One thing I’ve learned about great experiences with exceptional friends is to recognize them as they’re happening, not later when I’m remembering. Such was Ruth and my 3 hour dugong observing catamaran ride with Robert and Lynette near Monkey Mia.
Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort is a bit less than 20 miles north of Denham, Australia’s most westerly community and, like so many others on Australia’s west coast, originally a pearling town. Almost due north of it is Shark Bay Marine Park, a World Heritage area for many reasons. It sits at the end of a long unusual peninsula, unusual because it’s parallel to another and like no other place on the planet.
Robert and Lynette are friends we met at the Great Barrier Reef on our 2nd of 8 trips to Australia. They live in Canberra and we have traveled extensively with both them and their son John and daughter-in-law Trish.
A dugong is a rare marine mammal that looks like a cross between a shark and a hippo. A relative of the manatee and the sea cow, a sleek, swimming dugong is a thrilling sight. They’re thought to explain why the mermaid myth haunts marine history. With poor or fog-shrouded vision, a sailor might easily mistake a dugong for a rather plump mermaid. Its name, in fact, derives from a Malay word meaning Lady of the Sea. They are one of 4 extant species of Sirenia and heavily dependent on seagrass for food. That’s why they’re here where Europeans probably met Aboriginal Australians for the 1st time. Shark Bay has an abundance of seagrass, actually the most extensive banks of it in the world, and that’s why about 10,000 dugongs, about 10% of the world’s entire population of them, cavort in its waters. Most likely to be seen from August to May and highly protected, the normally shy dugongs of Shark’s Bay have learned to tolerate the human fascination with them and they swim about catamarans with abandon.
Having 3 hours on the perfect, sea green waters of Denham Sound and the Indian Ocean on a brilliant September Sunday made me realize, “Life doesn’t get any better than this.” Young marine experts patiently answered our questions about dugongs as these rare creatures swam alongside. Ruth got so excited, she almost fell in a couple of times. She claimed it was accidental, but I believe she wanted to swim with the dugongs.
The Monkey Mia Resort, however, was less than a stunning experience. In fact, it was a lot like fishing, hours of boredom interrupted by moments of excitement. I’ll tell you about the difficult dolphins and mind-bending stromatolites tomorrow.