Ethical Dolphin Encounter in Monkey Mia

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Ecotourism, Australia, Oceania

Seeing wild dolphins is amazing, so seeing them come close to the shore in Monkey Mia is just incredible. Go there to have the dolphin encounter of your dream!

Getting to see dolphins in their natural habitat is an incredible experience. But sadly it can be hard to find places where the dolphin encounter is ethical and does not harm the animals in any way. That is why the Monkey Mia, its dolphins and the dolphin experience are so amazing. Thanks to the regulations in place, this chance to see wild dolphins is ethical and not harmful to the dolphins.

Monkey Mia is located on the Peron Peninsula in Western Australia’s Shark Bay World Heritage Area. It is approximately 850 km north of Perth and 25 km northeast of Denham. And while the Shark Bay area has a lot to offer, the region is most commonly known for its dolphins.

If you visit Monkey Mia, you get the chance to observe wild dolphins with special habits that allow you to see them without having to be out on the ocean. Here, you can stand at the shoreline and see entire dolphin families hunting and playing. And if you are extremely lucky, you might be one of the very few people that get to feed selected dolphins a limited and strictly monitored amount of fish.

Wild dolphins swimming close to the shore in Monkey Mia during the Monkey Mia Dolphin Experience

What happens in Monkey Mia?

In Monkey Mia wild bottlenose dolphins come to the beach and spend time in the shallow waters. If you are lucky, you might even get to see a baby dolphin.

Dolphins have been visiting the beach since the 1960s when a fisher and his wife started feeding dolphins some of the fish they had caught. Since then, the dolphins have developed a special hunting technique called hydroplaning. Hereby the dolphins herd fish onto the beach before catching them.

Today, two of the 2000 Shark Bay dolphins are fed three times a day during the Monkey Mia Dolphin experience. It is important to note that these feedings are supervised by rangers. The amount of fish the dolphins eat during these feedings is strictly limited. This way the dolphins are still forced to hunt and their natural behavior remains unchanged. 

Please be aware that the amount of dolphins present during the individual feedings varies, as it is up to the animals to ‘participate’. You might see more than ten, but it can only be one or two.

Take the time to learn more about the dolphin families that visit Monkey Mia. The rangers that work there know a lot about the individual dolphins and their family history and it is an incredible chance to learn more about these amazing animals.

Is the Dolphin Experience in Monkey Mia ethical?

The Dolphin Experience in Monkey Mia is 100% ethical. Thankfully there are strict rules for the experience that ensure that the Monkey Mia dolphins are unharmed and remain wild. Additionally, only a small amount of dolphins are a part of the feeding program and are fed. 

Currently there are only two of them. They never receive more than 10% of the amount of fish they have to eat per day, so they still have to hunt and remain wild dolphins. Furthermore the rangers record how much fish the individual dolphins eat during the feedings.

Scientists observe the dolphin families that visit the beach in Monkey Mia and the discoveries have contributed large amounts to what we know about dolphins, the animal’s hierarchies and habits. Therefore the dolphins and their habit of coming to the beach are a crucial part of learning what we can do to protect these animals.

Other places with dolphin encounters around the world do not have as many restrictions and rules as Monkey Mia, and a variety of studies have concluded that the limitations are the only reason why the feedings do not have the same negative effects as so many other popular dolphin feeding events. In the past, the rules in place in Monkey Mia have been adjusted to ensure better protection of the wild animals and I am convinced that the scientist will push for stricter rules should any study discover that the current handling causes issues for the dolphins.

How much does it cost to visit the Monkey Mia Dolphins?

The dolphin experience in Monkey Mia itself is free and you can attend it as many times as you want. However, you have to pay a fee to enter the reserve. But it is definitely worth it, as the fee enables this ethical animal encounter. You can either get a day permit or a holiday pass which is valid for up to four weeks. Hereby it is recommended to get the Holiday Pass if you want to visit Monkey Mia for more than one day.

Monkey Mia Day permit

The Monkey Mia day permit costs 15 AUD for adults and 5 AUD for kids between 6 and 15. Concession cardholders have to pay 10 AUD for one day. A one-day family-pass costs 35 AUD.

Holiday Pass (valid for 4 weeks)

The Monkey Mia Holiday Pass costs 25 AUD for adults, and 10 AUD for children. Meanwhile, concession cardholders pay 20 AUD. A family holiday pass for two adults and 2 children costs 60 AUD.

You can find more information about the prices and concessions on the official website of Shark Bay.

Wild Monkey Mia dolphin observing people at the shore as two younger dolphins swim behind it.

When does the Dolphin Experience in Monkey Mia happen?

The first feeding of the day is around 7:45 AM and the other two occur sometime before 12:0 PM. There is no set time as it is up to the dolphins. Sometimes there are only two or one dolphin experiences, but usually, all three take place.

Which Dolphin Experience should you attend?

I ended up attending the second Monkey Mia dolphin experience of the day and I can only recommend it. There are usually fewer people around. Therefore you will actually be able to walk around the experience area so you can take photos of the visiting dolphins.

several dolphins swimming along the beach in Monkey Mia, Western Australia

My road trip buddies ended up attending the first one as they had less of a hard time getting up early. And based on what they told me, the first one was a lot more crowded.

Therefore I personally recommend attending the second dolphin experience. However there is a small change that no dolphins will show up, so the best thing to do if you only spend one day in Monkey Mia is to attend the first experience and to then stay there until the second one happens.

How to get to Monkey Mia / Perth to Monkey Mia

You can get to Monkey Mia by flying into the local Shark Bay Airport or driving there. Most international visitors go there from Perth.

To get from Perth to Monkey Mia, you can catch one of the 12 weeks two-hours long flights or drive the 850 km. The sole driving time is around 9 hours. Follow Brand Highway all the way to Geraldton before following NW Coastal Highway to Hamelin Pool. From there onward you drive down Shark Bay road and then down Monkey Mia road all the way to the resort.

The Best Time to Visit Monkey Mia

The best time to visit Monkey Mia is year-round. The average temperature is never lower than 21°C and the most rain per month is less than 4 mm. If you want a combination of temperates between 27°C and 28°C with barely any rain at all, February to April is the best timeframe. Meanwhile September to November are marginally colder and have a similar amount of rain.

Monkey Mia Dolphin Encounter Rules

Please mind the strict rules concerning dolphin encounters during feedings or at the beach. They exist to protect these precious animals, so take the time to read them once you arrive in Monkey Mia. Please do not attempt to swim with the dolphin or try to touch them. A single touch can transmit bacterias or diseases to the dolphins and could therefore endanger the animals.

Please do not apply sunscreen or lotions if you plan to enter the water with the dolphins. Especially if you attend the dolphin experience. Our lotions and sunscreens break down the dolphin’s natural skin, which makes the dolphins more prone to infections.

They might come close to you as you swim or kayak in the ocean, but they are wild animals and as such your interaction with the dolphins should be limited. Just enjoy that there are around and observe them.

Do not try to chase the animals in the water or walk towards them. In accordance with the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016, it is strictly illegal to approach a dolphin within 50 meters. Stand still if a dolphin approaches you while you are in the water. Furthermore, it is recommended to leave the water if you see that nearby dolphins are hunting.

If you are boating, you have to ensure a 100 meters distance from the dolphins. If they happen to come closer, it is crucial that you do not encourage them to bowride. It is especially dangerous for younger dolphins and increases the likelihood of boat strikes. Please follow the rules as the last thing you want after a trip to Money Mia is a lawsuit.

Please be aware of the fact that things like swimming, boating, kayaking, or fishing are not allowed in the dolphin experience area. There are maps and signs all over the place so you do not have to worry about accidentally venturing into the area. The area labeled ‘dolphin experience area’ happens to be the part of the beach where the dolphins most commonly visit the beach and it is where the scientists monitor the animals.

The Monkey Mia Dolphin Experience area as seen from the pier

Do not feed the dolphins outside of the official dolphin experience of Monkey Mia. If you do, it can no longer be ensured that the dolphins do not receive so much fish that they that they stop hunting. As other places have shown, the consequences of this divergence from their natural habits tend to be disastrous. Mother dolphins stop teaching their babies how to hunt which in turn leads to incredibly high mortality rates among young dolphin. A disaster that has to be prevented at all costs.

As everywhere, you should never leave your trash anywhere but in a trash can. Especially plastic is extremely dangerous for the dolphins and other animals in the area, so please contribute to their protection. And pick up trash if you see it in nature or floating in the ocean.

Dolphin Calf Special Rules

The summer months bring warmer water and are the time during which dolphin calves are born. Dolphin calves are very uncoordinated and it has to be ensured that nothing gets between a mother and her calf. Therefore special rules are implemented to ensure the welfare and protection of the dolphins.

Under normal circumstances, everyone attending the Dolphin Experience can stand in the shallow water. But if there is a calf around, this is not possible. Those feeding the dolphins in the program have to enter the water one by one, but only once one of the rangers allows it.

Dolphin calve with tiger stripes which are typical for baby dolphins

The additional restrictions are important and you do not miss out on anything just because you cannot stand in the water. After all, you get to see a baby dolphin with its tiger stripes.

In addition to the special rules for visitors, mothers with calves that are part of the feeding program also receive less than the usual 10% of their daily food. This encourages the mother dolphins to teach their calves to hunt. A practice that is crucial for the survival of the young dolphins.

Where to stay in Monkey Mia

There is only one accommodation in Monkey Mia itself which is the RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort. The resort offers different types of accommodation ranging from unpowered camping sites for up to seven people (from 36 AUD a night), to backpacking dorms ((from 30 AUD per person), to Garden View Rooms (from 234 AUD) to Beach Front Villas with two or three bedrooms (from 534 AUD). You can book 364 days ahead and there are key release dates for Western Australia school holidays.

I camped au one of the powered camp sites and loved it. My ground and I were quite close to the beach and set up our tents on the shell-covered camp site.

The community building is amazing. There is a game room with a pool table, a gigantic kitchen with sitting areas, and even a TV room. The bathrooms are next level and both clean and spacious.

All in all it might just be my favorite camp site in Western Australia.

If you do not want to stay at the resort, Denham is your best option. Located 25 km southwest of Monkey Mia, is it close enough and offers some attractions itself. Hereby the best places to stay in Denham are the Wildsights Villas and the Heritage Resort Shark Bay.

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Read more: Other Amazing Things to do in Shark Bay

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1 thought on “Ethical Dolphin Encounter in Monkey Mia”

  1. Monkey Mia is such an amazing place for dolphins. I’ve seen them up close before but never right by the beach like there. We were there in the second week of September and it was still cool enough to warrant a coat or jumper (more for the wind), but shorts were fine and the water was a lovely temperature.

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