Inspired by Nature
Polperro Dolphin Swims has been introducing people to the wonders of Port Phillip Bay for over 35 years.
Always family owned and operated, today 3 generations of the Muir family work together in the business.
The original dolphin swim operator in the Bay, ‘Polperro’ was initially engaged as a research vessel for the Port Phillip Bay Dolphin Research Project (now known as the Dolphin Research Institute). As an industry pioneer, Polperro’s involvement has ranged from working with groups and committees to formulate industry code of conduct, to the establishment of activity standards, through to defining the very nature of what it is to be an ‘ecotourism’ provider.
Polperro Dolphin Swims has since grown to become internationally recognised as an extremely experienced, professional, innovative and successful ecotourism operation that conducts environmentally responsible tours.
Meet The Family
Jude and Tony
In the 1950s, Tony Muir sailed lightweight sharpies and Port Phillip Twelves out of St. Kilda and Port Melbourne. Judith was a lifesaver at Half Moon Bay. Their first date was a yacht club dance and after they married, they spent years living on a five-metre yacht sailing around the islands of Queensland. In the mid-1960s, Tony was involved in building the Hook Island Underwater Observatory while Judith worked collecting specimens and identifying new species for the Australian Museum and the Smithsonian Institute. Following this, the pair moved overseas for a period while Tony worked as a commercial deep-sea diver and international Master Mariner.
On their return they started a commercial charter operation on the waters off the wild and remote Gippsland coast taking small groups of divers out for days at a time.
Judith at the time was working in aquatics and water safety and has gone on to become one Australia’s most respected and awarded voices in the field.
Troy & Ben
Jude and Tony’s sons, Troy and Ben, run the boat together. Both went to sea with Tony from a young age and have spent all their working lives on the water. Their local knowledge of Port Phillip Bay’s southern waters is exceptional.
Justine, Matilda and Bonnie
Troy’s wife Justine, who manages the office alongside Judith, also worked for many years as a snorkel instructor on ‘Polperro.’ Their daughters, one named after a favourite dolphin, Matilda and Bonnie, balance studies with days spent showing others the world beneath the surface of Melbourne’s ‘Beating Blue Heart.’
Meet The Crew
Polperro Dolphin Swims’ crew are highly experienced. As trained professional crew they perform the required tasks with confidence, enthusiasm and the highest regard for the safety of the group, each participant and the environment.
Polperro’s senior tour guide and resident marine biologist, Jess Beckham, spent part of her childhood living on the shores of what is now the Ticonderoga Bay Dolphin Sanctuary and the Point Nepean National Park. Her father was stationed there when it was the Army School of Health. Jess came aboard at 13 years of age (volunteering as a research assistant) and, aside from the period she spent undertaking her tertiary studies, has been part of the crew ever since. A qualified Eco Guide and snorkel instructor, Jess has over 25 years of experience onboard ‘Polperro.’
Jess spends her winters with the whales in the Kingdom of Tonga working as a whale guide.
The Stringer family have lived locally for generations. Sophie’s parents ran the iconic local Smoke House Woodfired Pizzas. Many of Polperro’s crew stepped off the boat at the end of the day and walked up the hill to work at the Smoke House. Sophie did work experience at 14 and has been onboard for over a decade. Growing-up with 6 little brothers, it is no wonder that Sophie is always cool as a cucumber and has such an amazing affinity with younger participants.
Sophie has a degree in Climate Science. We like to think that the years spent working as a snorkel instructor and the breath control training involved have helped in her development as an award-winning, international, bag-piping sensation.
Tom Andrew did work experience with us when he was at high school and has since gone on to become a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and complete a Degree in Marine Science and Master of Teaching. With all that study it is a wonder that Tom has had time for anything else, but he has also worked as an Eco Guide in South America as well as being a regular ‘Polperro’ crew member.
‘Polperro’s’ triple threat Tom is renowned for his easy-going nature and approachable disposition.
Meet the Locals
In 2011, what many of us already knew was confirmed, The Bay’s resident bottlenose dolphins are special. They were declared a new species; the Burrunan dolphin (Tursiops Australis).
Burrunan dolphins are genetically distinct from both offshore and inshore bottlenose, have different colouration and skull morphology.
Sometime after Port Phillip Bay was formed, the dolphins moved in and they have called it home ever since. They are as much part of the place as the sponge gardens, vast sandy planes and rocky reefs that give the Bay its’ unique identity. Like the other 80-90% of species that are endemic to our southern waters, if these populations are lost, they are gone forever as they are not replicated elsewhere. Port Phillip Bay’s dolphins have been elevated to icon status and are regarded as a litmus test for the health of the waters in which they live.
Meet the Locals
Australian Fur Seal
The Australian fur seal, Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, is the largest of all the fur seals.
They have a relatively restricted population limited to the islands and rocky outcrops of south-eastern Australia.
Hunted relentlessly for their furs around the turn of the 19th century, their recovery is one of the few success stories where an animal has come back from the brink of extinction and thrived.
Fur seals may look cumbersome, but they are agile and graceful swimmers and remarkably mobile on land.
Fur seals differ from other seals – true seals – because they have external ears, the ability to use all four limbs to move across land and two layers of fur while other seals have only one.
In the Bay, fur seals can be seen resting on purpose-built platforms, old navigational structures and rocky outcrops. These haul-out sites are generally bachelor pads where the males are either too young or too old to establish and defend breeding territory.
Meet the Locals
Australasian Diving Gannet.
Often, they patrol the shallows just waiting. When a school of anchovies or garfish is spotted, birds will suddenly plummet beak first from a height of 10 – 15 metres, tucking in their wings just before impact. If it is a large congregation of fish then the scene soon becomes a frenzy as bird after bird hits the water like a missile. Gannets have exceptional eyesight and are able in an instant to make the adjustment between air and water as the pursue their prey beneath the surface.
Australasian diving gannets – Morus serrator – are found throughout south-eastern Australia and across to New Zealand. The gannets nest in colonies on islands or rocky outcrops, but inside the Bay they live on old navigational structures. Port Phillip Bay’s population has grown form 3 nests at the Wedge Light off Queenscliff in 1967, to well over a thousand today. Research has shown that the growth in numbers is primarily driven by mature birds returning to where they were born to breed.
Meet the Locals
Smooth stingrays, Bathytoshia breviacaudata, are the largest of all Australian stingrays, growing up to 4.3 metres in length and weighing as much as 350 kilograms. Black stingrays, Bathytoshia thetidi, are only slightly smaller. The 2 species are very similar in appearance, but the Smooth rays have a relatively shorter tail and Black rays have thorn-like denticles running down their back.
They feed on bottom-dwelling fishes, crustaceans and molluscs, which are often dug up from the sand. Like their shark relatives, stingrays have electrical sensors which enable them to sense the natural electrical charges of potential prey.
The rays make regular appearances on our tours, especially when we swim at the seals.
While many are initially fearful, the rays’ gentle and curious dispositions and acceptance of our presence in such close proximity soon ease such trepidation.
Smooth and Black rays are familiar sights in Australia’s southern temperate waters, particularly around piers and jetties. Often cherished local identities in coastal communities, a groundswell of grass-roots activism has seen them afforded a level of protection and they cannot be taken by fishers within 400m of any pier, jetty, wharf, rock wall or breakwater.
Meet the Locals
Weedy Sea Dragon
Victoria’s state emblem for marine fauna is the weedy sea dragon. The weedy sea dragon, Phyllopteryx taeniolatus, is adorned with intricate patterns almost similar to dot paintings. The dragons inhabit reefs off Portsea pier in the shallows and can also be found off Flinders pier. They are long and thin with weedy appendages along their bodies which allow them to blend perfectly into the leafy sea floor. They seem quite content to tumble and drift in the current like seaweed. Many crew members describe to swimmers that from above they look like a long shoelace or piece of seaweed, but up close their almost luminescent skin is captivating. Our highly experienced team is gifted in being able to spot these incredibly camouflaged creatures. They cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
‘Polperro’ is a classic Huon pine displacement vessel built by the Pompei brothers on the shores of the Bay at Mordialloc. Her hull was built from a single tree recovered from the bottom of Lake Pedder in Tasmania.
Purpose-built for conducting dive operations, it is ideally suited to wildlife tourism. It produces minimal engine noise below the water, it has no in-water emissions or fumes and its fuel consumption is minimal. It travels at no-wake speed ensuring less disturbance to dolphins and seals. It is the same vessel that started dolphin swim tours in Port Phillip Bay and generations of dolphins have come to know and trust it.
Polperro was built for the conditions experienced in Bass Strait and offers an extremely stable operating platform within the sheltered waters of Port Phillip Bay. It is meticulously maintained and is under current Australian Marine Safety Authority (AMSA) 1D survey.