About once a week, Dr Mike Bossley AO gets in his boat and observes dolphins in the Port River. He'll record which animals he sees, what they are doing, and how they are fairing.
It's part of his research into and advocating for cetaceans, which was recognised with a Lifetime Achievement award at the 2022 South Australian Environment Awards in late September 2022.
Mike's work led to the establishment of the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary in South Australia's Port River estuary in 2005, which is home to resident and visiting bottlenose dolphins. He's helped many injured or entangled dolphins and got them back in the water.
On top of this, he represented Australia on the International Whaling Commission, was the first director of Greenpeace Australia, helped establish the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, set up the Australian Dolphin Research Foundation, was actively involved in anti-whaling and anti-nuclear weapons testing campaigns, and had a prolific academic career. This drive to preserve and protect has been with him since a child.
"Even as a teenager it seemed to me that many of our environmental problems stem from the fact that we humans have lost touch with the fact that we are part of nature," he said.
"I was always looking for examples of how we are closer to them (mammals) than we realise, and similarly, they are closer to us than we realise. One way of demonstrating that is to understand how similar their brains and thinking are similar to ours, especially the apes and the dolphins."
When he's not in the water, he's analysing data and writing scientific papers, reviewing scientific papers, advocating for environmental improvements, advocating for better protection for dolphins, promoting marine parks, working on whale and dolphin conservation campaigns internationally, assisting graduate students, writing books, preparing submissions, and working with various marine conservation groups.
His work with the Port River dolphins was spurred after he saw a photograph in The Advertiser in 1987 of a cetacean and a racehorse swimming together in the river.
"We called the dolphin Billie and she ended up becoming world famous for starting the tail walking phenomenon in the Port River dolphins. This tail walking was an example of a non-human cultural behaviour," he said.
Mike's non-invasive field research has taught people about the way dolphins use their habitat, their social structures, and the threats they face. He has known many of the resident dolphins that live in the Port River since they were young and has followed them over the years, watching them grow up, form friendship groups and start their own families.
Mike credits the 34 years of data collecting as having driven change in human behaviour and legislation - he can demonstrate changes in dolphins' abundance and distribution, their breeding success, and the threats they face in the local environment. But there's a simple way we can all help protect ocean wildlife, and that is to remember that what goes down our drains ends up in the ocean.
"Dolphins and other wildlife in the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary have suffered declining numbers in recent years and this is cause for concern," he said.
Mike and a team of local scientists and vets are busy trying to work out what has caused this decline and what can be done to stop it..
The awards, run by the Conservation Council of South Australia, in partnership with the state government, celebrate the contribution South Australians make to protecting biodiversity and caring for the natural world.
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