roebuck bay is a special place. as cameron from broome whale watching explained, it all has to do with the massive tides here in broome, which can get up to 10 meters. because of these movements there is an incredible amount of water being moved in and out of the bay twice (!) every day. the other important part is that water also gets pushed into and sucked back out of the mud flats and mangroves around roebuck bay (in some places more than 15 km), which circles a lot of nutrients through the water. as a result roebuck bay offers plenty of food for many marine creatures which makes it an amazing marine sanctuary, with dolphins, turtles, dugongs to name just a few.
then there are these guys: snubfin dolphins. they only live here in life here in roebuck bay and have officially been identified as a species in 2006. their closest relatives are the irrawaddy dolphins but the snubfins are also related to the orcas (my patronus). instead of the longish snout the bottlenose dolphins have the snubbies sport something of a stubby nose.
snubfins are small compared to bottlenose dolphins at around 1.5 meters and also slow. as a result they hunt differently from other dolphins: they prefer murky water with low visibility where their ability to echolocate is a big advantage. they like to drive their prey up towards the surface and then spit little water jets to drive the fish their way.
they also dive down like humpback whales, unlike any other dolphins we have seen. we learned that until a few years ago it was still legal to fish in the bay using gillnets and many dolphins were caught in the nets. the chunks the nets took out of their fins are still used to identify individual dolphins. a few years ago the nets were outlawed and roebuck bay was proclaimed a marine park.
we think that’s a great idea. we spent three hours out there and saw a lot of snubbies, turtles and even a few dugong. we were told that australia is home to 40% of the world’s sirenia (dugongs and manatees), trending up. unfortunately that’s not due to an exceptionally successful dugong immigration program, it’s unfortunately more because their brethren everywhere else are under so much pressure.
there are several larger seagrass beds in the bay, but cameron said that quite a bit of the seagrass was wiped out during the last cyclone season. it appears that many of the dugongs migrated down to ningaloo or even shark bay to find food, which is not a small trip to undertake.
roebuck bay also hosts five of the seven known sea turtle species – one less than ningaloo but still not bad. they only pop up their heads for a short time for air, it’s really hard to catch them on camera.
here is our recommendation: you should visit broome and you should get out to roebuck bay to see the snubfins. and the turtles and the dugongs, just to name a few.
and we got to go with the ‘sealegs’. we all heard of floating cars – they generally have all the sex appeal and grace of a beached whale – but this one is a driving boat. cool.