Tuesday 6th November 2001, Monkey Mia Oz.

The day of the Melbourne Cup! (The whole of Australia shuts down for the morning of this big race – their equivalent of the Derby.)

We needed to be up bright and early to see the dolphins. (Since the dolphins became an attraction, the rangers have taken to feeding them small quantities of fish to ‘encourage’ them to interact.) The best time to see them at the beach was between 8am and 10am (so we were reliably informed by our guidebook). So we wanted to be there as early as possible, see the dolphins, and be on our way. In the event we arrived at 8.30am, and a ‘feed’ was already in progress. Two dolphins followed the rangers in knee-high water – rolling over and nudging the buckets of fish. The crowd of about 50 stood two or three deep, up to their ankles in foul-smelling sea water.

After a while, the stocks of fish exhausted, the dolphins swam away. It did not seem a very satisfactory event, considering the lengthy detour we had made to witness it.

So we booked ourselves on a short catamaran cruise, where at least we would see dolphins in a more natural environment.

Once aboard the “Shotover Cat”, we both volunteered for ‘sail duty’. John and two other men hoisted the main, and Brigid and another woman cranked the coffee-grinder to unfurl the gib. Despite the strong winds, it was a lovely day to be at sea, and the catamaran, although open-decked, had plenty of room for everyone to get a good view of whatever was going.

Our first sighting was the oddly-named dugong (sea cow), an altogether strange beast. Slow swimming and ungainly, it feeds on sea grass. The dugong has few natural predators. It defends itself by tensing its thick brown skin, making it impossible for most sharks or whales to get a proper bite.

After the dugong, we saw groups of dolphins ‘sleeping’. (Dolphins sleep on the surface – but because they need to regulate their breathing, they only close down one half of their brains at a time. Brigid remarked that John does something similar every morning. He only wakes one half of his brain at a time!)