Cocos (Keeling) Islands: Dolphins

Release date: 17 May 2016

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands: Dolphins stamp issue, released on 17 May 2016, features photographs of three playful and sociable dolphin species that are seen around the islands: the Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis), the Spinner Dolphin (Stenella longirostris) and the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops aduncus).

The Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin stamp features a photograph by Karen Willshaw, a landscape and underwater photographer who lives and works on Cocos. We spoke to Karen about her life on Cocos as well as how she feels about spending time with these beautiful marine mammals.

Born in Sydney and then moving to the Gold Coast as a young child, Karen was working as a receptionist in Brisbane when, in 1999, she met her husband Dieter, who was living on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and running a diving business.

That meeting sparked an incredible sea change. With young daughter, Kireina in tow, Karen moved to Cocos, learned to dive and took up photography as a hobby. The amazing landscapes and marine life around her soon saw her ‘hobby’ develop into a passion and then a business.

Karen lives on West Island, the capital of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The island is only 14 kilometres long and 500 metres wide and is the western most island of the 26 islands in the southern atoll of Cocos. The island is made up of approximately 120 Australian expats, half of which are children. Home Island is the only other inhabited island in the southern atoll and is home to the Cocos Malay community.

The difference between life in Brisbane and life on Cocos is, says Karen, like “chalk and cheese. On the mainland you have to be extremely safety conscience. Lock up everything and be constantly vigilant. Here on Cocos we leave keys in the car, houses are open; it’s a very different lifestyle. Truly a laidback island life.”

When asked about the challenges of marine and underwater photography, Karen says that switching to a lighter and more compact camera has been helpful (Karen uses an Olympus for both aboveground and underwater photography these days). But most importantly, photographers must respect that they have entered the marine creatures’ home and domain:

“You have to be mindful of where you are placing your body so not to damage fragile coral or inadvertently touch something that is going to hurt you or the creature. Sometimes underwater surge makes photography a challenge, however it all comes down to patience and working with the environment.”

When photographing dolphins in particular, Karen says, “They are generally curious, bombarding us with their sonar squeaks and clicks. I’ve found they aren’t too keen to come in close if you are using a flash, so most of my dolphin imagery is using natural light.”

And Karen is very keen to point out that how close she gets to the dolphin is not about her, but all about them: “It is not so much about whether I get close, it is whether they choose to interact and come in close. It is pointless chasing after them, so it is a matter of patience. The dolphins love to ride the boat’s bow waves, so having my husband circle in the boat brings the dolphins in close enough to capture their fun.”

“Dolphins are wild creatures. They deserve the same respect and space as you would give a lion, bear or crocodile … Dolphins are not pets. They belong in the wild where they can be seen naturally; not living in captivity for human entertainment,” Karen adds.

And the best thing about living and working in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands?

Karen found this to be a very difficult question. “There are so many aspects of living on Cocos and being able to capture what I see. So many people only dream of what I do, so being able to share the beauty of the islands, both underwater and topside, would be one of the most rewarding aspects of my photographic life of the ‘sandbar’.”

That and “having the best underwater playground anyone could wish to have right at my back door.”

Designed by Simone Sakinofsky, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands: Dolphins stamp issue is available from 17 May 2016 online, at participating Post Offices and via mail order on 1800 331 794, while stocks last.

Technical details

  • Issue date

    17 May 2016
  • FDI withdrawal

    14 June 2016
  • Denomination

    3 x $1
  • Stamp design

    Simone Sakinofsky, Australia Post Design Studio
  • Product design

    Simone Sakinofsky, Australia Post Design Studio
  • Paper (gummed)

    Tullis Russell Red Phos
  • Printer (gummed)

    RA Printing
  • Stamp size

    37.5mm x 26mm
  • Printing process

    Offset lithography
  • Perforations

    14.6 x 13.86
  • Sheet layout

    Module of 50
  • National postmark

    Cocos (Keeling) Islands WA 6799
  • Issue withdrawal date

    30 November 2016

*This content was produced at the time of the stamp issue release date and will not be updated.