In a previous post, I mentioned that no matter how many times I saw a dolphin in the wild during our trip, I felt an adrenaline rush as I pointed and hollered, “Dolphin!” It was the new “squirrel” as this word and gesture involuntarily interrupted conversations unrelated to dolphins. I can blame this new behavior on our dolphin watching boat excursion from Clearwater Marine Aquarium . The first thing we learned on the research trip where we were counting/identifying dolphins and recording dolphin behaviors was to shout “Dolphin!” and point anytime we saw one.
I was excited to spot the first dolphin of the trip in a nearby harbor area. Her name was Guardian and she was engaging in feeding behaviors. She was chasing a poor little silver fish that tried unsuccessfully to escape from the clutches of Guardians cage-like teeth by jumping forward into the air. After her sparkling body descended into the harbor with a splash, she disappeared behind Guardian’s teeth and presumably slid down her tongue, giving her life for Guardian’s survival. Sad for the fish, but it is the way of nature.
Individual dolphins were identified by their dorsal fins as each is unique, like a fingerprint. Like baby skin, dorsal fins are pristine and free of injury. No scars. Life happens. Humans endure injuries large and small and sport unique scars as souvenirs. So do dolphins, with their histories written in their dorsal fins.
This dolphin’s name is Fray. If the picture was better, you could see how her dorsal fin is fringed. The dolphins are often named by a physical characteristic or a unique behavior, timing or location. The researchers maintain a record of photos of the dorsal fins with the names to identify each one in subsequent sightings.
As the excursion continued, we saw many more dolphins and learned about their various behaviors: feeding, socializing, traveling. Most of the dolphins we saw were solo, which was a surprise to me as I thought they always traveled in pods. Some do, but others will come together in a temporary group for a purpose, such as hunting, where they do work cooperatively. When the goal has been accomplished, these dolphins will go off on their own again. We learned of the importance of not feeding wild dolphins as it disables them. They become “begging dolphins” with teeth worn down to the point it is impossible to capture prey on their own. Dolphins don’t need their teeth to chew, as they swallow their food whole, but they work like bars in a cage, trapping their dinner.
PJ, one of the dolphins in residence at CMA cannot be released to the wild because of this condition. She would starve.
We also learned that they don’t name the dolphins that they are observing until they are two. Two is an important age because that is the point that they have learned enough to be on their own. Dolphins who are rescued prior to age two can never be returned to the wild because they didn’t have the opportunity to learn appropriate survival skills.
Both Winter and Hope were rescued prior to their second birthday, so they would be unable to survive in the open water.
The excursion was exhilarating, breathing in the ocean air and feeling the ocean mist dancing on my face. Dolphins are beautiful and smart. I’m grateful to the dolphins for the never-waning excitement and inspiration they bring to my heart every time I see one.
What do dolphins represent?