Seeing dolphins in the wild is a rare and amazing experience in itself, but actually being able to hand feed one is beyond incredible. Barnacles Dolphin Centre is in Tin Can Bay, Queensland and is one of only 3 places in Australia where you can legally hand feed wild dolphins.
We first stumbled upon Barnacles Dolphin Centre in 2013 during our epic 6 month road trip (halfway) across Australia. Tin Can Bay was our very first stop and it wasn’t until we had settled into our caravan park that we discovered we were within walking distance to Barnacles Dolphin Centre. We rose early the next morning and had an amazing and unique experience hand feeding wild Humpback Dolphins. So, when we found ourselves back in Queensland and not far from Tin Can Bay, we just knew we had to visit again.
Barnacles Dolphin Centre is situated at Snapper Creek in Tin Can Bay. For over 30 years Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins have been visiting the centre every morning, to interact with volunteers and be hand fed fresh fish. The centre opens at 7am and dolphin viewing runs from 7am to 8am and then feeding begins at 8am. Entry to the centre is $5 per person and it is an additional $5 to feed the dolphins.
We were told that generally the dolphins arrive shortly after 7am, however when we arrived smack bang on 7am there were already three dolphins playfully swimming around volunteers on the waters edge. There was already quite a crowd gathered around however the staff asked that everyone make room at the front for any children and ours had no qualms squirming into pole-position. We stood in the water for nearly an hour watching the dolphins swimming and playing around. The volunteers were wonderful. Friendly and extremely knowledgeable, their care and passion towards the dolphins shone through as they happily told us all about these amazing, highly endangered creatures and answered all the many, many questions our kids had.
As feeding begins at 8am sharp we all headed out of the water and up to the fish counter at around 7:55am. This saw us at the front of the line and the first to feed the dolphins. Last time we waited for the announcement and ended up queuing up and waiting for a long time. We sanitised our hands, collected our fish and headed straight into the water where each dolphin eagerly awaited alongside a volunteer.
Actually feeding the dolphins was quite surreal. I think I expected them to be timid and gentle but instead they were eager and well, hungry. As we lowered our fish under the water and toward their mouths they confidently grabbed them from our hands straight away. This startled the little ones a bit but they still thought it was pretty amazing. The whole experience was very quick and a little rushed. There was a massive queue of people waiting for their turn to feed a dolphin and so the volunteers ushered everyone through very systematically. I guess once the dolphins begin being fed, they don’t want to have to wait long between each fish!
Once we had had our turns we watched others feeding for a little while, still in awe of the fact that we had just hand fed wild dolphins. It was at this point that we also found ourselves rescuing Ben’s dummy from a naughty pelican, much to our children’s (and many onlooker’s) amusement. By the time we headed off it wasn’t even 9am yet. We had just had such an amazing experience and still had the whole day ahead of us!
We are so lucky to have had the opportunity to experience this twice now. For such a small cost, it really is a phenomenal experience and something everyone should do at some point in their lives. Not only does Barnacles Dolphin Centre offer a fantastic and unique experience for tourists, but they go above and beyond to ensure the care and well-being of the dolphins comes first all the way. From the sanitiser you must wash your hands in before entering the water and feeding the dolphins to the distance the volunteers ensure you keep at all times and the strict ‘no touching the dolphins’ policy, it is clear that the volunteers truly love these creatures and do everything possible to keep them safe, healthy and happy! And that’s exactly why the dolphins continue to return, day after sunny Queensland day!