Pretty in Pink

pink Chinese dolphinThe waters of the South China Sea are home to around a thousand Sousa chinensis or Indo-pacific Humpback dolphins, a cetacean species that’s typically white, gray, or pale yellow in most regions of the world where it’s found, such as South Africa & northern Australia.   But in the Pearl River Delta, between Hong Kong & Macau, these dolphins have taken on a bubble-gum hue.

Yup, Hong Kong’s dolphins are pink!

Scientists are not fully certain why the Indo-pacific Humpback dolphins living off Hong Kong’s coasts are pink, although they have several theories.   They speculate that a lack of natural predators (namely sharks) in the brackish water where rivers meet the sea negates their need for camouflage or that the pink coloring is a byproduct of blushing, the flushing of blood to the skin, used to regulate body temperature.

For more info & photos, visit the Hong Kong Dolphinwatch site.

Update:   There’s also a rare pink bottlenose dolphin that was sighted recently in southwestern Louisiana.
 

Dolphin Mathematics

Dr. Kelly Jaakkola and fellow scientists at the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon, Florida, are the first team to show conclusively that dolphins can count!   Linda Erb, one of the trainers on the project stated:

We know dolphins are intelligent but to actually pose them with a question where he has to make a choice and you’re not telling him, he has to think through it himself…

The study’s results, announced in the center’s research article, ‘Understanding of the concept of numerically "less" by bottlenose dolphins’, proves that dolphins have the ability to understand and act on numerical concepts.

Visit the Dolphin Research Center web page regarding this study or click here for a video of some interesting footage of Erb testing a dolphin’s math skills.
 

Sea World’s Dolphin Breeding Breakthrough

What better way to get the New Year off to a great start than with some interesting dolphin news? Officials at Sea World San Diego, in a history-making move, were able to pre-select the gender of a dolphin before conception.

In October 2004, animal reproduction scientists with Busch Entertainment Corp., the owner of SeaWorld, artificially inseminated Sandy, a 26-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin using technology developed in conjunction with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and Colorado State University.

Since captive male and female dolphins are typically kept in separate tanks, breeding them is difficult and many of the mammals that do reproduce naturally in captivity tend to produce more male offspring. Scientists hope this technological breakthrough will provide a means of varying the gene pool and lessen the need for new captures. By balancing the male-to-female ratio of their marine mammal collections, zoos & marine parks will be able to produce social groupings more like those found in the wild.

Although the dolphin calf was born after a normal 12 month gestation period, Sea World officials were delayed in confirming that the calf was indeed female — the gender scientists had pre-selected — because they didn’t want to disrupt the crucial mother-calf bonding process that occurs in the initial 2 months post-birth.

Read more about this story here and here.

Sandy, the proud momma dolphin

Games Dolphins Play

Dolphin blowing bubble ringsRecently, I posted an article about the discovery that dolphins possess language & music skills previously thought to be unique to humans.   Today, an interesting tidbit over on Clive Thompson’s Collision Detection blog goes even further to establish just how sophisticated dolphin intellect may be.   Stan Kuczaj, a psychologist with the University of Southern Mississippi and his colleagues revealed in a paper to appear in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology, findings that dolphins play games!

According to the World Science article Dolphin Games: More Than Child’s Play?, dolphins play a wide variety of games that show remarkable cooperation and creativity that may help young dolphins learn their place the social dynamics of the group.   What’s more, they seem to deliberately make their games increasingly difficult, continually stimulating their development and enhancing the learning experience.   Kuczaj’s group suggests that game play in dolphins facilitates the development and maintenance of problemsolving skills, perfect motor skills, and helps them to recognize and manipulate characteristics of their environment.
 

Dolphin Discoveries

bottlenose dolphin photoRecently, Dede posted a link to a very interesting Animal Planet article about a group of researchers who have discovered that dolphins are among the very few non-human species known to use tools and that their tool-use abilities are socially learned rather than a genetic or instinctive skill.

Now in a major step forward in their ongoing quest to communicate with our cetacean mammal friends, scientists have made another fascinating discovery…

Dolphins Can Learn To Sing

ABC Science News reports that researchers at Disney’s Epcot Center in Florida have proven that dolphins can be taught how to sing.   They’ve discovered that dolphins possess skills involved in processing language and music that were previosly thought to be uniquely human.   Although there are doubts about whether the dolphins realize they are producing what we people consider "music," they are the first nonhuman mammals to have demonstrated that they can recognize rhythms and reproduce them vocally.

New Dolphin Species Discovered!

In other dolphin news, a team of scientists in Queensland, Australia have posted findings of the first new dolphin species discovered in 30 years.   Orcaella heinsohni, or Australian snubfin dolphins were initially thought to be members of the Irrawaddy species, also found in Australian waters, but one researcher found the Snubfins bore different colorations and had unique dimensional characteristics.   DNA tests were used to confirm that they are indeed two distinct species.

Despite the name, however, I’m confident that these Snubfin dolphins are no more uppity than any of the other ever-so-friendly dolphin species.   Y’know, sometimes a foreign accent can lend an unintended air of arrogance…
 

Dolphins Are Cool – They Use Tools!

In keeping with Rob’s efforts to offer more dolphin stuff here on 2Dolphins.com, Topper sent us a link to an interesting Animal Planet article, “Study: Dolphins Use Sponge as Tool.” In this article, researchers show that dolphins are among the very few non-human species known to be able learn to use tools. “Material culture,” or socially-acquired tool-use skills, has only been identified a few times in animals, most notably with primates like chimps and orangutans. Cool stuff!

Devious & Dastardly Dolphins

An entry over at Gerard Vlemmings’ excellent Presurfer blog has had me in stitches for the last day or so…

Anti-Dolphin Organization logoIt seems that the clever folks at the Anti-Dolphin Organization are convinced that dolphins intend to corrupt, and ultimately dominate, humans with their array of menacing abilities & devious ways.   The ADO urges you not to ever let dolphins get you down by remembering:

You are a human.

You have opposable thumbs.

You can stand upright.

You rule.
 

Dolphin Trivia

It occurred to me that, for a website called 2Dolphins, we sure don’t have much dolphin stuff to show for. Well, it seemed like it was high time that we fixed that…

Click to hear dolphin sounds!
(Click the image to hear dolphins!)

  • Dolphins’ breathing is not an automatic part of their nervous system – it’s conscious and voluntary action – which is as though, while you were sitting there in front of the computer reading this, you were also having to remember to inhale and exhale.
  • Dolphins sleep about 1/3 of time, as we do, but since they are ‘conscious breathers’, one half of the brain naps while the other remains awake to continue breathing.
  • Dolphins’ blowholes are similar to nostrils in other mammals, serving as openings to the respiratory passages.
  • Dolphins have belly buttons!
  • Dolphins form social groups called “pods.” These average at fewer than 100 members, but frequently travel with other pods, bringing up to 1000 dolphins together.
  • Dolphins may be unique among non-human animals in their ability to imitate both sounds heard (vocal mimicry) and behaviors seen (behavioral mimicry).
  • Dolphins are the only species known to cooperate or ally with another group or pod. These highly intelligent social behaviors and relationships are unique to mammals – other than humans.
  • The family Delphinidae is comprised of 26 species of dolphins and porpoises and includes killer whales and several other small-toothed whales.
  • Dolphin mortality from the tuna fishery has been reduced dramatically since the 60’s, when it was estimated that 100,000 or more dolphins were killed in fishing nets each year. Thanks to better fishing practices, there were fewer than 4,000 dolphin deaths caused by tuna nets last year.

Visit SeaWorld Education Department’s Dolphin Information Resources for even more interesting info on dolphins.

Update:   Be sure to check out my Dolphin Trivia, Part II post for more interesting scoop on dolphins.