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Dolphin Mania
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Who is in the Film?
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Dolphin Mania

Background Information
Dolphins have fascinated and enchanted humankind throughout history. They appear in the myths and legends of all the great civilizations. The ancient Greeks ordered the death penalty for killing one. A dolphin's brain is larger and more complex than ours is, and mystics say they have descended from the star system Sirius to help us in our evolution.
A quick search on the Internet shows over two million sites about dolphins and whales. These creatures are seen to hold mystical powers and an interaction promises a transformational experience.
There are numerous examples worldwide of individual dolphins that have sought out human companionship in small coastal communities. People get excited when they see dolphins and many experience a sense of well being after a swim with these creatures. Some say this may be due to the dolphin's sonar, which is four times stronger than an ultrasound and may have therapeutic properties.
In Australia there are several places where it is possible to interact with wild dolphins. The most well known is Monkey Mia, in Shark Bay Western Australia where a small number of dolphins have come into the shallows for nearly 40 years to accept fish from strangers. Now more than 300 people per day travel to this remote place to witness the remarkable friendliness of these wild animals. Each Monkey Mia 'beach' dolphin is said to be worth 7 million 'tourist' dollars.
In Victoria it is illegal to feed a wild dolphin. Instead the tourism has centred on swimming with the dolphins in Port Phillip Bay. These swim-with-dolphin programs began in 1986 as fundraisers for the local Dolphin Research Institute.
The Polperro, owned by the Muir family was chartered to run the tours. The popularity of the swims soared and soon the Institute dropped out and left the tour management to commercial operators, including the Muirs. Before long problems emerged. Boats would be cutting across each other to herd the animals close to the shore. People would grab the dolphins and try and ride on their backs. Without ropes to hang onto or a limit on the number of swimmers, it was unsafe for people and dolphins.
Judy Muir and the other tour operators got together and wrote up a code of practice, which is now legislation. The code has over 30 rules including:
Tour boats must not approach the dolphins closer than 50 metres
Tour boats must not be in the path of the dolphins
Tour boats must ensure that swimmers hang onto rope lines at all times
There must be no swimming when young calves are present
At all times the dolphins must have a choice to interact or not

Unfortunately these regulations are rarely policed and the tour operators are left to enforce the law amongst themselves. All the operators are under pressure from their customers to find dolphins and ensure an interaction. Even when the dolphins are in a good mood most interactions last for less than a minute. It is common for tours to not see dolphins at all. When this occurs the tours go to a more reliable target. Small colonies of Australian fur seals have made a few channel markers their resting-place. To date there are no regulations around swimming with seals and it is not uncommon to see swimmers try to touch and chase these animals. Seals have been known to bite people and it may be only a matter of time before an injury occurs.
The Dolphin Research Institute has been conducting a study over the past 2 years on the impact of the tours on the dolphin population. They have found that all tour operators break the rules. In particular the boats constantly go too close too often to the animals. Many say this is harassment. The researchers have found that among the estimated population of 100 bottlenose dolphins in the Bay, there are at least 6 that regularly choose to interact with the tour boats. Judy Muir and her son Troy confirm this evidence. Troy is a keen photographer and has taken slides of many animals and identified them by their dorsal fin markings and body scars. He knows that the Polperro has a few regulars - Bent Fin, Nettie and Chippy to name a few.
No one knows for sure why some dolphins choose to relate to humans and others don't. It is possible that some of these animals are juveniles (3-10 years of age) who are using the boats and swimmers as a form of play. Dolphins don't tend to become sexually mature until they are 12-15 years of age so spend a long time learning survival and social skills.
The risk is that by spending long periods of time interacting with humans they may become distracted from normal dolphin behaviour like feeding and resting. They may also become habituated to people to the extent where they lose their 'wildness'.
Tour operator Martin Mackinnon from Moonraker Charters believes that if the dolphins don't like people or his tour boat then they are free to swim away.
But the researchers argue that over summer the dolphins are often pursued relentlessly by tour boats, plus all the other recreational craft including jetskiis. They estimate on a busy day, tour boats are interacting with the dolphins every 90 seconds. No one knows what long-term implications may result from this constant disturbance.
The worst case is on the Florida Panhandle, USA. Here swimming with wild dolphins has become so uncontrolled that tour operators chase dolphins using underwater scooters and tourists willingly empty their picnic baskets into the innocent mouths of dolphins.
For Judy Muir, the tours are an opportunity to encourage people to conserve the marine environment. In her view the dolphins are a lure because without them how could she get people out on the water? And if they never experience the environment then they don't care enough to look after it.
Commercial swim-with-dolphin programs have sprung up worldwide without any scientific guidance. The tour industries based around these wild creatures earn money for numerous maritime communities but questions remain about the long-term implications of such exploitation.
The challenge for nature based tour operators like Judy Muir is to ensure that adequate management is in place so that all parties can benefit from the interaction.
Who Is In the Film?
Judy Muir
Judy Muir is in her mid fifties and has always lived and worked around the sea. She and her husband Tony bought the Polperro 18 years ago and set it up to run dive charters in Bass Strait. When the dolphin swim industry began they decided that eco-tours were a perfect way to make a living. They could use their knowledge of the sea and the dolphins to introduce people to the marine environment.
Polperro Dolphin Swims is a family business. Judy's husband Tony shares the role of skipper with his eldest son Troy. Their younger son Ben is a divemaster on the boat. Troy, like Judy, has a strong concern for the environment. But after ten years he has become disenchanted with the direction of the industry.
"It seems to be more of a case of everyone wanting to make a buck and access is far more important than protection. It's a Pandora's Box the more you get involved, the more you find it difficult to extricate yourself from it. I couldn't do another job now. I take winters off and always swear I'm going to get a real job but by September I'm champing at the bit to get back on the boat and see how they are." TROY MUIR
Judy is passionate about the marine environment and has been an active campaigner to Government about the need for an environmental management plan for dolphin interaction on the Bay. Judy acknowledges that if she could have foreseen how things are now she would never have started. But if she walks away then someone else will just fill the gap. Already there is no limit on boat operators and every summer, more appear on the Bay whom she has to 'educate' by showing them the rules. She laments that whilst there is a codes of practice - no one is enforcing it - forcing her to be the enforcer.
Martin MacKinnon - rival tour boat operator
Martin Mackinnon owns the Moonraker - a purpose built luxury tour vessel, which operates up to three, trips a day and can hold 80 passengers. It's 1100 horsepower engine can travel at 25 knots compared to Polperro's 80 horsepower engine which travels up to 8 knots.
Martin has lived in Sorrento all his life and comes from a family of professional fishermen. He is critical of many of the regulations which have been put in place to protect the dolphins. In his view if the dolphins don't want to come near the boats then they are free to swim away.
People of all ages and backgrounds choose to go swimming with dolphins. The film highlights the experiences of a range of people. Some are lucky to see the dolphins while others miss out.
Melissa Holland - a 28 year old friend of the Muir family who suffered brain injuries after a plane crash sees dolphins for the first time.
A group of USA spiritualists who follow the Melchisadek method. They believe the dolphins channel the 'platinum ray' energy and are here to teach humans how to heal themselves.
A group of English backpackers are disappointed when the dolphins don't appear.

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