How it all began

How the Tangalooma Dolphin Feeding began - a history

The below story is a personal account by Brian Osborne, owner and director of Tangalooma Island Resort:

During 1977, 78, 79 and 1980, the Osborne Family visited Tangalooma as Resort Guests.

During that time we enjoyed watching the dolphins visit the Resort jetty at night. Lights had recently been installed on the jetty and they were attracting bait fish for the Dolphins to hunt. In December 1980, the Osborne family purchased the Resort property. At that time Tangalooma Resort employed 27 staff in total. This is a little different to the 325 staff now employed by Tangalooma.

During the 80’s, we continued to visit the jetty at night to look out for the dolphins that arrived at all different times after sunset. The most regular dolphin at the jetty was a dolphin that had been named Eric. Eric became a much more regular visitor in 1986 when he arrived with a new calf that we named Bobo. It was then obvious that Eric was a female. We then thought it wise to change Eric’s name. Betty said that because she had such a beautiful nature she would be named Beauty.

During that time, Resort guests fishing on the jetty at night started throwing their reject fish and bait to Beauty, and she slowly began to accept them. She also began to raise her eyes above the water and look for our guests. This only encouraged the guests more and more to feed her. Betty became concerned about the quality of the fish being cast to the dolphins, so we arranged for a bucket of fresh fish to be left on the jetty each night for guests to cast to Beauty when she arrived. During late 1990 Beauty arrived with a new baby that we named Tinkerbell, and Beauty became a very regular visitor during 1991.

In January 1992 Betty decided that it was time to try to hand feed Beauty as she was becoming very friendly and showed no signs of stress when near Betty on the jetty loading platform. Betty found two other interested staff members and commenced entering the water and casting fish closer and closer. Beauty came close enough in 1992 to take her first fish from Betty’s hand. Bobo and Tinkerbell hung back and watched from a safe distance. The jetty lighting was poor and the water was gloomy and quite scary to enter, particularly as Beauty would not come in closer than shoulder deep water to hand feed.

Throughout 1991 and the winter of 1992, Betty, myself and our poodle Yoplait, spent every night sitting on the patio waiting patiently for the dolphins to arrive. Yoplait was always the first to hear or smell them when they arrived, and would run along the beach and out onto the jetty barking and looking into the water to greet them.

Once Beauty became comfortable being close to us, she began to encourage her siblings Bobo and Tinkerbell to hand feed. Soon after, Bess and Karma started to come in closer to take fish from Betty, and the other Resort staff members.

It soon became apparent that Beauty and Betty had an affinity together, as Beauty would always swim straight to Betty whenever she was present in the water. Beauty was also very comfortable bringing Tinkerbell in close to Betty.

In August 1992, we decided that we could not continue sitting around up until 2.00am to feed dolphins. We therefore made a decision that if they had not arrived by 9.00pm we would pack up and go to bed. It did not take long for the dolphins to learn that lesson and arrive earlier.

1992 was a big year for the dolphin program. By year's end we had 6 regular dolphins with all except Rani hand feeding.

We had established our Dolphin Care Protocols, and had them approved by the Marine Park Authority. We installed better lighting on the jetty and in December 92 we tentatively commenced to allow Resort Guests into the water to feed the dolphins. We also announced the program to the media and soon became well known around the world for our program.

During 1993 an old male dolphin that we had named Blind Freddie arrived (later reduced to Fred). Fred used to bump into all of us in the water and could not grab the fish properly. We assumed that he was nearly blind. After Beauty, Fred became our second favourite dolphin. For a male, he was just so calm and contented around all of us. Echo arrived in July. His mother brought him in over a period of 3 nights. She stayed out the back, and allowed Echo to investigate. Then they both disappeared for 3 nights and on the fourth night Echo came charging in and commenced feeding greedily. He was only about 8 months old and in very poor condition. It was obvious by then that he had become an orphan. We decided to break our protocol and for the next 2 years, we fed Echo until he was satisfied. He was still too young to survive on his own. Fred took Echo into his charge and they arrived and departed together. At around 2 years old, Echo was observed chasing and eventually catching a fish. We then decided to slowly reduce his feeding intake back down to 20% of his daily requirement like all the other dolphins. Echo is now one of the best and fastest fish hunters in the group. Rani began to feed and with the addition of Fred, Echo, and another arrival Nick, we were up to 9 dolphins feeding on a regular basis.

During 1994 Lefty arrived and Karma stopped attending, but are still often sighted around the area. We opened and staffed our Dolphin Education Centre, and we set up the Tangalooma Research Grant Program to help fund Marine Research in conjunction with the University of Queensland.

Our best news in 1994 was the arrival of Beauty on 10th October with a new born calf we named Shadow.

The second half of 1995 was a devastating time for us. Beauty suffered an infectious tumour on her rostrum that degenerated to a point where she could not swim fast enough to catch fish. We had Sea World Veterinarians observe her and they concluded that nothing could be done to save her. We then turned our minds to Shadow. She was only 9 months old, and not capable of surviving on her own. Our experience with Echo had taught us a lot, and we knew that we had to try and keep Beauty around for as long as possible to give Shadow a chance at survival. We again decided to break from our protocol, and we lifted Beauty’s feeding allowance and started to encourage Shadow with small fish.

Sadly, Beauty last visited us on 24th December, 95. We searched for her for several days without success. Then on 27th December Shadow arrived on her own and we knew then that Beauty was gone forever.

The next 14 years (1996 to 2010) have seen many changes to the program. A new jetty and grandstand, a new Dolphin Education Centre managed by Trevor Hassard and staffed by our extremely dedicated Eco Rangers and other dolphin care team members, and an extensive Marine Education Program which provides free programs to all South East Queensland Schools.

We have lost Freddie and Bess to natural causes. Bess has left behind her 2 boys, Nari and Rani. Freddie has left us with some great memories and many smiles and laughs.

Beauty has left us with some wonderful memories of how she started it all but more importantly, she has left us with her 3 children, Bobo, Tinkerbell and Shadow, Tinkerbell’s 3 children, Tangles, Storm and Phoenix, and Shadow’s 2 children Silhouette and Zephyr. What a family it is. All gentle and well mannered like their mother and grandmother Beauty. With 5 females in the list of offspring, we can hope for many more arrivals and generations to come from Beauty.

When we visit the jetty now to watch the program, I know that Betty’s mind always goes back to remember Beauty as she watches the antics of the young dolphins at play. What an incredible legacy Beauty has left us.

By Brian Osborne - March 2010

Indigenous history of Dolphin & human Interactions on Moreton Island

Buangan (dolphins) are a sacred totem for the Quandamooka People, the original indigenous residents of Stradbroke Island (Minjerribah) and Moreton Island (Mulgumpin). The Quandamooka have long shared an emotional & cooperative relationship with dolphins. 

The Quandamooka have a special bond with dolphins, and early European settlers and explorers Matthew Flinders observed aboriginals cooperatively hunting with dolphins in Moreton Bay.  

Witness accounts would state that the men would go out and stand knee deep in the water, then clap their spears together, slap the water and dig the spears into the sand to attract the dolphins. The Buangan (dolphins) would then swim towards the men while herding many fish to the gutters. Once the fish were near, the men would catch them using nets, and if the catch of fish was p[lentiful, they would give the left overs to the dolphins as a reward. This unique and cooperative way of fishing was celebrated in a corroboree called Bulka Booangun

There are many other historical reports of these cooperative fishing interactions that were documented by early European settlers to Australia. Some of these Research papers are available on this site for further reading.

Wild Dolphin Viewing & Wild Dolphin Feeding Access

Please note that casual visitors to Moreton Island are not allowed access to the resort premises for the nightly dolphin viewing / feeding experience. All guests that are authorised to stay overnight at properties within the grounds of the resort have general admission access to the dolphin viewing areas each evening. Only guests who have booked official day trips and select overnight stays with Tangalooma Island Resort will be able to participate in the nightly dolphin feeding program, but only if it was included in your original package. Consult your confirmation paperwork to confirm your access.

Wild Dolphin Feeding / Viewing is dependent on dolphin attendance, weather conditions & tides, therefore arrival cannot always be guaranteed; however over the last 3 decades of the program, we have experienced a 99% attendance rate. See Dolphin Feeding FAQs for further information about the program.

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