Whale whisperer

A close encounter with a killer whale changed the course of Lisa Skelton’s life.

Born and raised in Lake Macquarie, 30-year-old Lisa Skelton was always going to have an affinity with the water, but she had no idea how deep their relationship would become. The excitement she felt when she first experienced a killer whale in the wild convinced her to walk away from a teaching career and take to the waters of Port Stephens. For the past six years she has worked as a naturalist and photographer for Imagine Cruises and is now considered one of the region’s leading dolphin experts. Remarkably, she can identify each of the 100-odd animals residential to the area and the passion in her voice is undeniable. Lisa’s interest skyrocketed when she visited America’s west coast in 2012 to see the endangered Southern Resident killer whales and was impressed by the knowledge of the scientists and people who worked with them. “They knew the animals by name, their movements, the social structure of the pods. Going on the boats and listening to the crew talk about the history of each animal was very interesting and knowing we had a residential population of Bottlenose dolphins here, it then became really frustrating being on the boats at home and not having that type of information,” she said. “People would often ask: ‘Do you know the dolphins? Do you see the same ones each day?’ The answer was always yes, we do see the same animals but no we don’t know them, and I can’t give you any information about them.” she adds.  “I set about trying to get some answers. About 10 years ago Macquarie University did a really good population study and a couple of social studies, on our dolphin population. I was fortunate enough to get access to the data from that study and continue it. “For the last four years or so I’ve been photographing the dolphins each day, consolidating that data. I’ve got to the point where I can identify each individual. I’ve compiled a catalogue that the boats in the industry work with. We all have that information about which dolphins we are watching and are now able to answer those questions.”
Read more in issue 93 of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine
Story: Frances O’Shea
Photography: Peter Lorrimer and Lisa Skelton