Adelaide Port River dolphins: the rest of the story

Photo credit: Shane Yeend

Picking up where we left off in the last post...after five years of interacting with Sandy Sanford, a retired policeman, Billy the dolphin stops showing up for early morning swims with the racing horses in 1988.

Here’s the conclusion to this fascinating story from Paul Huxtable:

“Shortly after he [Billy the dolphin] went missing, a dolphin was found trapped and distressed in the Patawalonga Lock at Glenelg Beach, South Australia. Concerned for its well-being, the dolphin was captured and spent three weeks in Marineland at West Beach. During that time it was discovered that the dolphin was a female, so the Marineland staff named her Pat.

Pat was released into the Port River and had the number ‘3’ branded on her dorsal fin, indicating she was the third dolphin released from captivity. Marineland has since closed. Dr. Mike Bossley, a local Marine Biologist based in Adelaide, followed her progress and realized after twelve months of observation, that Pat was actually Billy. So Pat was renamed “Billie” in recognition of her female gender. Mike tells me that Sandy took a lot of convincing to accept that Billie was in fact a female dolphin, but he came around.

Photo credit: Debbie Huxtable

Mike and many others observed Billie as she integrated back into the local group of dolphins in the inner Port River and to the astonishment of observers, began to tail-walk (the skill of ‘walking’ backward through the water on their tails). It was thought that she had learned to tail-walk by observing the other captive dolphins at Marineland.

Billie taught many wild dolphins to tail-walk, the most regular of which is Wave, another female dolphin. Wave is now passing this skill on to her calves and other members of the pod.

During her life, Billie gave birth to seven calves, of which only two (Rosso and Marianna) survived to maturity. Billie passed away on August 11, 2009 at the age of 26 years. An autopsy confirmed she was suffering from terminal kidney problems.”

Thanks again to Paul Huxtable for sharing this amazing story! Billie lived an interesting and dramatic life in the Port River, from being orphaned, to swimming with race horses, to being rescued and then released with a new skill…tail walking.

But living in the Port River was hard on Billie, only two out of seven calves survived to adulthood and she passed away before reaching the average lifespan of 30 to 50 years for bottlenose dolphins.

Billie’s memory lives on with Wave and the other tail walking Port River dolphins, but I’m sure she is missed. (For more tail walking photos, visit Paul and Debbie Huxtable’s website.)

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