Getting Paid to Live on an Island & Feed Wild Dolphins
Updated: Oct 29, 2020
What it was like working at Tangalooma Island Resort!
Right before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, I was living in Australia on Moreton Island (a teeny little island just off the coast of Brisbane). The island has gorgeous beaches, ancient ship wrecks, and best of all- wild dolphins.
Me and my boyfriend got jobs at the main resort on island, Tangalooma Island Resort, through the word of friends. We worked mostly as housekeepers but had the opportunity to work in various departments (the eco center was my personal favorite). More on that later!
This job did not come easily and took months to land, but it was unlike anything I've ever experienced.
To begin, we lived in staff housing. No other housing was available on island and the mainland was only accessible by ferry so resort owners offered discounted housing for staff at the resort. We each had $215 AUD taken out of our paychecks weekly as a combined cost for rent and food (which I personally loved! I would much rather have these expenses taken out of my paycheck than be given the money and immediately have to pay it back for rent/groceries). In this sense, it made it feel more like a work-for accommodation. We were also making $25AUD per hour and often had the option to work overtime, pick up shifts in other departments, and/or apply for other higher-paying positions within our respective departments.
As I mentioned above, food costs were taken out of our paychecks. This is because we had a staff buffet available to us at every meal! They didn't have the best options (especially for vegans) and the meals did get repetitive after a while, but I definitely got spoiled on not having to cook or grocery shop! We simply walked down to the staff room at meal time and loaded up on freshly cooked meals!
The main department I worked in was housekeeping. I was typically scheduled for 5 shifts a week, around 5 hours per day. During busy times, I've heard it's much easier to get 8 hour days.
I would report to the "Laundry" room to pick up my schedule and check which rooms I had to clean for the day. I would have set times that the rooms needed to be cleaned by and depending on the size of the room, I would have 30min-an hour per room (some rooms were resort style, others were "villas" or "houses").
The work wasn't great. It was monotonous and very hot! I didn't drink enough water the first day I worked and ended the day with a thumping headache. I made sure to pound the water back every day after that!
The "enjoyability" of the work was also very dependent on who you were working with! We would sometimes get paired with other workers to clean larger rooms and we always had supervisors following after us to check our work. Like any job, your co-workers/supervisors can make or break your experience.
Food & Beverage was the other main department for workers at the resort. We often had the opportunity to pick up extra shifts at the restaurants if we needed/wanted more hours.
This was my favorite part of working at this resort! Anyone working at the resort can become a dolphin feeder and you get paid to do it! You just have to sign up at the eco center and go through a little bit of training.
Each night at the resort they host a "Wild Dolphin Feeding Program" for guests. Apparently, this feeding program is one of only 2 programs like this in the world. When the program begins, an eco-center worker walks to the end of the jetty and drops a brick into the ocean. The sound is a signal to the dolphins that it's time for feeding! I'm not 100% sure of the details but from what I understand, these dolphins started hanging around the waters of the resort years ago. At that point, one of the eco-rangers decided to make an attempt at communicating with them/getting them to re-visit the resort on a daily basis.*
During the feeding program, each guest gets a dead fish for feeding. They are then guided out in to the water by a Dolphin Care Team Member (that was me!) who would show the guests how to hold the fish under the water and make sure that no one touched the dolphins as they swam by to collect the fish. As team members we got to go out at the end of each "feed" and hang out for a minute or two with the dolphins one-on-one as well. It was such a surreal experience. We also got to wear cool "Dolphin Care Team" shirts and fleece lined surf pants while we were working to keep our legs warm in the water (which was a definite plus lol).
After each feed, we would collect the fish buckets and walk back to the eco center to rinse everything off, weigh the remaining fish, and report our observed dolphin behavior from the night.
Disclaimer! I still don't know how I feel about this feeding program. While they assured us that we were only providing 20% of the dolphins' diets (requiring that they continue to hunt) I still saw this program as a way of domesticating the dolphins . Making them so comfortable around humans can be dangerous! And I don't think looking at any wild animal as an opportunity for a "money grab" is right. Regardless of my feelings on the program however, I did enjoy getting to spend so much one-on-one time with these beautiful creatures and knowing that they didn't have to be held in captivity for me to experience that.
Days off on the island were mostly spent at the beach. The beach was only steps away from our rooms and the days were typically sunny! The resort is also home to it's famous shipwrecks which can be explored when snorkeling, scuba diving, or kayaking. If you want to pay for tours or other activities like parasailing you can, but other than that there's not much to do! Like I said, it's a small island and the only thing in walking distance of the resort is the beach. But you could always take the ferry to Brisbane for the weekend if you wanted!
I think that just about wraps things up!! I've got so much more I could say about my experience there, even though it only lasted a month, but I'll save that for another time :)
If this sounds like your cup of tea, send me an email! I can put you in touch with the right people:)
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