Port River Dolphins

In Parliament, Motions

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:24): I rise today to speak about the few remaining bottlenose dolphins that call our Port River home. Throughout the years we have seen many reports of dolphins becoming entangled in fishing equipment, fatally injured by boat propellers and, since June this year, we have seen potentially five dolphins suffer from mystery illnesses.

Things are not looking great for this pod of dolphins, and the actions—or rather, lack of action—from Minister Speirs is only making matters worse. There are over 6,700 concerned signatories to a petition calling for that minister, Minister Speirs, to allow the Australian Marine Wildlife Research and Rescue Organisation to treat all sick, injured and entangled dolphins. Currently, they are only permitted to take action within this dolphin sanctuary if the minister gives that permission. Unfortunately, this permission, this bureaucratic barrier, often takes a very long time to be approved.

Numbers of the permanent population of this pod have ranged from 30 to 50, and they have been considered ‘the most reliably present urban dolphins in the world’. We should be proud of this. It is now estimated that approximately 10 to 12 dolphins remain in that pod. We should be ashamed of that. The 2019 summer breeding season saw every dolphin calf die, and on Monday the 15th, news broke that the three-year-old calf Mimo (also called Squeak) is suffering from similar symptoms to the four other dolphins that have fallen ill this year, two of which disappeared and are presumed dead. This has led to concerns that the whole population will eventually die out. This would be an unacceptable, deeply shameful and totally avoidable outcome.

The Department for Environment and Water is currently investigating the cause of their ill health. In 2019, speed limits were changed in some areas in the Port River, which is welcomed, but more is needed to be done to protect this treasured pod of dolphins. Whilst there were some adjustments made to those speed limits in some areas, there are still some areas of the Port River where there remains no speed limit at all, most notably surrounding the Adelaide Speedboat Club, which happens to sit near the St Kilda mangroves.

Perhaps this particular environment of the Port River and the St Kilda mangroves indicates an area of disinterest for our environment minister. It has been suggested that the neglect of the mangroves has potentially had some negative impact on the Port River dolphins, but I digress. Having no speed limits and holding racing events in these critical areas puts those few remaining dolphins in danger and is something that should be reconsidered and, further, allowing the Australian Marine Wildlife Research and Rescue Organisation to perform rescues and administer antibiotics if required without having to wait for DEW bureaucrats to arrive and either approve the rescue or decide to take no action.

As I mentioned earlier, if the dolphins in this sanctuary are to be treated, permission needs to be given, and that often takes far too long. This unnecessary bureaucracy wastes precious time, and there have been several occasions in which the Australian Marine Wildlife Research and Rescue Organisation have had to cease rescue operations, while DEW chose not to take any action, compromising the welfare of the animals.

The last possible, and very doable, action I want to mention—and trust me, there are so many more—is the banning of certain fishing equipment and techniques within the dolphin sanctuary, such as heavy gauge fishing line, trolling and the use of ganged hooks, which is the act of using multiple hooks linked together on a fishing line, as well as live bait and squid jigs. Too often dolphins are found with multiple fishing hooks and fishing line in and around their mouths, causing cuts, which lead to infections and, if not treated in a timely manner, death.

There are other human factors that are placing these dolphins in danger, such as pollution, increased tourism and other recreational activities, such as fishing, boating and kayaking, as well as industrial development and people approaching and harassing these dolphins. There are also issues of disease and food shortages, which may not be directly caused by human activity, but it is likely that human activity is impacting these areas.

Obviously, having a dolphin population so close to an urban and industrial area will provide some unique challenges, but instead of recognising these challenges and finding a way to mitigate them to ensure both humans and dolphins can enjoy the area, we have seen these challenges made worse. We are seeing the consequences of not just our own actions but the inaction of the Minister for Environment and Water, David Speirs. It is time; there needs to be the political will in this place to protect these dolphins in what we have declared a dolphin sanctuary.