Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dolphin safari is quite an experience!

New Sunset & Wildlife Cruise Added To Auckland’s Dolphin & Whale Safari Experiences
Auckland, New Zealand …. Auckland’s Dolphin & Whale Safari now departs from downtown Auckland Viaduct Harbour twice each day, 9.30am and 4.00pm. One of New Zealand’s most successful marine wildlife cruises the new evening option is ideally timed for Auckland itineraries. An outstanding experience with knowledgeable crew both Day and Evening Cruises are the most comprehensive gulf explorations.

Auckland’s Dolphin & Whale Safari introduces visitors to Auckland’s world-class marine park, the Hauraki Gulf, with over 22 species of marine mammals recorded. Evening passengers can see the best of the cityscape in daylight, discover Auckland’s marine environment and enjoy BBQ on board then take in sunset over the city, experience an on-harbour view of the city lights and return to nightlife-hub the Viaduct Harbour. Contact Explore NZ www.explore.co.nz

Auckland’s Dolphin & Whale Safari – outstanding experience

 One of New Zealand’s most successful marine wildlife cruises
 Hauraki Gulf marine park, recognised world-wide
 Over 22 species of marine mammals recorded
 Comprehensive gulf exploration and experiences with knowledgeable crew
Auckland’s Dolphin & Whale Safari – essential details
 Two choices every day, daytime or evening cruises
 Departure times 9.30am and 4.00pm
 Departs from Viaduct Harbour, downtown Auckland
 BBQ lunch or BBQ dinner included
 Day cruise island stop-over and when conditions permit, swimming with dolphins
 Most stable and comfortable whale watching vessel in New Zealand
 Cruise aboard luxury 20m high-speed catamaran

Two cruises every day provides two choices for your Auckland itinerary

 Day cruise 9.30AM – 3.30PM including BBQ lunch, possible dolphin swim
 Sunset cruise 4.00PM – 8.30PM including BBQ dinner

Group Activity:Auckland’s Dolphin & Whale Safari including BBQ lunch or dinner is the perfect activity for groups and tour series. Interactive wildlife viewing, comprehensive gulf cruise, knowledgeable crew and space to relax on board. Exclusive charter options (Up to 100 people). Enquire for group rates.

Pollution blamed for dolphins' deaths

In the last seven days, two sea creatures have been found dead at Punta Carnero near Algeciras lighthouse by the Estrecho National Park.

A pilot whale and a dolphin have been found washed up, covered in residue from an oil spillage.
The dolphin was already dead, but the whale was still breathing though it died soon after.
Both creatures were found to have had their respiratory systems blocked, resulting in deaths by asphixiation.

A spokesman for the ecological organisation, Verdemar Ecologistas en Accion, Antonio Muñoz, has appealed for a thorough investigation into the deaths, and has asked for assistance from Algeciras Town Hall and the regional Environment department.

He suspects that the creatures suffered as a result from oil that boats spill into the waters while bunkering.

It is the second whale to die in the waters of the Campo de Gibraltar in seven days.

The photo shows the other whale, almost certainly a 'Balleen' and possibly a 'Minke,' that died near La Linea and was washed up along with a turtle.

The post mortem on the whale that died near Algeciras found it had an empty stomach, indicating it had not eaten for days and had a swollen liver, suggesting toxic poisoning, although it was initially believed that it had been involved in a collision with a fishing vessel.

In total, five whales have died off the Malaga and Cadiz coast in the past month.

Dolphin watch...quite an adventure!

The Pride of Bilbao P&O's mini cruise from Portsmouth to Bilbao sails though the best area of the world's oceans for whale and dolphin diversity. Travel editor TRACEY SPARLING takes the return ferry trip which is proving popular as a holiday in itself.MENTION dolphins, and wildlife lovers the world over crack a spontaneous smile.People love their grace, intelligence, and joyful jumps, and who wouldn't want to ride the waves with them?Add in the chance of spotting ten varieties of whale - including the blue whale which is the largest animal ever to have lived on our planet - and anyone keen to see wonders of nature will be right there with you, on the top deck aboard P&O's Pride of Bilbao.

Bottle-nose dolphins As the huge ship powers across the Bay of Biscay en route to Spain, experts from the Biscay Dolphin Research Programme tell passengers on the outer decks where to look.So as we sailed over the edge of the Amorican Shelf - a massive underwater cliff where the sea bed drops from 80m deep to 4000m which is deep enough to submerge the Swiss Alps.

Whalespotters dared not leave their posts for a coffee, preferring to unwrap packed sandwiches rather than enjoy the fabulous Langham's restaurant and other eateries inside. A buzz spread around the deck and you could hear a pin drop. Binoculars focused, cameras clicked, and triumphant fingers pointed my eyes in the right direction.

Three hours later, I'd only seen a few puffs to signify a whale 'blowing' (breathing out). The spurts were several metres high, but dwarfed by the distance of about 5km away.Oh, and a glimpse of two dolphins alongside the ferry, so brief that blink and you'd miss it. They were 11 storeys below me, so they looked looked tiny.Clive Martin, the wildlife officer on board consoled us: “Whales and dolphins are free spirits in the world's ocean.

There are never any guarantees as to what you will see, but you have to keep looking.”By the end of the return trip, dedicated Clive has clocked up an incredible list of sightings from his vantage point on the bridge of the ship. Eight common dolphins, seven bottlenose dolphins, 207 striped dolphins, three Risso's dolphins, harbour porpoise, five pilot whales, 31 fin whales, three sperm whales, pygmy killer whales, minke whales, tuna, a beaked whale, the list goes on.

Plus a turtle dove, migrating meadow pipits, a grey heron, and a cormorant which crash landed on the top deck for a rest. I had seen about seven whales in the distance - but that included a fin whale silhouetted against a glowing pink sunset. On the ship's previous outing Clive had seen 3,000 dolphins.Many passengers spend just a few hours ashore in Bilbao before returning to their en-suite cabins to start the return trip, but we stopped off for a couple of nights and caught the ship home the next time it pulled in to port.

The first sight of Bilbao is ugly reminders of its former steelworks. Today the smog has gone, but the seven mountains surrounding the valley trap clouds, which form a grey mist usually burned off by lunchtime.Bilbao has undergone an amazing transformation during the past ten years. It was once a polluted, soot-covered, industrial centre full of foundries and shipyards. In the 1980s the provincial government came up with a plan to revitalize the city as an artistic and tourism centre.

A new metro system designed by Sir Norman Foster was constructed, a new airport was built and most importantly, the new Guggenheim Museum was designed by Frank Gehry and completed in 1997 which put Bilbao on the map.The Guggenheim is the one must-see in the city. Inspired by a fish, it rises up like a giant piece of titanium origami, with a giant flower dog at the front door, occasional fog displays and light shows. If that all sounds weird trust me, you just have to see it to appreciate it.

I decided the building was far more attractive than many of the art exhibits it houses, although The Matter of Time by sculptor Richard Serra plays quirky tricks with your mind as you walk among the giant rusted steel spirals.We crossed the city's famous Transporter Bridge which looks flimsy from the ground, but is actually quite sturdy once you're up there at 50m high. You can take a lift rather than climb the stairs, and come back via a ferry 'gondola'.In Bilbao I stayed at the ultramodern Mirohotel within sight of the Guggenheim, which was stylish, clean and friendly - but ask for an outside room if you don't want a room with no natural daylight.

One afternoon we enjoyed a feast of pincho, small bite-sized appetizers, spread out on the many colourful plates in a succession of tapas bars. Like a box of fine chocolates, it's a lottery whether your choice is going to be great.My verdict is it's definitely worth stopping off from the Pride of Bilbao, to find out what the city has to offer. Where: Bilbao in northern Spain is the capital of Vizcaya, one of three provinces that make up the 'Basque country.'What to do: Whale watching, trying the pincho, visit The Guggenheim.

Accommodation and cost: Pride of Bilbao has restaurants including a carvery, Italian deli and brasserie, gym, small pool, cinema, beauty salon, casino and cabaret. 3-night cruises from Portsmouth to Bilbao cost from £64pp. Two-for-one until December 21, on all standard minicruises from Portsmouth and Hull. Mirohotel has double rooms from 108 euros, free use of spa and gym.The Guggenheim, adult ticket: 10.50 euros Contact: www.poferries.comwww.guggenheim-bilbao.eswww.mirohotelbilbao.comHospitality:

The author was a guest of P&O.A blue whale's heart is the size of a VW Beetle car. Its tongue is the size of an elephant and a young child would be able to swim through its arteries and fit through its blow hole.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Japan urged to put an end to annual dolphins' slaughter!

A US coalition of marine scientists and aquarium workers is demanding the Japanese Government end its country’s “inhumane” annual dolphin hunts, saying the custom targets an intelligent and self-aware species.

In a handful of Japanese villages, local fishermen hunt dolphins for their meat by herding them into shallow coves and then attacking them with knives, sometimes gutting them alive.

“They’re dying this sort of long, slow, painful, excruciating death,” said Dr Paul Boyle, a former director of the New York Aquarium and current chairman and chief executive of The Ocean Project, the coalition that is co-ordinating the effort.

The group is sponsoring an online petition that asks the Government to put an end to the hunting. It hopes to collect one million signatures.

The Japanese say the practice is a long-standing cultural and commercial tradition. Takumi Fukuda, fisheries attache for the Japanese

Embassy in Washington, said fishermen tried to kill the dolphins’ quickly to lessen their suffering and maintain meat quality, but that it was impossible to avoid some cruelty.

In promoting their Act for Dolphins campaign, the scientists highlight dolphins’ intelligence, selfawareness and cognitive functioning.

“They have the intellect to understand what is going on,” said Lori Marino, a lecturer in neuroscience and behavioural biology at Emory University in Atlanta. “We believe that means they undergo a great deal of suffering during this process.”

The practice survives in just a few outposts in Japan, though the hunt runs from autumn through to spring.

The scientists say fishermen corral large numbers of dolphins into nets by banging metal rods in the water, creating a sort of acoustic barrier. Then the dolphins are “dispatched in a brutal manner — speared, hooked, hoisted into the air by their tails, and finally eviscerated alive”.

Dr Marino said the dolphins were used as pet food and fertiliser, with their meat distributed across Asia.

Groups fights for dolphins in facility following deaths of sharks

At least some of the dolphins slated for the Grand Cayman’s proposed dolphin facilities in West Bay are expected to die.

Speaking to reporters at the weekly Cabinet press briefing, Tourism Minister Charles Clifford said attrition for all the life forms that are to be imported to the dolphin facility is anticipated and the Ministry is prepared to deal with that eventuality when it arises.

Mr. Clifford was responding to recent news that six quarantined sharks destined for the Botswain’s beach predator tank display had died due to a mechanical malfunction two months ago.

“We do expect that some of the dolphins will die at the facility, just as they die in the wild. It will happen,” he said.

The recent shark incident reflects the fears of dolphin advocate groups, who claim dolphin death rates, at six per cent in captive facilities, are similar to those in the wild, even though the animals’ survival is no longer affected by natural threats and predators.

The sharks were in a quarantine facility at Boatswain’s Beach. All fish undergo a 30–day quarantine period after arriving at the park.

They died when there was a malfunction in the life support system, causing a problem with water quality.

The sharks had been imported from Florida via air.

Since the deaths an expert has come to the Cayman Islands to help staff at Boatswain’s Beach shore up the quarantine system.

Planning permission has been granted for the physical construction of two separate dolphin entertainment facilities in West Bay.

Dolphin Discovery (Cayman) Ltd. is a franchise with headquarters in Mexico and is to be located at the site of the old Turtle Farm in West Bay, as part of Boatswain’s Beach, but privately run.
Dolphin Cove Cayman is associated with Dolphin Cove Jamaica and is to be located south of Calypso Grill in Batabano, West Bay, by the North Sound.

Body of Bottlenose dolphin washed ashore

A bottle nosed dolphin weighing three tonnes, was washed ashore at Mudiveeranpattinam, near Sitharkottai, on Tuesday.Sources said on a tip off, Wildlife officials rushed to the spot along with a team of veterinarians. The team conducted an autopsy on the spot and buried the carcass later. However, the cause of death of the marine species was not known.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Groups fight against Japanese slaughter of dolphins

As the Japanese prepare to herd thousands of dolphins into coves and stab them with spears and bash them with clubs until the sea is bright red with blood, many groups, including environmentalists, are uniting to oppose the slaughter.

As they point out, animal welfare arguments are central, since dolphins do not face extinction. It seems many environmental groups are coming to realize that brutality against animals is not consistent with environmental ethics, regardless of "sustainability".

What is so pathetic is how the Japanese trot out the same old arguments about "cultural tradition" that they use for whaling. It's the same broken record and the same broken skulls. The Japanese don't have a monopoly on brutality, but this practice is so egregious is has to go.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Fighting for the survival of the Ganges dolphin

Starting Wednesday, CNN-IBN is running a special series, The Ganga is Dying, on the problems plaguing the river. Flagging off the series is Citizen Journalist, Shweta Bachchan Nanda, who has been involved in protecting the rare river dolphin that is struggling to survive in the waters of the Ganga.

Narora (Uttar Pradesh): Dolphins are a dying species in the Ganga today because of pollution or being trapped in fishermen's nets. With only a few thousand left, scientists from the World Wide Fund for Nature are doing their best to save these gentle creatures.

Citizen Journalist Shweta Bachchan Nanda finds out what is being done to save river dolphins and her first stop is an ashram besides the holy river as it crosses UP's Narora.

Sadhus and pandits have lived on the banks of the river for centuries and stories about the Ganga and the dolphins have been handed down over the years.

“The Ganga is a holy river and so are the creatures in it. We tell everyone to respect and protect them,” a pandit says.

Local fishermen at Narora are now responding to the dolphin campaign by changing some of their fishing practices as dolphins often get entangled in nylon nets and die of suffocation.

“Dolphins today are a threatened species. The government must give them as much importance as other species,” scientist at WWF, Parikshit Gautam says.

For the fishermen the dolphin, locally known as the saus, is just another fish and catching fish is their livelihood. The tricky question is how to save the dolphin and not deprive the fishermen of their livelihood.

“The fishermen here follow a procedure while fishing. They follow the rules laid by WWF,” a fisherman says.

Dolphins face other threats, too, like dams, barrages and pollution from industrial sewage, which have fragmented the habitat of the fish.

Yet on this stretch of the Ganga, thanks to local initiative by scientists from WWF, fishermen and sadhus, sightings of dolphins are still possible and the numbers have also doubled.

But along the rest of this mighty and holy river, a lot still needs to be done to save the Gangetic dolphin from extinction.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Beached dolphin is recovering

A dolphin that was found stranded on Vero Beach is now in rehabilitation at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.

The female Atlantic bottlenose dolphin was found stranded at daybreak Sunday by residents of Castaway Cove in Vero Beach, according to a Mote Marine Laboratory press release.

Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, based in Fort Pierce, responded to the stranding and transported the dolphin 3½ hours to Mote's Dolphin and Whale Hospital for treatment.

"The animal was calm and secure, but was high on the beach away from the tideline," said Malcolm deSieyes of Harbor Branch.

The dolphin was suffering from respiratory problems, gastric distress and was slightly overheated, said Dr. Charles Manire, Mote's chief veterinarian.

Early blood work indicated liver problems as well, Manire said.

Mote staff and volunteers spent Sunday night in a rehab tank supporting the dolphin, which they named Castaway.

Support will be necessary until she is able to swim and breathe on her own, the press release stated.

The dolphin was eating, but Mote staff is monitoring the amount of food until the stomach problem improves.

Atlantic White-sided dolphin ends up on beach

An Atlantic white-sided dolphin washed up on a beach is believed to be the first one found on the Norfolk coast.The discovery of the rare mammal was made by people walking on Brancaster beach on Thursday morning.Last night officials from the National History Museum were arranging for the 2.4-metre long dolphin to be taken to a zoo.

There it will undergo an autopsy to discover how the animal died and where it came from.The National Trust's property manager for the Norfolk coast, John Sizer, said it was thought to be the first time that such a dolphin had been found on the Norfolk coast.“We don't know yet where it might have come from but we do know that its natural habitat would be the deep waters of the North Atlantic,” he said.It was in really good condition but experts will be able to find out more about it when an autopsy is carried out.”

Mary Fisher, from Horning, near Hoveton, was out walking on the beach near the entrance to the golf club when she came across the mammal's corpse.“Its eyes were open and it looked so beautiful lying on the beach. I was really disappointed I didn't have my camera with me because I would loved to have taken a picture,” said Miss Fisher.Youngsters from Catton Grove Primary School at Norwich, on a field trip at the Brancaster Millennium Activity Centre, were also able to get a look at the dolphin.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Activists fight against dolphins in captivity!

Anti-captive dolphin campaigners are hoping that their presentations at the recent Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) Conference and Trade Show will send a strong message to the cruise industry.

The ‘Keep Dolphins Free’ in the Cayman Islands used its booth during the 31 October to 3 November event in Grand Cayman to whip up support for its stance against dolphinariums in this country.

Two dolphinariums are currently under construction in West Bay in Grand Cayman despite calls to Government by the local environmental group to rescind their licences.

The Keep Dolphins Free group said that dolphin facilities have created environmental hazards throughout the world and have caused many dolphins to die in captivity.

At a press conference at the Ritz-Carlton last week, Billy Adam of the Keep Dolphins Free movement told reporters why his organisation chose to target the cruise industry at that forum.
“The cruise industry throughout the Caribbean and the Cayman Islands supply about 85 percent of the customers for those destinations that have captive dolphin facilities,” he said.

“If we want to talk to them we need to go to the turf where they are and this is the FCCA show. We’re here to educate, to show sources of information where they can go and learn about the captivity of marine mammals.”

With its trade show theme “Break the chains, keep dolphins free,” the movement was hoping that the 1,200 delegates would take onboard their serious concerns for dolphins and the environment.
“Cruise people that we’ve spoken to, they’re beginning to also realise that they individually and collectively as the FCCA need to take a look at the subject,” he said.

He added that some cruise lines who did studies on captive dolphin facilities have subsequently abandoned the selling of tours.

Mr Adam said that Caribbean and Mediterranean countries needed to examine the various trans-national treaties and conventions, which deals with environmental and animal issues.

One of the groups supporting the Keep Dolphins Free movement and appearing at the 31 October press conference was the Cayman Islands Humane Society which was represented by Giuseppe Gatta and Sheila Aronfeld.

Mr Gatta pledged support to the anti-captive dolphin campaign and called for the humane treatment of animals in the Islands.

“It’s our opinion that keeping a free spirit and free living dolphin in captivity is inhumane and immoral,” he said.

“Dolphins should be allowed to live freely and in peace without fear of capture and life threatening imprisonment.”

In a written statement read by Mr Gatta, the local Human Society stated that it respected the need for Cayman to seek alternative tourist attractions but not the imprisonment of the mammals.
“It’s our opinion that an alternative, viable attraction should focus on saving our natural habitat and not on a show-and-tell for an imprisoned creature as beautiful and wonderful as a dolphin,” Mr Gatta said.

Martha Watkins Gilkes, of Antigua and Barbuda Independent Tourism Promotion Corporation, said that Antigua and Barbuda was forced to shut down a similar facility after environmental damage.

The panelist said that her organisation’s concerns were twofold - environment and moral issues involving dolphins in captivity.

“There’s a lot of moral issues in keeping dolphins in captivity and taking them from quality of life,” she said.

Ms Gilkes said that her independent body had been greatly concerned about the multiplier effects that the project had on Antigua and Barbuda.

“It served to benefit only a few while the majority would bear the burden of environmental damage and negative publicity,” she said.

Also joining the press conference last week to back the Keep Dolphins Free movement was Christine O’Sullivan of Jamaica Environment Trust (JET).

The official explained that her non-government organisation was dedicated to environmental education and advocacy.

Ms O’Sullivan said that JET was concerned about the increase in number of captive dolphin facilities in the region.

“Having witnessed the problems associated with captive dolphin facilities, JET is opposed to the establishment of additional facilities throughout the Caribbean,” she said.

In Jamaica, eight dolphins died since 2001 including two calves while others failed to live just months after being imported, according to Ms O’Sullivan.

At present there are two dolphinariums in Jamaica - Ocho Rios and Montego Bay.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Extra pair of fins could prove that dolphins used to walk on land

Japanese researchers said Sunday that a bottlenose dolphin captured last month has an extra set of fins that could be the remains of hind legs, a discovery that may provide further evidence that ocean-dwelling mammals once lived on land.

Fishermen captured the four-finned dolphin alive off the coast of Wakayama prefecture in western Japan on Oct. 28, and alerted the nearby Taiji Whaling Museum, according to museum director Katsuki Hayashi.

Fossil remains show dolphins and whales were four-footed land animals about 50 million years ago and share the same common ancestor as hippos and deer. Scientists believe they later transitioned to an aquatic lifestyle and their hind limbs disappeared.

Whale and dolphin fetuses also show signs of hind protrusions but these generally disappear before birth.

Though odd-shaped protrusions have been found near the tails of dolphins and whales captured in the past, researchers say this was the first time one had been found with well-developed, symmetrical fins, Hayashi said.

This photo, released by the Taiji Whale Museum, highlights the extra set of fins. The tail is being held by a diver whose hand is visible at upper left.

"I believe the fins may be remains from the time when dolphins' ancient ancestors lived on land ... this is an unprecedented discovery," Seiji Osumi, an adviser at Tokyo's Institute of Cetacean Research, said at a news conference televised Sunday.

The second set of fins — much smaller than the dolphin's front fins — are about the size of human hands and protrude from near the tail on the dolphin's underside. The dolphin measures 8.92 feet (2.7 meters) and is about five years old, according to the museum.

Hayashi said he could not tell from watching the dolphin swim in a musuem tank whether it used its back fins to maneuver.

A freak mutation may have caused the ancient trait to reassert itself, Osumi said. The dolphin will be kept at the Taiji museum to undergo X-ray and DNA tests, according to Hayashi.

Bottlenose dolphin has been euthanized

A bottlenose dolphin that strayed into a river off Boston Harbor was euthanized when it beached itself on a mud bank.

Tony LaCasse of the New England Aquarium told the Braintree Forum that a necropsy determined that the dolphin, which normally lives in the open sea miles offshore, suffered from pneumonia and had a parasite in its aorta. It probably ventured into the harbor because it was sick, although it continued to be a strong swimmer in its last days.

The dolphin, a 500-pound 8-foot male, had attracted crowds to the Monatiquot River in Braintree since it was spotted there Friday.

On Monday, veterinarians gave the dolphin a combination of a sedative and paralyzing agent. LaCasse said that the animal gave out a few "pops and whistles" as it died.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Looking into the eyes of a dolphin

I'd been trailing five adult bottlenose dolphins since dawn. It was hard to stay with them. They kept scattering and disappearing like short dogs in tall grass. They were hunting.Suddenly one leapt across the surface, a fantastic dolphin long jump. Ah, chasing a fish. It leapt again, closer this time, and vanished. Suddenly, it leapt up next to me and looked me straight in the eye.The other four rushed over and milled around, breathing heavily.

Here and there, a dolphin slugged the water with a powerful tail slap. I felt like a covered wagon surrounded by whooping Indians. I floated in neutral. They bunched up and sprinted from whence they came ... all but one. It hovered starboard. I waited. It rolled sideways and peered at me. I edged forward. It swam alongside, peering, then sped to the others. What just happened?Feelings are not facts. The facts fit three very different interpretations. The first interpretation was threat. Exasperated by the engine drone hurting the hunt, the leaper was saying, "Get lost!" They'd been breathing heavily as if grousing among themselves but not chuffing, an acoustic punch that can mean anger. If angry, how impotent their growls and barks against the indifferent fiberglass hull. Tail slaps can mean anger too, but not always.

The leaper's behavior was clearly about me. But was the other's? If threatening, it was a first.A second interpretation was recognition. The leaping dolphin suddenly remembered my boat and sprinted over to say hello. Recognition seemed plausible. Other study subjects have raced over to greet me. Once, after many months away, I returned to the zoo and my many friends who worked and lived there. One was a female pygmy chimp (bonobo) named Lana. I'd studied her extensively while investigating how chimp mothers raise their babies but never fed nor groomed her.

From a distance, she picked me out of scores of zoo-goers, an impressive feat of recognition, and raced across the enclosure to greet me with wiggles, jiggles and a great happy face. Others (people and bonobos!) rushed over as well. If not for the Plexiglas barrier, I would've hugged her. And she would've hugged me back. Like bonobos, dolphins know and need their companions. Recognition is easy for them. They learn boat engines and avoid boats that harass them.

Wild dolphins befriend human swimmers or spend their lives escorting boats through passes. If the leaping dolphin rushed over to greet me, were the others caught up in the excitement? A third interpretation was seeking shelter or protection. The other four dolphins were conspicuous for swimming in pairs. The dolphins in each pair surfaced as one in perfect synchrony. Experts have two words for large dolphins swimming in synchrony: adult males.

As far as we know, some male bottlenose find a buddy during their teens and remain devoted companions the rest of their long lives. This is curious given the mammalian penchant for male competition. However, a pair easily out-competes a single bull. Synchrony advertises male status.Male pairs sometimes work in teams, their combined bulk compelling available females to swim with them. Did the leaper suddenly break away to seek shelter at the boat?

Among themselves, especially as calves, dolphins seek shelter next to and under trusted companions. The others may have been chasing a fleeing captive, appearing to surround me when they were actually surrounding her. They may have tail slapped to get her 'back in line'. Seeking protection isn't so far-fetched. During my bonobo studies, a frightened mother with a clinging infant sought my protection although I was on the other side of the cage bars.

Off public display in a small bedroom cage, the chimps often got bored. This day, three adults got into a chase game that became rough. The mother started screaming. She reached out to me desperately. I instinctively grabbed her hand. Her grasp crushed my knuckles. I yelped. She let go. The hubbub faded. The chimps probably recognized that humans were now involved. To solve mysteries like this memorable morning, scientists turn interpretations into predictions we can test systematically (hypotheses). Nature is full of mysteries. Climb aboard.

Dolphins beaching, still a mystery to experts.

Dozens of bottle-nosed dolphins have died after beaching themselves on a remote Mozambique coastline, mystifying environmentalists who say mass beachings are very rare in the area."It's very unusual but even when one or two are beached you very rarely find the cause of death," Peter Best of the mammal research institute at the University of Pretoria said on Monday.

Witnesses said 47 dolphins came onshore on Bazaruto Island off mainland Mozambique early on Saturday. Rescuers managed to return six of them to the water.Scientists do not know why large groups of dolphins or whales occasionally beach themselves in different parts of the world.Nick Raba, a member of Eyes on the Horizon, a group of citizens who help police fishery laws in the area, was one of the first people to arrive at the scene."There wasn't a marking on them, no signs of disease, and not fishing nets wrapped around them. Something very strange has gone wrong," he said.

"This is quite a shock."About 21 whales and dolphins have been reported to have beached themselves this year in South Africa.

Dolphins escape barbaric death due to high mercury levels

Nearly every day since the first week in September, fishermen have been driving pods of dolphins into quiet coves near the village of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, to kill them for their meat, whatever the mercury content, or sell them to marine parks.

A net traps dolphins herded into a shallow holding cove Thursday near Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture. The spot is adjacent to the cove where the mammals were to be slaughtered the following daybreak.

Each year, between 2,000 and 3,000 dolphins are taken in Taiji, a little more than 10 percent of Japan's dolphin catch. Among the species killed there so far this season, which runs until March, have been bottlenose and risso dolphins.

Striped dolphins also have been killed in recent years, but it is not clear if any have been taken yet this season.

In the last two decades, an estimated 400,000 small cetaceans -- mostly porpoises -- have been killed off Japan, according to yearly hunting quota data from fishery co-ops.

Some of the dolphins are taken to be sold to dolphin or marine parks. Demand is high, especially in China and Taiwan, and one animal will fetch a small fortune. But most are taken for their meat, which ends up on store shelves across Japan.

Dolphin meat, however, contains dangerously high levels of mercury. The results of a study posted in 2003 on the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry's Web site shows 6.6 micrograms of methyl mercury -- a highly toxic form of mercury -- per gram of meat in bottlenose dolphins. That level is 22 times greater than the government's provisional permitted concentration of 0.3 micrograms per gram of meat. Samples taken from other species of dolphin and whale meat also exceeded that level.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is authorized to remove from store shelves any product with 1.0 microgram of mercury per gram or more, the health ministry only says that when mercury levels become too high, it is authorized to urge sellers of dolphin meat to voluntarily restrict trade.

The results of a joint study published last year by the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, Daiichi College of Pharmaceutical Sciences and the School of Biological Sciences in New Zealand are even worse. Their 2000-2003 study of the Japanese market found one sample of striped dolphin that had 26 micrograms of methyl mercury per gram of meat -- 87 times higher than the permitted level.

"The consumption of only 4 grams of this product would exceed the provisional tolerable weekly intake of M-Hg (methyl mercury) for someone of 60 kg body weight," the report says.

Tetsuya Endo, a Health Sciences University professor who coauthored the study, said methyl mercury is the form of mercury most likely to cause brain or nerve damage if eaten frequently.
Animal rights activist Ric O'Barry, who once trained dolphins for the popular 1960s U.S. TV series "Flipper," holds up a package of dolphin meat at a supermarket here on Thursday. BOYD

"To be honest, I'm worried about people who eat too much of it," Endo said. "It's dangerous. There is a range in the concentrations (of mercury in meat) and averages may be low, but a consumer may have bad luck and get a high-density serving. Japanese people have their choice of food. Why eat something dangerous?"

But for people in places like Wakayama and Shizuoka prefectures, where dolphin is traditional fare, the question is "Why not eat dolphin?"

Supermarkets cut dolphin meat into 250-gram pieces, balancing the amount of fat, meat and skin in each chunk. The meat is sold in packages for about 170 yen per 100 grams. It is typically cooked in a miso-flavored stew with burdock, carrots and ginger.

A supermarket manager in Mishima, Shizuoka Prefecture, who spoke on condition of anonymity sees no reason to stop selling dolphin.

"A couple of years ago, I heard something about mercury levels in dolphin meat being pretty high," the manager said. "But there haven't been any regulations or any ban from the government, and the parent store hasn't put any restrictions on selling dolphin meat. If it is really that dangerous, there probably wouldn't be any shipments in the first place. So I'm guessing it's OK."

Asked about this year's dolphin cull, an official at the Taiji Fishery Cooperative Union declined comment. The government maintains that for most of the population, the risk is low if dolphin meat is eaten in moderation.

The health ministry said that a 1995-2004 nationwide study on daily intake of methyl mercury showed the levels were safe, even for pregnant women, who are at risk of having children with birth defects if they ingest too much mercury.

However, last November, the health ministry's Pharmaceutical Affairs and Food Sanitation Council issued a statement saying it recognized study results showing that some fetuses' auditory responses were delayed in pregnant women who ingested mercury, and urged them to limit the dolphin meat in their diet, giving maximums for the different species. In the case of bottlenose, it is 10 grams per week.

Health concerns are not the only problem the Taiji kill has. The annual event has attracted bitter criticism from animal rights activists worldwide. Demonstrations against the hunt were held in 28 countries in late September.

At one hunting site last week in Taiji, activists watched as boats pursued several pods of bottlenose dolphins, slowly moving their crafts closer together, while crewmen banged poles against their boats to confuse the encircled dolphins.

Once herded into a holding cove and closed in with large nets, the dolphins swam in circles to protect the females and any young able to keep up. The young separated from the group were left to die of starvation or to be eaten by sharks.

The animals were left for one night in the cove so the stress-related hormones leave their bodies, making their meat more tender, and skiffs and longboats arrived at daybreak and herded the dolphins into an adjacent cove. There, a few were taken out to be sold to aquariums.

Then the longboat crews began to kill the dolphins. They cut the throats of the remaining dolphins or stabbed them randomly, a method animal rights activists call barbaric. Experts, including a former hunter, have said random stabbing results in excruciating death that can take as long as six minutes.

On Saturday, 128 bottlenose dolphins and 75 pilot whales were killed, according to Ric O'Barry, a marine mammal expert with One Voice, a French-based activist group.

O'Barry, who once trained dolphins for the 1960s U.S. television series "Flipper," was visibly upset and said so many animals were caught that some of them had to be taken straight to the killing cove because the holding cove was too small.

"This was the most barbaric slaughter I've seen this year," he said.

Stranded dolphin lost the battle

With a few final sorrowful pops and whistles, the dolphin dubbed “Dolly” by Braintree onlookers was euthanized last night after succumbing to apparent sickness.

The majestic dolphin’s struggle for survival ended when it stranded itself in deep mud in the Monatiquot River.

Tony LaCasse, a spokesman for the New England Aquarium, said today the “magnificent animal” was too stressed and likely too ill to save.

“It was almost gasping,” LaCasse said of the dolphin as it was stuck in the mud. “There was very little vocalizing until almost dying and then there were some pops and whistles.”

The veterinarians from the aquarium injected the dolphin with drugs to first sedate the brain to take away any pain and then suppress the respiratory system and heart.

An autopsy is being conducted now to help answer why the dolphin found its way so close to the city and stranded far from its pod.

“The prospects for this dolphin were very poor from the start,” said LaCasse, who explained dolphins seldom stray from their pods unless they are ill or old. This one did have a “significant” heart murmur.

LaCasse added that dolphins are a rarity in Greater Boston. The last one seen was in 2004 swimming in the Mystic River. A dolphin, possibly that one, turned up dead a few days later in East Boston. But almost all dolphin sightings are on Cape Cod.

“This dolphin was stunning,” LaCasse added, saying it weighed almost 600 pounds. Its exact sex and type (it’s now labeled a common dolphin) will be known after the autopsy.

Dolly was first spotted on Friday making its way down the Fore River in Braintree and Weymouth.

LaCasse said it was a strong swimmer right up until the end.

Dave the dolphin, a wild attraction

Dave has been seen swimming 30m (100ft) out to sea along the reef between Folkestone and Seabrook since April.

He is still attracting up to 150 visitors a day and a website devoted to him received 302,000 hits this month.

"We would have expected a drop in trade by now but it hasn't happened," said a chamber of commerce spokeswoman.

"Along with the mild weather, Dave has been a real boost for Folkestone."

We are hoping Dave will stay for years and be well looked after.

Simon Chandler

Caroline Chambers, manager of Channel Chamber of Commerce, said Dave had even livened up a conference for 1,000 business people in September.

"These things can be a bit boring but he was performing for all the delegates, who were watching from the Leas Cliff Hall overlooking the bay," she said.

Angler Simon Chandler, who set up the website, is now selling t-shirts, caps and stamps to visitors.

Any proceeds after the site costs have been covered are to be donated to the charity British Divers Marine Life Rescue.

Simon Chandler is known in the town as "Dave's manager"

Fears for Dave's safety have led to appeals from police for jet skiers, kayakers and motorised boats to keep at least 100m away from the dolphin.

Tame animals such as Dave which look to humans for social contact can also be at added risk because they lose their natural fear of vessels.

Mr Chandler said people were aware of the danger but everybody in the town was "delighted" Dave was there.

"I don't think anybody would deliberately cause him harm and we have learnt a lot, so nobody has been near him for ages," he said.

"The experts say that when dolphins get too attached to us it does tend to end badly.

"But we are hoping Dave will stay for years, be well looked after and have a long and happy life."

Dolphin lost n Boston Harbor

A wayward dolphin has been spotted deep inside Boston Harbor, swimming up the Fore River.
Biologists say the common dolphin appears healthy, if a little thin, the Boston Globe reported. But they worry about how the dolphin got separated from its pod. Dolphins are extremely social animals.

A team from the New England Aquarium observed the dolphin Friday from a Braintree Yacht Club float.

Biologists say dolphins are fairly common in the harbor -- the last one was in 2004. But getting into the Fore River is unusual.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"