The most common dolphins to be seen all year round in the Whitsundays is the easily recognisable bottlenose dolphin. These intelligent animals are playful, family oriented animals that never fail to delight the young and old alike. Overnight Whitsunday Catamarans have a special blue light attached to the hull of the boat which attract these beautiful animals at night. When the lights are on, you can witness the dolphins feeding as they have a sweet tooth for squid, which are attracted to the lights. It's quite common to see mother and baby feeding around your Whitsunday Catamarans boat, too! You can keep an eye out by hanging out at the back of the boat, while enjoy the beauty of the stars and ocean breeze and wait for the show to begin.
The bottlenose dolphin is a dark grey colour on their top half, with fades to a light grey or white on their underside. This makes them hard to see from both above or below, depending on which way you seem them. This makes for good camouflage from predators and also against prey. They are commonly known for their friendly character and curiosity towards humans. It's not unheard of for a dolphin to come up and investigate divers in the water, if you're lucky!
Bottlenose dolphins feed off small fish with occasional squid, crab, shrimp and other small animals. They will work in a school to maximise the harvest. They can surround their prey and heard them in a bunch just like a cattle dog working sheep.
Dolphins search for prey primarily using echolocation, which is similar to sonar. They emit clicking sounds and listen for the return echo to determine the location and shape of nearby items, including potential prey. Bottlenose dolphins also use sound for communication with each other. Sounds used for communication include squeaks and whistles emitted from the blowhole and sounds emitted through body language, such as leaping from the water and slapping their tails on the water. There have been numerous investigations into the capacity of bottlenose dolphin intelligence. Such testing has included tests of mimicry, use of artificial language, object categorisation and self-recognition. This intelligence has driven considerable interaction with humans. They have also been trained for tasks such as locating sea mines or detecting and marking enemy divers. In some areas they cooperate with local fishermen by driving fish towards the fishermen and eating the fish that escape the fishermen's nets.
Spinner dolphins, also known as the long snouted dolphin, can be seen off the tropical waters of the Whitsundays. They are often seen jumping out of the water and spinning through the air, which is where they get their name. The spinner dolphin is the most acrobatic of all dolphin species. They are dark grey with dark patches in the tail and stock back and throat.
Spinner dolphins tend to do their hunting at night as the marine life which they eat comes up from the depths of the ocean and closer to the surface. This comprises of jellyfish, squid, krill, shell-less snails. They will usually stay in groups to hunt, and are known to dive down to around 800 feet or more in utter darkness in pursuit of food. Spinner dolphins usually occur in schools of 5-200. They are extremely sociable with their own and other species of dolphins.
Indo-pacific dolphins live in the shallow coastal waters of the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans. This dolphin is robust, with a long beak, large head and well-rounded flippers. The dorsal fin rests on a 'hump', and the tail stock is thick with a keel. Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins are brown-grey, pale grey or pink-white in colour on their upper half, with a lighter underside. They reach a maximum of 2.8m in length, and weigh around 284kg. The coastal habitats and distinctive dorsal fin are characteristic of this species. They prefer water that is less than 20m deep with shallow banks and embayments. River channels and muddied waters are also favoured.
Small groups of 3-7 are common, but may congregate to form a larger group of around 25 animals. Humpback dolphins have a unique way of surfacing; the beak and often the entire head breaks the surface before the body arches tightly, making the hump and dorsal more prominent.
The Australian snubfin dolphin is the 'newest' species of dolphin, having only been a recently recognised species, scientifically described first in 2005.
It is closely related to the Irrawaddy dolphin and closely resembles it, and until 2003 snubnose dolphins were actually thought to be Irrawaddy dolphins. However, dolphin researchers determined that the local populations of Irrawaddy's were a distinct species unique to Australian waters. The Australian snubfin is tri-coloured, making it different from the Irrawaddy, which is dual-coloured. Also the skull and the fins show minor differences between the two species.
This newly described species is quiet rare and only seen very occasionally. The Australian snubfin is the first new dolphin species to be described in 56 years. They only grow to a maximum of 2.8 metres, feeding on fish and squid in river mouths and shore lines.
The Snubfin is rarely sighted because it is extremely shy and scared of boats. The best place to see the snubfin dolphin is around the Townsville Ross River mouth (just North of the Whitsundays). Snubfin Dolphins hunt using low frequency sonar and this is potentially disturbed by noise from boats.