A Round Dinnertime

Friday, February 12, 2010

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?
 

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Dolphin-Safe Tuna - Anything But Safe

Monday, September 28, 2009

"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?
 

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Back From the Beach

Thursday, June 11, 2009

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 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 and 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.
 

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Dolphin Dictionary

Friday, February 27, 2009

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

dolphin chatterIn an important breakthrough in deciphering dolphin language, researchers Jack Kassewitz & John Stuart Reid, associated with the Speak Dolphin 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?
 

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Bottlenose Birth

Saturday, September 13, 2008

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 Oltremare Aquarium 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 birth 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

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Dolphins Bubble With Excitement

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

By way of a link featured in Deb Shinder’s WXPNews, here’s an amazing video of bottlenose dolphins at Sea World Orlando creating & skillfully manipulating delicate vortexes of air (a.k.a. "bubble rings") underwater:


Be sure to read Mystery of the Silver Rings by Don White, creator of Earthtrust’s Project Delphis, to learn much more about these incredible bubble rings.
 

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Need For Speed

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

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?

Pain.

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.
 

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Gifts Get the Girls

Sunday, December 16, 2007

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 Tursiops.com, 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.
 

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Save the Cheerleader, Save the Whales

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hayden PanettiereHayden Panettiere a.k.a. "Claire" from one of our favorite TV series Heroes, was on Ellen this past week.   She talked about her recent trip to Taiji Japan to help stop the largest & cruelest slaughter of dolphins in the world.

According to the Save the Whales Again website — an initiative led by Pierce Brosnan and his wife, Keely Shaye Smith — Japanese fishermen will slaughter more than 25,000 dolphins & porpoises from October to April, as part of their annual hunt.   Hayden & other celebrities paddled out on surfboards to the Taiji dolphin-killing cove to try to form a memorial circle around the dolphins trapped in the nets.   Unfortunately, the celebrities were forced away by angry fisherman jabbing at them with hooks — and the dolphin killing continued.

Dolphins & whales targeted in this annual hunt include bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales & striped dolphins.   Several of the species are considered to be threatened with extinction.   Although some of the dolphins are simply captured for sale to marine swim parks, the majority of the dolphins & whales are killed for their meat.   Some of the dolphin meat has in Japan markets has been found to contain high levels of mercury & toxic pollutants.

But there’s still a little glimmer of hope...   International outrage over the hunt is beginning to intensify pressure to cease this brutal massacre.   You can help to encourage the Japanese government to put a stop to the senseless slaughter and ban the sell of dolphin meat by submitting a letter to their emabassy via the Oceana Action Center.   Or you can make an online contribution to the environmental activist organizations listed at the Save Taiji Dolphins Campaign site.   Your support will help keep conservationists in place in Taiji to monitor, witness, investigate, educate, & continue to push for the dolphin slaughter to end.
 

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In the Pink

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Photo of a rare Albino bottlenose dolphin spotted in Louisiana

Twice in recent weeks I’ve received emails  (thanks Karen W. & Stephen!)  tipping me off about news of a recent rare find — a pink bottlenose dolphin.   Sure, I’ve written before about the Indo-pacific Humpback dolphins in Hong Kong and there are the Amazon fresh-water river dolphins in South America, but this pink dolphin is much closer to home...

This pink bottlenose dolphin was photographed by Capt. Erik Rue during a fishing charter boat trip on Calcasieu Lake, an estuary just north of the Gulf of Mexico in southwestern Louisiana.

This marks only the 3rd reported sighting of an albino bottlenose dolphin in the Gulf of Mexico and is the most recent of a mere 14 recorded sightings in the entire world, with the earliest in 1962.

Where the common bottlenose dolphin is grey, this very rare albino calf has a bright bubblegum-pink coloration.   Albinism, a genetic disorder known to affect mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, & amphibians, is a condition that prevents the body from making the usual amounts of the melanin pigment.   This causes affected animals to have pink-hued skin and reddish eyes due to the underlying blood vessels showing through.
 

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A Dolphin's Tail

Sunday, September 02, 2007

She swims, eats, & plays almost like like any toddler her age.

Only difference is that Winter is a dolphin — without a tail...   for now.

Winter the dolphin


Several months ago, I wrote about a remarkable breakthrough for a dolphin in Japan named Fuji who had been fitted with the world’s first prosthetic flukes.   But last month, an even more noteworthy & ambitious project involving an artificial limb and a dolphin is underway.   Winter, an 18-month old female Atlantic bottlenose dolphin calf in Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium will be the first dolphin in the world to be fitted with a full prosthetic tail.

Though similar to the case of Fuji, Winter lost not only her flukes but also the peduncle (a vital wrist-like joint that allows a dolphin’s tail to move up & down) after getting caught in the buoy line of a crab trap near Cape Canaveral when she was only 3 months old.   Despite her severe wounds, she had begun learning to swim and play without her tail.   But after she was was rescued and transported to the facility, veterinarians became concerned that her spine might also suffer damage in the long run if other options weren’t pursued.   One of the world’s leading prosthetists, Kevin Carroll, who travels the country tackling the toughest human amputation cases, was consulted to help craft a solution.   But Carroll, of Hanger Orthopedic Group, Inc., hadn’t anticipated the magnitude of the challenge of designing a prosthetic for a dolphin:
I came straight down, saw Winter (and) felt really sorry for her.   And I came in and I said, ‘OK, we’ll fit her little tail. Not a big deal.’   Little did I know it was going to take a year and a half to do.   With a person, when we fit a socket on them, we have one long, solid bone.   We don’t have to have the socket moving in every direction.   With a dolphin, it needs to move along with her full spine.
Carroll is developing a prosthetic tail system for Winter that includes a gel sleeve that attaches via suction so that it won’t irritate her sensitive skin.   Although there are many months of work & training to go and it remains to be seen how successful the prosthetic will be over the long-term, those involved are very optimistic as she’s acclimating to the first pieces of the artificial limb quickly.   And the lessons learned with the high-tech artificial dolphin tail are paying off in advances in the prosthetics field for people too — already, at least one wounded serviceman back from Iraq has benefited from Carroll’s research for Winter’s project!

Follow this link to read USA Today’s coverage about Winter and her prosthetic tail.   And be sure to check out Winter the Dolphin’s video sponsored by a new Florida fashion portal website LivFashion.
 

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Irish Dolphins Have Accents Too!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The volume of new cetacean communications discoveries seems to be increasing by leaps & bounds.   In recent months scientists have learned that, just like humans, dolphins have individual names that they use when talking with each other.   And similarly, they’ve determined that dolphins listen in on each other’s conversations and dolphins even gossip about one another.

Now, research on about 120 bottlenose dolphins in the River Shannon near Carrigaholt, County Clare in Ireland conducted by Simon Berrow and other marine biologists at the Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation has established that groups of dolphins have distinctive vocalizations pertaining to their location, or what amounts to unique regional dialectic accents.

Right, similar to the charming Irish brogue that you hear mimiced around every St. Patrick’s Day, scientists have discovered that Irish dolphins have a different accent than that of those found in other waters.

Ah, ’tis grand, indeed.   Faith and begora, what’s next?

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Heavy Breathing with Dolphins

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

It’s been awhile since my last dolphin trivia blog entry, so I was getting all geared up to start off the month with a new batch of assorted dolphin facts.   But as I was culling through some notes I’ve been squirreling away over the past few weeks, a singular topic kinda emerged from the random bits and it just drew me in...

How Do Dolphins Stay Underwater So Long?

Dolphins are, of course, not fish - they have to surface in order to breath just like we do.   But where a dolphin’s lungs are comparable in size to those of other mammals, their respiratory system is anatomically unique.   Their lungs contain a lot more alveoli (air cells) and are comprised of two layers of capillaries instead of one.   Also, the membrane around the lungs & inner chest walls of dolphins is thick & elastic.   These anatomical differences provide for a dramatically more efficient exchange of gas — with each breath, a dolphin renews 80-90% of its lung capacity, whereas in humans, this number is normally 20% or less.

Given that dolphins can dive for as much as 15 minutes at a time and at depths of as much as 200m (about 600 feet), they have to make each breath last much longer than we can.   But even with hyper-efficient lungs, dolphins can’t take in enough oxygen to sustain long periods underwater.   Yet we know that they don’t run out of air and drown, so, how do they do it?

When diving, dolphins employ a kind of selective circulation where bloodflow to the skin, digestive system, some organs, & extremities slows (or even ceases), leaving only the heart, brain, & tail muscles working.   And due to the atmospheric pressure exerted on the dolphin during a deep dive, its lungs & rib cage collapse at around 100m down.

This collapse forces air out of the lungs into nasal passages & air sacs and squeezes even more blood out of its heart.   This kind of abrupt surge of blood rushing through a human’s cartoid artery would likely burst all the blood vessels in the brain and result in instant death.   But in dolphins, the blood from the aorta is forced into a sponge-like mesh of capillaries that slows the blood and reduces the pressure before it reaches the brain (imagine a sponge over the end of your garden hose for an idea of how this works).

Dolphins don’t suffer "bends" or other decompression sickness that human divers do even though they dive deeper and more frequent.   In fact, they suffer no ill effects of breathing immediately after diving a considerable depth.   Primarily, this is because, while humans breathe highly compressed air as they descend, dolphins hold their breath during dives.

Credit Where It’s Due
Bits & pieces of this info were gleaned from an array of websites but I really hit the jackpot with two sites in particular:   Michael Harwood’s The Amazing Bodies of Dolphins essay and The [Dolphin] Respiratory System chapter from the Thinkquest Team’s "Dolphins: The Oracles of the Sea".   Check these sites out for more interesting info!

 

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Dolphin HotLine Open For Business

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Friendly dolphin chat

Not content to just be busybodies of the ocean or scandalous seafaring rumormongers, now dolphins in south Florida are getting a phone line so they can be all the more chatty!

Okay, actually a marine mammal rehabilitation facility near Key Largo opened a dolphin "chat line" of sorts on Saturday, April 7th, hoping to teach a deaf dolphin’s unborn calf to communicate.

A twice-stranded pregnant Atlantic bottlenose dolphin named Castaway has been recovering at the Marine Mammal Conservancy since Jan. 30th.   Not long after she was nursed back to health, marine biologists began to suspect that Castaway was deaf.   Testing performed in February by the National Marine Fisheries Service confirmed that Castaway doesn’t respond to auditory stimuli and is considered to be essentially deaf.   Dolphins rely upon their sense of hearing for echolocation — the means by which they hunt, socialize, navigate, and defend themselves against predators.   MMC specialists doubt that Castaway could’ve continued to survive in the wild without this most elemental skill.

So the attention now turns to Castaway’s unborn calf who, given it’s response to ultrasound testing, is believed to have normal hearing abilities.   So the conservancy’s staff decided to electronically connect Castaway’s habitat to that of a lagoon at Dolphins Plus, a marine research & educational facility a few miles down the Florida Keys Overseas Highway.   Underwater speakers & microphones were installed at both locations and connected via phone lines.

MMC’s president Robert Lingenfelser hopes that this will give Castaway’s calf, due in early May, an opportunity to get acclimated to normal dolphin vocalization sounds and learn how to communicate. You can visit the Marine Mammal Conservancy’s Castaway page to follow the story as it unfolds.

You’ve just gotta love Vann Hall’s tagline on this phone chat newsbit:

         "We’re wet, naked, and waiting for your call!"
 

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Flipping Faux Flukes

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Fuji, a 37 year old dolphin at Okinawa’s Churaumi Aquarium in Japan, developed a rare disease in 2002.   After nearly 2 months of antibiotics & transfusion, she underwent surgery to remove the diseased parts last Fall.   She completely recovered from the disease, although she lost 75% of her tail flukes.

But don’t fret, things are looking up for Fuji.   She’s been fitted with the world’s first prosthetic fin, courtesy of Bridgestone. Yup, Japan’s largest tire maker developed the $83,000 prosthetic tail flukes applying the same materials used for Formula One race car tires.

A picture of Fuji's prosthetic flukes created by Bridgestone   Fuji swims in Dolphin Lagoon with her new artificial tail

Click here to watch a video of Fuji in action with her new artificial flipper.
 

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Dolphin Olympics

Friday, February 09, 2007

Ever wish you could perform splashy jumps & flips like a dolphin? Well, with Hybrid Arcade’s simple but fun little Flash-based online game called Dolphin Olympics, that I dicovered while rummaging around on Things That... Make You Go Hmm, you can do just that.
 

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2007: Year of the Dolphin

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

2007: The Year of the Dolphin

Kicking off the new year in a grand fashion, the United Nations has officially declared 2007 to be the Year of the Dolphin. The campaign, officially launched by its patron H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, hopes to help raise worldwide awareness about the plight of the marine mammal and bring them back from the brink of extinction.

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Dolphin Trivia, Part II

Saturday, December 30, 2006

After yesterday's depressing post about the Chinese Yangtze River dolphin going extinct, I thought it'd be nice to wrap up the year on an "up" note.   So, in continuation of my previous installation of dolphin trivia, here's Part II:

  • Dolphins are bald — their skin contains no hair follicles, sebaceous or sweat glands. &nsbp; Their skin is 10-20 times thicker than human skin and is lined with hydrodynamic ridges that allow fast dynamic swimming.
  • Dolphins can sunburn easily and will often take advantage of shade to protect themselves.
  • Dolphins move their eyes independently (similar to a gecko lizard) which allows them to see from different angles at the same time when hunting or watching for predators.
  • Dolphins have a "chambered" stomach.   The forestomach does the mechanical breakdown of whole food.   Their conical teeth are only used to grasp (not chew) food.
  • Since they lack an olfactory nerve, dolphins have no sense of smell.   They do have a sense of taste, however, and often show personal preferences for certain kinds of fish.
  • Dolphins don't have vocal cords.   Instead, they use the muscles inside the blowhole produce squeaks, clicks, moans, warbles & other communicative sounds.
  • Dolphin mothers often whistle continuously for several days after giving birth.   Initially, the mother's whistle is uniform, but then it acquires a "signature" characteristic.   Scientists believe this is how she teaches her offspring its name.

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Baiji Dolphin Deemed Extinct

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Baiji white Chinese river dolphin is now considered extinct.

Following 6 weeks of scouring a 3,400-kilometer segment of the Chinese Yangtze River, an expedition of 30 international researchers led by Swiss naturalist August Pfluger has declared that the Baiji, a rare white freshwater dolphin is effectively extinct.

Although there were several thousands of these dolphins fifty years ago, a 2004 report from a conservation workshop concluded that the number of Baiji in the river had declined rapidly since the 1970s. Whereas fewer than 400 of the dolphins were reported in the mid-80s, a follow-up survey in 1997 recorded only 13.

Illegal overfishing and pollution from busy ship traffic are also considered culprits, but the construction of large dams is credited as the greatest contributor to the Baiji dolphin extinction and an ongoing threat to other marine life in the Yangtze river basin.

Scientists believe this to be the first instance of a cetacean species being pushed to extinction due entirely to human action. Wonder how many more species we'll extinguish before wising up...

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Gossip, Gossip, Gossip!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Dolphin couple gossiping

Oh, they saw us coming...   They drew us right in with their always-chipper smiles, perky chatter, and eternally-friendly dispositions.   We’ve been lulled into thinking of dolphins as our joyful & genial cousins in the sea.   But those sly devils had us fooled all along.   You see, dolphins are simply not to be trusted because, well... they gossip!

Not too long ago, I posted a blog entry about a group of Scottish researchers who had proved that dolphins have names.   Well, according to Bruno Maddox’s wry commentary in a recent Discover magazine article, the Scots have since gone on to show:
[Dolphins] gossip.   We know this because we know their names.   Each bottlenose individual identifies itself by a unique pattern of whistles and clicks.   What was not known until the Scottish research, however, is that a pair of dolphins use the name of a third dolphin when that third dolphin isn’t present.   In other words, dolphins gossip.
So, it’s not bad enough that our aquatic cousins are busybodies, but they’re rumormongers, too.   And just when we were starting to think they might truly be the superior species...
 

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Dolphin Intelligence, Revisited

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Despite recent half-baked claims to the contrary, it is widely accepted that dolphins are very smart. This is largely based on an estimation of brain power derived from the brain size to body size ratio or "encephalisation quotient". Dolphins have an EQ that's second only to humans. Although that's certainly a compelling argument for brainpower, scientists have begun to adopt the view that behavior is an even more accurate measure of intelligence within a species.

And with that in mind, it seems like new, exciting dolphin behavioral discoveries are cropping up every few months lately that support an even greater estimation of dolphin intelligence. Nova Spicack's interesting article "Dolphins are Smarter Than We Think" points to recent discoveries where dolphins have a sense of the future and are able to delay gratification.

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Pierce Brosnan Is Saving Whales

Saturday, August 05, 2006

A few years ago, Dede & I had the pleasure of seeing MacGillivray Freeman’s "Dolphins" at an Imax theatre in San Diego.   The film features narration by Pierce Brosnan, an awesome soundtrack of Sting’s jazzy songs & music, and strikingly beautiful visuals that live up to the Imax standard.   We loved the film so much that we bought the DVD and have watched it easily half a dozen times.

Apparently though, Pierce Brosnan didn’t just lend his talents to the film for a paycheck.   Nope, far from it.   Brosnan, together with his wife Keely Shaye Smith, is a environmental activist leader with a particular dedication towards marine ecology issues.

A tidbit on Ottmar Liebert’s blog pointed me to Pierce Brosnan’s official website where there’s some good info on his efforts with The Whaleman Foundation.   Together, they’ve launched a "Save the Whales Again!" campaign:
Most people believe that the whales were saved because of the very popular "Save the Whales" movement of the Seventies...   Unfortunately, dolphins and whales face even more threats today than ever before from toxic pollution, noise pollution, global warming, loss of habitat, lack of food, over-fishing, entanglement & ship strikes, and expanding whaling.   The "Save the Whales Again!" campaign is getting the truth out to the masses, in an effort to re-ignite the passion of the earlier "Save the Whales" movement.

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Speed Is Skin Deep, Too.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

speed limit sign in the waterAccording to a recent article on PhysOrg.com, dolphins were astounding us with their extraordinary swimming speed (nearly 25 m.p.h.) even as early as 350 B.C. when the Greek philosopher Aristotle marveled at their swiftness.

English zoologist Sir James Gray concluded in 1936 that, given the density of water and the amount of muscle dolphins have, the energy needed for a dolphin to swim so fast is nearly 10 times that which they can produce — an observation known as "Gray’s Paradox."

Gray theorized that to achieve this impossible feat the powerful motion of the dolphin’s tail must cause water to attach tightly to the dolphin’s skin due to a concept called "laminar flow," which eliminates turbulence.   Any moving object splits the medium through which it passes.   This turbulence increases friction, and thus drag.

Scientists searched for years for an answer to Gray’s Paradox — what mechanism stops the turbulence and allows for the dolphin’s seemingly impossible energy output?

Although it took several decades, his calculations were ultimately proven flawed because Sir Gray’s conclusions about the amount of energy output needed were based on sprinting speeds that dolphins can’t sustain.   But despite those flaws, scientist Frank Fish of West Chester University credits Gray’s Paradox for having brought about tremendous research focus on marine propulsion.   A number of mechanical factors have been discovered that all contribute to the 'secret' of the dolphin’s speed.

Most notably, this speed is made possible by the tapered body shape with ears, eyes, and blowhole that are flush with the skin.   Dolphin’s eyes, researchers say, secrete a mucus that lubricates skin surfaces for increased swimming speed.   This streamlined shape combined with large, powerful muscles that are mechanically linked to an oscillatory pair of crescent-shaped tail flukes enables dolphins to produce thrust with far greater efficiency than any man-made propulsion system.

Also part of the secret is the dolphin’s blubber, which is far more than simple fat.   Instead, dolphin blubber consists of a complex of fat cells and collagen fibers in a elastic criss-cross pattern that acts as a spring.

Other recent research highlighted in Discover magazine has revealed that dolphins constantly shed, replacing their entire outer layer of skin every two hours.   And while water flowing across the skin forms tiny vortices, the flakes of constantly shedding skin disrupt the vortices and dampen turbulence.

Yet another article at ThinkQuest offers insights about small folds in the dolphin’s skin, called dermal ridges.   These ridges run parallel to the length of the dolphin’s body and are constantly moving which goes to further allow the dolphin to propel effortlessly through the water.
 

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Dolphin Names

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Not content to simply do amazing things like sing, play games, or snoop on each other, now scientists have discovered that dolphins are now taking away yet another trait previously thought to be unique to humans — dolphins have names.

According to an article by Bjorn Carey published on MSNBC:
Humans are one of the few species that use sound modulation instead of simple voice differences to identify individuals.   For example, a person can recognize the name "John" whether it’s being said by Gilbert Gottfried or James Earl Jones.
A team of researchers led by Vincent Janik of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland has established that a dolphin will choose its own name as an infant and use that name throughout its life.   While scientists have long known that dolphins identify themselves with names, they had previously thought the animal’s unique voice to be a key ingredient of the call.   They’ve now discovered that dolphins recognize their names as patterns of variations in vocal pitch - rather than the voice itself.   Having (and using) names based on sound patterns rather than just a unique voice signature, is a behavior that had been thought to be common only to certain monkeys & humans.

Updated:   You can read additional coverage of this at the Times Online website.
 

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Dolphin Eavesdroppers

Friday, April 21, 2006

 
Dolphin pod

Scientists have long since been known that dolphins use short, broadband pulses of sonar-like echolocation sounds to create a three-dimensional acoustic picture of their surroundings and determine the size, shape, direction of movement and distance of objects in the water.   Dolphins#8217; sonic imaging is so sophisticated that they can tell apart 2 small disks only 1/16th inch thick of differing metals.   And since sound penetrates organic matter, there are even stories of dolphins detecting — and reacting to — human pregnancies!

Recent research has also proven that they’re capable of listening in on and interpreting the echoes from another individual’s clicks.

Now a study conducted by Thomas Götz, a marine biologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany, takes this yet another step further.   According to an article from National Geographic...

      Dolphins are eavesdroppers!

Götz’s study offers convincing evidence that not only are dolphins capable of understanding each other#8217;s echolocation signals, but in fact they rely on this.   The sole sound emissions of a lead dolphin are listened to & used by the all of the others when moving in tight, synchronous groups for cooperative food hunting strategies.

So, where before dolphins have always been considered playful and inquisitive animals, maybe now we know the truth behind their friendly facade...   they#8217;re just plain nosy!
 

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Dolphins Get Connected

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Vodafone, Ireland's leading mobile phone service provider has teamed up with the Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation on Soundwaves, an innovative project that is establishing a hydrophone system in the Shannon Estuary. The Shannon Estuary is Ireland's first marine Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and home to nearly 150 resident bottlenose dolphins.

SDWF's Soundwaves system will transmit the underwater vocalizations of dolphins in the estuary, via cellular phone network, to a land station and will significantly enhance the current boat-based monitoring performed by dolphin conservationists.

Wonder if those Irish dolphins have to worry about "Anytime Minutes?" Dede has this vision of that annoying Verizon guy gurgling, "Can you hear me now?" underwater.

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Dolphins & Humans - Fishing Buddies

Sunday, February 19, 2006

In the resort town of Laguna in southern Brazil: a pod of bottlenose dolphins has developed a cooperative technique to herd mullet towards local fishermen.   The dolphins drive a school of fish towards the men, who cannot see the fish in the muddy, shallow water.   Relying on the dolphins’ cue, a conspicuous roll just out of net range, the fishermen cast their nets.   Those mullet missed by the fishing nets are momentarily disoriented, making them easy food for the well-positioned dolphins.

The dolphins were not trained for this behavior — in fact, the activity is initiated and led by the dolphins.   The fishermen don’t cast their nets until signaled to do so by their aquatic partners.   Town records indicate that this almost-daily collaborative partnership dates back to at least 1847.

As cited in the interesting paper, "Dolphins and the Question of Personhood", marine researchers consider this further evidence that dolphins make conscious choices and thus should be considered sentient persons.
 

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Dolphins' Circular Logic

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Ordinarily, I'm quick to rush out to Snopes.com and quickly dash urban legends upon the rocks of reason. (Sound familiar, Whit?) But what sounded too silly to be true actually pans out this time...

Back in one of my previous dolphin trivia posts, I mentioned that dolphins only sleep with one half of their brains at a time. And when sleeping, they continuously swim in lazy circles.

Research published by Paul Manger & Guinevere Stafne at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa has revealed that, during this sleep time, dolphins in the northern hemisphere (north of the Equator) swim in predominantly counter-clockwise circles, whereas dolphins in the southern hemisphere swim in clockwise circles.

Manger & Stafne theorize that this dolphin behavior is caused by the Coriolis force — an effect of Earth's rotation that produces large-scale currents in the ocean and atmosphere — which is often (falsely) credited for water spinning down a drain in different directions in the northern and southern hemispheres.

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Pretty in Pink

Friday, January 27, 2006

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.
 

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Dolphin Mathematics

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

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.
 

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Sea World's Dolphin Breeding Breakthrough

Friday, January 06, 2006

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

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Games Dolphins Play

Monday, November 28, 2005

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.
 

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Dolphin Discoveries

Friday, October 07, 2005

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...
 

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Dolphins Are Cool - They Use Tools!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

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!

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Devious & Dastardly Dolphins

Saturday, May 28, 2005

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.
 

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Dolphin Trivia

Saturday, March 12, 2005

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.
 

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