THE dolphins came out to play as the latest in underwater camera technology was launched at Port Stephens on Friday. The new technology system, which has been in the planning for 18 months, provides underwater images and footage of people interacting with dolphins and can be instantly broadcast online.It has been developed and used by Dolphin Swim Australia and operates via seven high-definition video cameras attached to the Imagine catamaran based at d’Albora Marina, Nelson Bay.‘‘Ninety per cent of people came to Port Stephens and see what’s on top of the water,’’ technology developer Kerry Smith said. ‘‘Now they can not only see dolphins on top of the water but also below.’’ Dolphin Swim Australia operates the only commercially permitted dolphin swim in NSW where participants move beyond a net and into open water. The technology has enabled them to film snorkelers moving among dolphin pods. Five participants were treated to an early morning swim with more than 30 dolphins playing around the catamaran’s bow yesterday morning. “Instead of people just treading water, which dolphins think is boring, our unique dolphin swim allows participants to actually keep up with inquisitive dolphins. The dolphins get very excited when they see humans in the water whom they think are swimming as fast as them,’’ Dolphin Swim Australia founder Andrew Parker said. The vision is broadcast live to flatscreen TVs on the catamaran’s deck and later to the internet, enabling global audiences to see Port Stephens’ famous dolphins in action. While Dolphin Swim Australia has been operating its unique swim for three years, this is the first time technology of this calibre has been introduced. Mr Parker said the major technology upgrade followed a $40,000 grant from the NSW Government’s tourism agency, Destination NSW. As part of the grant, Dolphin swim biologists and staff are working with the University of Victoria to study short-beaked Pacific common dolphins. ‘‘We can now capture the best dolphin interaction vision in Australia,’’ Mr Parker said. He said university researches have been using the footage to monitor dolphin behaviour, collect data on pod numbers and dorsal fins as well as observe growths and viruses. The Dolphin swim team must adhere to strict guidelines when observing and interacting with the dolphins. Besides research, the footage enables customers to take home memento DVDs.