who is a corporate lawyer. She has been with ORRCA for 16 years and done pretty much every job there is and learnt plenty along the way. She compares her volunteer work to being like a lifeguard and regularly collaborates with colleagues around the world. She has trained in NZ, UK & is soon to do some work in Cape Cod, America to work with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) – see photo of Alex K raising the IFAW flag at the summit of Mt McKinley.
The National Parks have a policy is not to name marine mammals and hence they refer to our dolphin as ‘the solitary social dolphin’ which is quite a mouthful! Their reasoning is that each community nearly always give a lone dolphin a name and it gets confusing when it moves from one area to another. Shona understands the name at Balmoral for the dolphin is Yera though aware of other names such as Sally, Dolly and Beyoncé (her daughters’ choice).
The solitary social dolphin’s story started in Aug 2012 when the ORRCA hotline got a report that a bottle nosed dolphin was in St Georges Basin, NSW south coast. Shona explained that most people think of dolphins as being friendly like Flipper but boy dolphins can be quite nasty and it was likely that that they had herded the solitary social dolphin, a girl, away from her pod and distressed her in one way or another. She was left alone in Sussex Inlet. Dolphins (particularly tooth dolphins) do everything together, they are very social, have call signs, and need to touch. Alone she had lost every source of sensory pleasure and her mother had gone. She is now 5 to 6 years old (was 3 to 4 years when separated). So in Spring 2012 ORCCA knew they had a problem on their hands when she started approaching people and boats. ORRCA made all effort to stop people riding her and maltreating her. This often paints ORCCA in a bad light and considered the fun police. Shona said it’s just amazing what the general public think is acceptable behaviour and they got reports of people trying to ride her, putting ropes around her and putting fingers in her blowhole.
ORRCA monitored her for 9 months. They noticed she went to a sandbar but wouldn’t go past it. There was a resident pod in Sussex Inlet and so in May 2013 they decided to relocate her so she could join the resident pod. This was not an easy decision. Lots of volunteers were involved in a major exercise. What was a surprise to all was how the solitary social dolphin just allowed everyone to handle her with a complete lack of response whilst everyone was touching her. Most squeal but this one allowed herself to be ‘captured’ with a plastic tarp underneath her and just looked calmly on as she was transported for the 45 min drive. Within 15 mins she was with the other pod in Jervis Bay. The dolphin has a microchip to allow identifying her but it’s not used to track her. Fortunately she has very distinctive markings on her dorsal fin and a roughen end to her nose so she is fairly easy to spot. Since May 2013 she has led Shona on a merry dance covering some significant distance. On 8 August 2013, she popped up in Rushcutters Bay Sydney harbour. On 11 August she was at Clontarf seen fishing by swimming around and around the boats. In September she was in Pittwater, Church Point, Palm Beach and even Terrigal. She is a great forager and she loves surfers and has a range of clever party tricks and mimics children laughing and squealing.
Balmoral is regarded as her preferred most concentrated location and Shona has no doubt that as the water gets warmer we’ll see more of her at her favourite location. Maybe even with a baby. Dolphins sometimes will have a calf when they are about 7 years old so could be timely! There are about 100 known solitary dolphins in such places as NZ, UK, Canada. These dolphins often have a shorter life span than those in a pod as when in a pod they support each other, protect and forage together with some living some grow for 40 years.
Shona answered many questions and smiled as Dick M, Swampy, Tony A and Denise spoke of their experiences with the solitary social dolphin and how she came to them rather than the other way around.
At the end of the day Shona and ORRCA want her to have a long a happy life in the wild and therefore for people who can’t resist swimming to her for a close up to be sensible.
Hearty thanks were extended to Shona for a wonderful and informative presentation accompanied with some great photos of ‘our dolphin’.