Little Nipper & His Tiny Flippers

For a site called 2Dolphins, we sometimes seem kinda light on posts about dolphins so I knew I had to share this cute picture that Nanny Karen sent me earlier this week:

Nipper baby dolphin

Click the photo above for a larger version of the image.

This 10-day old baby La Plata river dolphin, suffering from injuries from a fishing net and separated from its mother, was recently rescued on a Uruguayan beach in south-eastern South America. The tiny fellow nicknamed Nipper is being nursed back to health at the NGO Rescate Fauna Marina reserve in Piriapolis, 62 miles east of the capital, Montevideo.

For more photos & info, check out the article on UK Daily Mail.


Dolphin communicating via an iPadNot content with just conquering the human market with their wildly popular iPad, Steve Jobs & co. are apparently now wooing other mammals as well. You guessed it—even dolphins love Apple gadgets!

Research scientist Jack Kassewitz of SpeakDolphin (who was recently also featured in a post here on 2Dolphins about CymaGlyphs) has introduced the Apple iPad to a young bottlenose dolphin named Merlin in early steps towards building a system of communication. Merlin, who lives at Dolphin Discovery in Puerta Aventura, Mexico, was able to successfully recognize and touch pictures on the screen with his rostrum (nose) to match objects he was shown. Yup, the iPad’s touch-based interface is so intuitive that even nonhuman species can use it!

Merlin plays a simple game where he’s shown an object, such as a ball or a rubber duck then has to point to an image matching that object on the iPad’s screen. (Kassewitz notes that dolphins respond especially well to the color yellow)

So, not only is the iPad “dolphin safe,” it could also play a key role in the advancement of a complete language interface between humans and dolphins. Genius, Steve Jobs, genius.

A Round Dinnertime

Dede spotted this awesome video of a unique dolphin hunting technique that was recently showcased in the BBC "Life" series.

Aerial photography reveals how some ingenious bottlenose dolphins off of the Florida coast use their powerful tail flukes to create a ring of mud to trap fish in shallow waters. The panicked fish jump out of the water away from the ring, right into the waiting mouths of the other dolphins in the hunting pod.   Interestingly, only one female in the pod creates these rings—always counter-clockwise— and she does it over & over until the whole pod is fed.

Kinda reminds me of another article about dolphins in southern Brazil hunting fish cooperatively with humans. Now if we could just get people to work together as well as the dolphins do, how great would that be?

Dolphin-Safe Tuna – Anything But Safe

"You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t."

There never ceases to be good examples of just how true Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote is.

Via Jason Kottke’s blog, I discovered marine biology grad student Dave Shiffman’s interesting debate The Ecological Disaster That Is Dolphin-Safe Tuna that sheds some unique perspectives on the concept of "dolphin-safe" tuna, its effects on sustainable commercial tuna fishing, and the impacts of bycatch.

Dolphin-Safe logoThe gist of the article is that we’ve blindly allowed activists to recklessly prioritize the well-being of one group of aquatic animals at the expense of many others.   This is largely because it’s easier for our collective conscience to identify with smart, friendly dolphins than other species that aren’t as easily empathized with because they seem less cute or intelligent.   As a result, government-mandated dolphin-safe fishing practices have unintentionally had devastating effects for a much broader range of oceanic creatures.

For every 1 dolphin saved, 382 Mahi-Mahi, 188 Wahoo, 82 Yellowtail & other large fish, 27 sharks, nearly 1,200 smaller fish, and a number of sea turtles and various other sea-life.

(To make matters worse, dolphin-safe fishing methods result in far more young tuna being caught rather than the more mature tuna who have already been reproducing, thereby making food supplies even more scarce for the very dolphins we’re striving to save.)

So the thorny ethical dilemma is whether it’s worth saving dolphins at the expense of sea turtles, sharks, and many other endangered fish species.   Should we protect dolphins — who we have reason to believe are sentient mammals with intelligence that rivals our own — even if it means fishing some other sea-life right into extinction?

Back From the Beach

We just returned from our first official family vacation. We spent a week of sun-drenched, fun-filled days in San Diego, CA!

Liam did great on the plane ride and loved the water activities. We went to Sea World and the San Diego Zoo. The dolphins & Shamu were a big hit but the land animals at the Zoo were not as entertaining for him. His favorite thing to do was just to splash around at the pool or any body of water.   He fearlessly charged into the ocean waves—the very chilly Pacific water didn’t intimidate him the least bit.

Rob, Dede, and Liam on Pacific Beach
Click above for photos from Liam’s first trip to San Diego.

My friend Karen (a.k.a. Nanny Karen) from Kansas City met up with us in San Diego. She’d never been there before so it was great to experience S.D. through new eyes. Also, my friend Gretchen and her daughter who live in California drove down for the day to visit with us. Liam loved having a new friend to hang out with at the beach.

The trip was also bittersweet for me as I scattered the ashes of my Uncle Whit there who passed away last December. I had spent many summers out there with him in my high school & college years. He had moved to Texas 13 years ago but his heart was always at his beach house so I wanted part of him to be back there.

Rob & I used to go out to San Diego once or twice a year (in fact, you can still view photos of our 2005 San Diego – Bakersfield trip on Kodak Gallery) and I’ve gotta say that this trip was quite different! For those of you who have not vacationed with your new children, be prepared… things go much slower and you run out of energy much faster!

I overloaded our itinerary, forgetting that I needed to cater it to the attention-span and dawdling pace of a 3 year old doesn’t move at the same pace we do. A few travel tips too: take lots of new things to entertain your child in the hotel room (thanks, Nanny Karen!) and be prepared for your child to be very cranky & moody at times since he/she will be way off of the normal routine. (Being cooped up in a small hotel room where there’s little to do sure doesn’t help.) Don’t get me wrong—we had a great time and San Diego was wonderful as always. But vacationing with a toddler was a very different experience and everything happened at a far different pace than I would’ve imagined.

Dolphin Dictionary

dolphin chatterThe fictional Dr. Dolittle may soon have some very real competition, as we inch enticingly closer to being able to communicate with animals.

In an important breakthrough in deciphering dolphin language, researchers Jack Kassewitz & John Stuart Reid, associated with the SpeakDolphin project, have developed a means to visualize the high definition sonic imprints that dolphin sounds make in water. The resulting CymaGlyphs, as the images have been named, are reproducible patterns that the scientists believe will form the basis of a dictionary, with each pattern being a visual representation of a word within the dolphin vocabulary.

Underwater sound travels not in waves, but rather in expanding bubbles and beams. At the 20—20,000 Hertz frequency range audible to humans, the sound-bubble form dominates;   above 20,000 Hertz the shape of sound becomes more of a cone-shaped beam. CymaGlyphs are created by intersecting these sound beams with a membrane that the vibrations make an imprint upon, revealing an intricate architectures within the sound.   These fine details can then be captured on camera.

CymaGlyph example illustration

The research team has planned a series of experiments to record the sounds of dolphins targeting a range of objects to verify that the same sound is always repeated for the same object. Ultimately, it’s believed that this will allow them to compile a dolphin dictionary.

So given the chance, what would you chat about with Flipper?

Bottlenose Birth

Thanks to our old pal Trey, we received a link to a Telegraph news article with some amazing photographs.   The unique moment of a Bottlenose dolphin giving birth was captured by photographer Leandro Stanzani at the in Eastern Italy.

Very few dolphin births have been successfully photographed in such astonishing detail because they usually occur at night, away from the viewing windows, and often the water clarity is poor.   But what makes this even more special is that this is the first second-generation dolphin born in captivity at Oltremare.   The mother, Blue, was also born at the aquarium in 1997.

Mother Bottlenose dolphin with newborn calf

Need For Speed

photo of fast swimming dolphins

Longtime readers may recall my older article Speed Is Skin Deep, Too in which I mentioned "Gray’s Paradox," a theory published in 1936 that contended that dolphins were physiologically incapable of producing sufficient power to achieve the speeds mariners had observed.   Researchers have long since disproved this, discovering key flaws in Gray’s calculations.   Then a couple of years ago, Japanese scientists discovered that the way in which water flows over the dolphin’s rubbery & continually shedding skin significantly reduces the vortices that would otherwise create too strong a drag on the tail.

But now, as reported in the March 2008 New Scientist article "Dolphins swim so fast it hurts," findings from a pair of researchers at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have discovered that the main limiting factor of a dolphin’s maximum speed is neither physical ability nor friction-causing turbulence.   What’s holding dolphins back from even more impressive speeds?


As dolphins propel themselves through the water, there’s a continual formation of microscopic bubbles around the tail, a phenomenon known as "cavitation."   These bubbles form as a result of the pressure difference created by the movement of the tail fins or flukes.   As the bubbles collapse, they produce a shockwave.   This same condition produces the foamy wash that streams behind boats & ships and is known to deteriorate the metal on propellers.

The Israeli scientists revealed that, to dolphins and other fast-moving aquatic mammals, cavitation is painful since they have nerve endings in their flukes.   According to their calculations, this begins to happen when dolphins swim at speeds greater than 22 miles per hour.   So shorter bursts are tolerable, but to sustain that speed becomes too painful for the animal to endure.

Dolphins can cheat around this problem by swimming deeper in the water rather than at the surface because cavitation decreases as pressure increases.   With measurements being so much more difficult in deeper waters, the theoretical top speed of dolphins is once again anybody’s guess.

Gifts Get the Girls

When couples go out on a date, guys usually give their girl a gift — y’know, a bouquet of flowers, some candy, or jewelry — something to let her know that she’s worth the extra special effort.   It’s a traditional tactic that rarely fails to impress.

Researchers have learned that things are much the same in the dolphin world too!

Dolphin coupleAccording to some recent articles on Environmental Graffiti and, Drs. Tony Martin & Vera da Silva’s 3-year study of 6,026 groups, or pods, of dolphins in the Brazilian Amazon revealed that dolphin males often present their dates with gifts (seaweed, twigs, or other found objects) to better their chances of mating.

What’s more, DNA tests on adults & calves provided evidence that the dolphin males who most often carried objects to their mates were the most successful fathers.   So, it seems that gift-giving is a winning tactic among our cetacean pals, too!

Like the recent discovery that dolphins learn to use tools, object presentation to a mate is considered yet another sign of culture, or complex non-instinctual socially-acquired skills which are learned from others.