Billie was an amazing dolphin who led an incredible life and brought so much joy to so many people.
Throughout her life Billie and her calves faced many of the threats that dolphins face from humans including being placed in captivity, the effects of pollution, being hit by boats, caught in fishing line and fed by humans.
We are very fortunate to have had such an incredible dolphin living in the Port River. We are still very lucky to have many other wonderful dolphins that have chosen to call the Port River their home. The other dolphins that live in the Port River also face many of the dangers that Billie faced during her life. We need to continue to strive to protect the dolphins and make their environment a safer place for them to live.
Despite all these threats Billie led an incredible life.
1980'S - 2009
Billie - The dolphin that made history
Billie tail walking - photo by Marianna Boorman
She first became famous in the 1980’s for her antics of swimming with race horses in the Port River. Sandy Sandford a racehorse trainer used to train his horses in the River. He was surprised when he noticed a young dolphin swimming alongside his horse. It is believed that this dolphin was an orphan because it was only about two years old and its mother was nowhere to be seen. The young dolphin seemed to enjoy the company of Sandy and the horses and would come back each day to swim with them.
Sandy named the young dolphin Billy. Billy would often swim circles around the horses and at times she would even jump over them. On one occasion Sandy took one of his friend’s dogs out in his boat and the dog jumped into the water as well. Incredibly Billy, the horse and the dog all swam along next to each other. Billy captured the headlines for her antics of swimming with the race horses. She was talked about on the radio and pictures of her were shown all around the world on the TV and in the Newspapers.
Billie tail walking - photo by Marianna Boorman
Billie went missing when the tall ships were in Port Adelaide in 1988 during the Australian Bicentennial celebrations. Not long after Billie had gone missing a young female dolphin captured people’s attention. The female dolphin had become trapped in the Patawolonga lock gates near one of South Australia’s most popular beaches, Glenelg.
The dolphin was named “Pat”; she was captured and was placed in Marineland (captivity) a small dolphinarium like Sea World. Luckily Pat was only in Marineland for a short time and was set free back in to the wild. Before releasing her, the number 3 was branded on to her dorsal fin because she was the 3rd dolphin they had released back into the wild.
Billie's dorsal fin - photo by Marianna Boorman
Once released Pat swam along the coast and made her way to the Port River. Dr Mike Bossley, a Marine Biologist who had been observing and taking photos of Billy swimming with the race horses took some identification photos of Pat. It was at this stage that Mike recognised the fin. Using his identification catalogue he was able to conclude that Pat was actually Billy and that Billy was actually a female dolphin. The spelling of her name was changed to Billie.
Billie & me - Photo courtesy of Rod Hurrell
A few months later Billie again captured the headlines when she then began Tail Walking in the Port River.
Tail Walking is when a dolphin leaps backwards out of the water and moves backwards on their tail. It is an incredible sight to see and very unusual behaviour for a wild dolphin. It is believed that she had learnt this from watching the captive dolphins in Marineland tail walking. We regularly saw Billie tail walking in the bow waves and wake of the ships and tugs as they travelled up and down the river. She would also often tail walk right next to where we would be standing on the marinas or wharf, almost as if to surprise us.
During her life Billie had six calves. Sadly four of her six calves did not survive weening. As mentioned previously the port river dolphins face many threats. Billie’s last calf, Chelsea was born in 2009. Chelsea was only with us for a few months but in that time she captures our hearts. We had quite a few memorable moments with her. One of my favourite memories was watching her as she played with and tossed around a jelly fish. It was incredibly sad to lose her at such a young age.
Billie’s two surviving calves are called Rosso and Marianna. Rosso was born in 1999. Rosso was the race horse trainer Sandy’s nick name.
Because Billie had spent so much time with Sandy and the racehorse’s Mike decided to name Billie’s calf after him. We are not able to identify Rosso but we believe that he is alive and well and that he may even still be living in the Port River.
Billie’s second surviving calf, Marianna was born in 2005.
In February 2005 I was out on the water with my parents and was incredibly lucky to see Billie with a brand new calf. I was honoured when Mike Bossley decided to name Billie’s calf after me in recognition of my volunteering work with the dolphins.
Chelsea playing with a jellyfish - photo by Marianna Boorman
Billie and Chelsea - photo by Marianna Boorman
Billie was first thought to be a male and turned out to be a female and Marianna was first thought to be a female and turned out to be a male.
We are not able to tell the dolphins gender until we see their bellies. This can sometimes take several months, sometimes even years; it is therefore easy to get their names wrong. While Marianna was still young he managed to get a few nicks and cuts in his dorsal fin; this has enabled us to identify him easily.
Like his mum, Marianna also captured the headlines after becoming trapped. Marianna was trapped in a small 10m x 2m water sump at the Penrice Soda Plant. Luckily a worker was doing a routine check and found the young dolphin when he lifted up the lid of the pit. A rescue was organised and Marianna was lifted out of the pit by a crane and was released back into the river. After being put back in the river the rescuers said they saw Marianna leaping out of the water several times. Once back in the river Marianna was reunited with Billie.
Billie's calf Marianna - photo by Marianna Boorman
Billie's calf Marianna trapped in Penrice Soda Factory
Billie, Marianna and me - photo by Barb Saberton
Billie and Marianna - photo by Marianna Boorman
Billie was a very friendly and playful dolphin. We regularly saw her chasing fish, tail walking jumping, spy hopping and bow riding. Billie and Marianna would often come over to us when we were photographing them enabling us to get to know them very well.
Billie was full of surprises and in 2006 she again captured our attention when we noticed that she had passed her skill of tail walking on to one of her good friends Wave. Wave tail walked very often and would even tail walk in front of the ships and tugs just like Billie. Wave was incredibly active. We often saw her do several tail walks in a row. One evening in the space of a few hours we saw her do more than 60 tail walks.
Billie’s trait of tail walking is spreading and we have now seen 7 other dolphins’ tail walking including Bianca, Angel, Juliette, Oriana and Wave’s calves Ripple and Tallula.
Sadly, in August 2009 Billie passed away. We will really miss her.
She bought so much joy to so many people. Her spirit lives on through her calves Rosso and Marianna and her unique trait of tail walking is spreading through the Port River pod.
Billie was certainly a remarkable dolphin that has shown us how intelligent, social and friendly dolphins are. We are incredibly lucky to have had such an amazing dolphin living in the port river.
To learn more about Billie’s amazing story please watch the video.