Elusive dugongs

Yesterday’s torrential downpour forced the postponement of our dugong cruise, as the rain was too heavy and the sea was too choppy to go out. Today they predicted more rain, up to 20mm, but it never happened. The sun was out and the sky was blue. The sea was still quite choppy, but conditions were good enough for our delayed cruise to go ahead.

As we weren’t due to sail until 10am, I went down to the beach early to see the dolphin experience again. This morning Piccolo was the only dolphin to come in to the beach. Her daughter Pan could be seen in the distance but did not join her mother.

At 10am we left the jetty aboard the Aristocat catamaran, bound for the seagrass beds where we hoped we might see some dugongs. Two days ago the people aboard this cruise had observed four dugongs at close quarters in calm seas and almost perfect weather conditions. Today we knew it would be more of a challenge because of the wind from the north and the choppy waves.

We had quite a large contingent of bus tour patrons on board with us. One poor woman became ill just after we left the jetty and spent the next two and a half hours holed up in one of the boat’s two toilets. She still looked very ill at the end of the cruise and needed assistance to get back on dry land. But everyone else seemed to handle the cruise well. A couple of times when we hit the waves front on, the people at the front of the boat got well and truly soaked. Looking back to the shoreline, a colourful rainbow caught our attention.

On several occasions we spotted a small pod of dolphins. We slowed the boat and brought it closer. The dolphins would come in close and position themselves in our bow wave at the front of the boat, and for a few minutes it seemed they were guiding us through the waters. This happened a number of times. Then they would disappear from view and we would all spread out around the railings of the boat scanning the sea for the next marine life sighting.

Eventually we reached the seagrass beds where we expected to find dugongs grazing. We were a long way offshore, but the water here was calmer and shallower and it was easy to see the seagrass on the sandy sea floor. Despite there being 10,000 dugongs here in Shark Bay, they certainly proved to be elusive today. The skipper put it down to the water being murky and the seagrass being disturbed after yesterday’s storms.

Eventually, he spotted one about 50 metres off to the side of the boat. Being a mammal, it had come up for air. I looked in the direction he indicated and caught the briefest glimpse of a glinting brown back disturb the surface before it was gone from view again. We drifted in this area for about 5 more minutes, and suddenly the dugong appeared again directly in front of us and perhaps a little closer than before. Once again, I got the briefest of glimpses of the creature’s back and then it was gone again. We never saw another dugong.

But we did see more dolphins and once again they swam alongside us and in our bow wave on our return journey to the resort. The last time we saw them was adjacent to the beach view villas where we have been staying. I guess we’ll have to have another try in another place at spotting dugongs. Perhaps when we get to Broome?

We had a quick bite for lunch in Denham, then returned (130km) to the Overlander turnoff, before rejoining the highway and heading north to Carnarvon. For 200km we didn’t pass through a single town. The road was straight and the countryside was flat and dry. That is, until we approached Carnarvon where it must have rained very heavily, and had to drive through some flooded sections of road. We’ll spend tomorrow exploring Carnarvon and its surrounds.

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