Environment – Snorkelling our backyard

Bottlenose dolphins swimming with lucky onlookers, Laura Redfern and Madison and Julia Dale. Photo: James Dale.

A great way to enjoy some of the amazing wildlife in the area is by taking a dip in the ocean with your mask and snorkel. 

There are amazing marine reserves at Tāwharanui, Goat Island and Okura/Long Bay. But even along any of our coastlines there are great opportunities to enjoy marine life. A good time to snorkel our coasts is when south westerly winds are prevailing, as this tends to co-occur with increased water clarity in the region. 

A common sight to see while snorkeling are big schools of fish like snapper and kahawai. Also, there are lots of little guys to see. For instance, spotted wrasse and yellow-tailed mackerel are very common. Every once in a while, you may even encounter eagle rays swimming by.

One animal I am always on the lookout for when I snorkel is the octopus. Octopuses are very clever members of the same taxonomic group as snails and clams. They are generally pretty common, but can be very tricky to spot. I often wonder how many octopuses I have swam over, that have seen me, but that I had no idea was there. However, a good clue to their presence is seeing a clusters of shells and pebbles near or around holes or overhangs. If you look more closely you may then see an octopus hiding out and peering at you. 

By far the most amazing snorkeling experience my family and I enjoyed on the coast was three years ago when a pod of bottlenose dolphins spent the entire day at Little Manly beach. They pitched up in the morning and countless people, including heaps of children, had a chance to swim with them. The dolphins were genuinely curious about the many people watching and swimming close to shore. They would come close to snorkelers and swim circles around them. Many of them were doing fantastic leaps, mere metres away from the people in the water. One dolphin had a little bunch of kelp that it seemed to be using as a toy, placing it on its dorsal fin and swimming around with it, then letting it go for a bit before retrieving it and arranging it back onto its fin. 

And as that wonderful day drew to a close, the dolphins were still there. As the sun set and it got darker, they seemed to decide that they had had enough of their sightseeing adventure, and they swam off out to sea. On the following day there was no sign of them. Why did they choose that one day to spend with so many onlookers? I guess only the dolphins really know the answer to that question. One thing for sure though, is that it was an utterly amazing wildlife experience for so many.

Zoology professor, Massey University