Friday, March 30, 2007

Hector dolphin found mutilated

Department of Conservation staff are outraged at reports of a mutilated Hector's dolphin found in Port Levy on Banks Peninsula.

They say they are relying on information from the public about the dolphin that washed up on Saturday with its tail cut off and stab wounds to its head, as DOC staff were unable to retrieve the carcass as it had either been removed or washed away during high tide.

DOC spokeswoman Nicola Vallance says the dolphin is believed to have had set net marks on its body, which is also concerning. She says it would be a blatant breach of the Marine Mammals Protection Act, so DOC would love to hear from anyone who knows anything further about it.

Nicola Vallance says 22 Hector's and Maui dolphins have died since September last year, despite interim measures introduced by the Government on set nets.

Rehabilitated dolphin back into the wilderness

SARASOTA BAY – A bottlenose dolphin, nicknamed Filly, was released in Sarasota Bay Wednesday morning after spending two months in rehab at Mote Dolphin and Whale Hospital after becoming entangled in monofilament fishing line.The young female bottlenose dolphin was first seen trailing the fishing line from its tail in December 2006 by scientists with the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, which regularly monitors the 150 resident dolphins of Sarasota Bay.On Jan. 18, the dolphin was spotted again, and algae had attached to the line and was creating additional drag, making the line cut deeper into the dolphin’s flesh.

Mote applied for and received permission from NOAA Fisheries Service – the federal agency that regulates the protection of wild marine mammals - to try and help the dolphin.Led by Dr. Randall Wells, Sarasota Dolphin Research Program manager, a 30-member team including NOAA Fisheries Service staff, set out on Jan. 30 to try and free the dolphin from the line. When the team caught the dolphin, they saw that the entanglement was too severe to remove in the field and that the animal likely suffered from other health problems.

So the dolphin – nicknamed “Filly” because of her entanglement in monofilament fishing line – was brought to Mote’s Dolphin and Whale Hospital so the line could be removed and she could be treated.Dr. Charles Manire, Mote’s chief veterinarian, performed two surgeries to remove the monofilament line that had embedded into the dolphin’s skin near the tail and wrapped around the bone. He removed a segment more than a foot long that was encircling the spinal column three times. Manire also treated the dolphin for infection at the wound site and found a series of other injuries, showing that the animal had additional encounters with humans.

“We found that Filly had ingested plastic and had obvious scars from a boat strike, as well as a scar from a shark bite,” Manire said. “She came in underweight, but has gained weight and grown. I’m hopeful she can survive on her own.”Filly’s case illustrates a serious issue facing resident dolphin population, Wells said. “Cases of dolphins being negatively affected by humans are becoming all too common on Sarasota Bay,” he said. “In 2006, at least three adult dolphins clearly died as a result of recreational fishing gear entanglement and a fourth dolphin died with a large fishing lure in its mouth.

A fifth dolphin was entangled in a man’s bikini bathing suit that had begun cutting into its pectoral fins. Now this young dolphin would likely have died from having its tail cut off if it had not been rescued. While the loss of an additional three or four dolphins in one year and another injured from human interactions may not seem like a lot to some, our models show that continued unnatural dolphin deaths at this level will lead to the demise of the long-term resident Sarasota dolphin community.”

After eight weeks of treatment, NOAA Fisheries has granted a conditional release for Filly, meaning that contingencies are in place to return her to rehab if she needs additional help. At just 18 months old, Filly had already separated from her mother. Bottlenose dolphins typically stay with their mothers - learning crucial survival skills - anywhere from three to six years after birth.“This dolphin is unique in many ways,” Wells said.

“In 37 years we’ve never seen a calf separate from its mother at so young an age, and we don’t know why that happened. We continue to see the mother in the bay behaving normally otherwise.”A routine exam while Filly was at Mote found that her hearing is impaired at high frequencies.“The things we expect to matter most to her - hearing boat noise, the sounds made by prey fish and other dolphins’ whistles - are within her hearing range,” Wells said.Filly is a candidate for release because she has already shown that she can survive on her own and because Mote will be monitoring her very closely upon her return to the wild.

“Filly represents an unfortunate example of the extent of harm caused by human interactions,” said Stacey Carlson, Bottlenose Dolphin Conservation coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Service. “We are confident in the steps that have been taken to ensure her continued survival, especially given the research and monitoring capabilities of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program.”To help monitor Filly’s whereabouts and condition, she was outfitted with a small VHF radio transmitter that will help staff follow her upon her return to the wild, Wells said. After release, she will initially be tracked for 30 minutes and then tracked daily for two weeks. Follow-up monitoring of Filly will be included as part of the program’s regular studies.

“While we are hopeful that Filly is on the road to recovery, the injuries she’s had with fishing line and the boat strike are serious and indicate the potential for ongoing problems because she seems to be associating with humans,” Wells said. “We hope that she will stop pursuing contact with humans and adjust her behaviors, and we’ll be watching closely to make sure there are no additional problems.Sarasota Bay boaters and anglers can also help us keep Filly and her fellow dolphins safe. Stowing used fishing line in closed containers, not fishing in areas where dolphins are frequenting and staying more than 50 yards away from wild dolphins, can help us all ensure that we’re keeping the waters safe for dolphins while still enjoying our waterways.”

The public can help avoid future interactions by following the list of best practices and responsible viewing techniques.For avoiding interactions with wild dolphins, the following “Best Fishing Practices” were developed collaboratively by the National Marine Fisheries Service and other research groups, including Mote Marine Laboratory, the Chicago Zoological Society and Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute. They were developed after researchers reviewed information gathered from observations at fishing piers and elsewhere, and interviewed recreational fishing guides and anglers.

The guidelines re-emphasize current conservation efforts and existing regulations.

1. Never feed wild dolphins – it is against federal law and is harmful to the dolphins.

2. Avoid tossing leftover bait to dolphins if they are nearby. Make use of leftover bait by taking it home to freeze for later or by giving it to a fishing neighbor.

3. Check gear and terminal tackle to make sure they are in good shape and will not break too easily, resulting in a lost fish with a hook that could be eaten by a dolphin.

4. Avoid fishing in an area where dolphins are actively feeding – dolphins may mistake your bait or catch for food.

5. Do not release caught fish in the presence of dolphins – this reinforces the association of recreational fishing activities with a food source. Anglers should try to release the fish as far from the dolphin and as quietly as possible.

6. Change fishing locations if dolphins are showing interest in your bait or catch. Some fishing guides and anglers have reported that fishing success may decline at a site where dolphins are actively feeding. If the dolphin does not leave, or if it follows your vessel, we recommend ceasing fishing activity for a short time to discourage the dolphin’s behavior.

7. Do not cast your line toward a dolphin.

8. Use corrodible hooks – any hook other than stainless steel. It may take anywhere from a couple of days, to weeks, or more for a corrodible hook to dissolve. Hooks are made from different alloys, with different coatings, that all affect how long they last. Using corrodible hooks in combination with other preventative measures may help reduce the chance of these interactions, as well as the degree of serious injury caused to the dolphins.

9. Use circle hooks – it is believed that they reduce injuries to fish and dolphins.

10. Never try to reel in a dolphin that may be hooked – if a dolphin is hooked and the hook is set, cut the line as close to the dolphin as safely possible. If the hook is not set, put slack on the line and give the dolphin time to release itself.

11. Stay at least 50 yards away from wild dolphins while boating or using personal watercraft.

12. Stow used fishing line. Make sure to collect any broken or used fishing lines to discard in recycling bins. Visit the Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program Web site for a list of bin locations: If a recycling bin is not available, please discard in a secure bin. It’s against Florida law to intentionally discard monofilament into area waters because such line can kill or injure marine mammals, birds and sea turtles.

13. If you encounter an injured, entangled, or sick dolphin or sea turtle, contact Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program at: (941) 988-0212.Mote Marine Laboratory also is treating a rough-toothed dolphin that was brought in to the Dolphin and Whale Hospital on March 24.The dolphin was found stranded on Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay by members of the public who contacted the proper authorities on Saturday.

Staff from Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Mote Marine Laboratory responded to the stranding and transported the dolphin to Mote for care.Mote Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Charles Manire, reports that the animal, nicknamed “Dancer,” appears to have gastric and intestinal problems. Animal care staff performed a gastroscopy on Sunday morning and removed several marine sponges, which can damage dolphins’ stomachs.

The dolphin is being given fluids and treated with antibiotics for the gastric issues and because of infection. Dancer began swimming on her own and eating fish Sunday evening.Dancer will continue to be monitored around-the-clock at Mote. Visit to view the hospital’s online medical journal and updates of the dolphin’s condition.Rough-toothed dolphins are found in tropical latitudes around the world in the open ocean.

This species, Steno bredanensis, has a long beak with no crease at the melon, large flippers and a tall pronounced dorsal fin.The color pattern is complex, with a dark dorsal cape, white lips and throat and irregular spots or blotches on the ventral surface of the body.

What to do if you encounter a stranded sea animal

• Do not push the animal back into the water, they have stranded for a reason and pushing them back into the water is both illegal (under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act) and will prevent the animal from receiving proper care.

• In Sarasota or Manatee County, call Mote Marine Laboratory’s Stranding Investigations Program at 941-988-0212. The program responds to both live and dead strandings of marine mammals and sea turtles. In other locations in Florida, contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 888-404-FWCC.

• Protect the animal from direct sun and keep skin protected with wet towels, making sure to keep the area around the blowhole clear of water, sand or debris.

• Keep pets away and avoid excessive noise or handling.

• To avoid injury to yourself, stay clear of the mouth and tail and observe the animal from a safe distance until the appropriate experts arrive. Even though the animal is probably sick, remember they are wild animals and very strong.

Risso dolphin's carcass found on California beach

A dead marine mammal experts identified as a Risso's dolphin was found on Ormond Beach near Oxnard on Thursday morning.

Discovered on the sand just east of the Reliant Energy plant by a member of the Ormond Beach Observers Wildlife Patrol, the dolphin, about 11 feet long, had several deep holes in its flesh and skin dried to a pale yellow hue.

One wound near the animal's tail is very deep.

Based on the location of that gash, it looks like a shark may have bitten the dolphin, possibly as it floated dead in the water, said Michelle Berman, assistant curator for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, which tracks incidents of stranded marine mammals from San Luis Obispo County to Ventura County.

Berman identified the large mammal as a Risso's dolphin after reviewing digital photos provided by the Ventura County Star.

Risso's dolphins, which can grow to about 12 feet and weigh up to 1,100 pounds, are one of the larger members of the dolphin family, according to the American Cetacean Society.

They are fairly common, but because they normally live offshore, they are rarely seen on the coast.
In an average year, one dead Risso's dolphin shows up on the local coastline, Berman said.
About 23 dolphins and two whales are found stranded between San Luis Obispo County and Ventura County each year, she said.

When a dead cetacean is reported to the Santa Barbara museum, officials try to determine the cause and circumstances of its death.

If the carcass is fresh, officials may take skin samples or bits of the animal's blubber for toxicology tests, Berman said.

However, since this dolphin in already in an advanced state of decomposition, there is little chance that scientists will be able to determine how it died, she said.

It was not clear Thursday what would be done with the body.

Baby dolphin rescued from fresh water river

JACKSONVILLE, FL -- After two full days of cruising along the St. Johns River near downtown, a team from the Florida Fish & Wildlife and marine biologists successfully captured an injured baby dolphin."It's believed he may have been born here six months ago between the Fuller Warren and Acosta bridges," said Karen Parker, Spokesperson for the State F&W."For whatever reason, it appears his mother has abandoned him. We don't know if she was injured by boaters, or sharks or spooked by the recent underwater demolition, (of the old Fuller Warren Bridge) but she has left the little guy on his own."

The baby dolphin appears to be of normal weight, about 60-pounds and it is just over 4-feet in length, but there are visible signs of trauma to it's dorsal fin and to its tail."We don't know if he was bitten by sharks or struck by a boat prop," said Parker."There are also large circular skin lesions that concern us."The lesions, say experts, are because the dolphin's normal habitat is salt water in the ocean. The fresh water of the St. Johns is causing the lesions."Either way, it's important that we capture him, get him into the Marina Mammal Ambulance where the experts can check him over," said Parker.While the four boats were unsuccessful in capturing the dolphin on Monday, they came close on Tuesday just after 2 p.m..

"We had him in the net, but again, because the river is so deep running through here, he was able to slip out under the net before we could get him in the boat." Then, at around three thirty Tuesday afternoon about a mile south of the Fuller Warren, biologists successfully netted the injured mammal.He was brought to the dock of the St. Joe Building at 245 Riverside Avenue, where blood was drawn and other tests were performed.Dozens of office workers lined the dock and others watched from their office windows above.

The rescue team eventually loaded the dolphin onto a blue stretcher, and carried him from the dock to a waiting Marine Mammal Ambulance.There marine biologists continued to care for the dolphin before heading to the Panhandle for what will likely be weeks of rehabilitation.While the damage to the dolphin's trail and dorsal fin are significant, it is hoped he will one day be able to be returned to the ocean off the First Coast.

Student fails to save dolphin from boat accident

A CITY COLLEGE student launched a desperate but failed attempt to save a dolphin injured by a boat propeller.

Coventry photography student Kev Donnelly, aged 17, was on a field trip to Newquay in Cornwall, taking pictures of coastal wildlife when he came across the injured baby dolphin in the shallows close to the beach.

He took it to a nearby aquarium but the creature had such a bad gash to its tail that it could not be saved.

Kev said: "It was very upsetting to see the dolphin hurt and struggling in the water.

"Blue Reef Aquarium was just 100 metres along the beach, so I thought if I could get it there in time, staff would be able to help it.

Labrador retriever searches for beached dolphins and whales

KEY LARGO — Who wouldn't want a lick from a rescue worker?

Usually you just get the standard flashing lights, and possibly a ride on a stretcher. But a big, wet lick on the face in the warm March sunshine? Never.

Chris Blankenship and Cloud watch a bottlenose dolphin during a training session in Key Largo. The dog has found a dead pilot whale, a stranded dolphin and a necropsied animal that detached from a boat.

Until Cloud. The 3-year-old black Labrador retriever — all wagging tail and goofy, long, pink tongue — is the first dog trained to sniff out dead or injured dolphins. At least as far as Chris Blankenship knows.

And Blankenship, a marine biologist with more than 20 years of experience studying marine mammals, should know. He works with Cloud at Dolphin Cove, a research facility and tourist destination in Key Largo. In fact, Cloud lives with Blankenship, who is her boss, partner and owner.
"She's become one of my best friends," Blankenship said. "She's the perfect dog. She has a phenomenal nose. She has a nose that, now, canine officers say they wish they'd kept her. But she's mine now."

Cloud already has found a dead pilot whale, a stranded dolphin and a necropsied animal that was being towed behind a boat on a rope when the rope broke and the animal sank, Blankenship said.
"That was a submerged animal underwater that she found," he said.

Blankenship dreamed up the idea for a dolphin-sniffing dog in 2005, after roughly 80 dolphins became stranded off Marathon Key. About 30 of them died.

"The stranded animals died of dehydration, things like that," Blankenship said. "I thought, 'If we had some way of locating the animals ...' "

Blankenship contacted his colleague and buddy Beth Smart, executive director and CEO of the Palm Beach County-based Dolphin & Marine Medical Research Foundation. Smart agreed to sponsor a dolphin rescue dog.

She wouldn't be specific but said it costs thousands of dollars a year to care for Cloud.

Back then, she didn't see a reason Blankenship's plan wouldn't work, she said.

"Dogs have long been used for all types of odor detection work — drugs, explosives, lost people," Smart said.

So Blankenship and Smart, with a combined four decades of experience studying marine mammals, went looking for a dog.

They wanted a dog who could swim, was petite enough to fit on a boat and had a "virgin nose."
They found Cloud in Pennsylvania. She was perfect, except she was black, and they feared she might get too hot in the Florida sun.

"Probably, down here, it would be better to go with a golden Lab," Blankenship said. "But she's pretty good at finding shade."

Cloud finished her training in April. Since then, she's been going out on a boat with Blankenship for about two hours a day. When she smells a dolphin, injured or dead, she's supposed to sit and bark.

Cloud knows it's time to work, Blankenship said, when he straps on her bright orange vest. It reads: Working Dog, DO NOT PET.

During a quick ride around Tarpon Basin on a pontoon boat called Palm Beach, Cloud paced from bow to stern. Sometimes, she paused and let her ears glide on the cool breeze. Finally, she sat and barked.

Her guests perked up. Dolphin?

No, just snack time.

"She says, 'Hey, I'm out here working, you better give me a cookie,' " Blankenship said.
At 3 years old, Cloud still has the nervous energy of a puppy. "She's young, I'm old," Blankenship said.

Back onshore at Dolphin Cove, Blankenship wanted to show off Cloud's skills. He left a cooler with blood and other fish parts in the parking lot and waited for Cloud to find it. She went right for it, but didn't sit and bark like she's supposed to. It was more of a bark, bark, bark, wag, wag, wag kind of alert.

Blankenship gave her a treat anyway.

"Good girl, good girl," he said.

"This is going to be of international significance," said Dr. Robert Stevens, a veterinarian who volunteers at the Marine Mammal Conservancy. "People all across the world are working on stranded marine animals. This is a great way to find them in a hurry."

Stevens, who is also Cloud's veterinarian, said he's watched her work.

"She's going to be wonderful," he said. "She can already alert on things incredibly tiny, like routine blood samples. That's the tiniest little bit of blood from a normal animal."

Smart, who has studied dolphins for about 20 years, is also eager to watch Cloud's progress.
"A lot of times these animals get stranded under mangroves," she said. "You can't see them. There's no streetlights. There's a moon if you're lucky. If Cloud is able to patrol the coastline, we have a higher, much higher chance of getting the animal the care it needs."

Monday, March 26, 2007

Mother and calf drown in net

LONG BEACH- A dead baby dolphin caught in a fishing net with its mother was found early Saturday morning by a boater near the Port of Long Beach.

The boater spotted the trapped dolphins bobbing in the water and called for help at about 10 a.m., said Long Beach Fire Department spokesman Will Nash.

By the time lifeguards arrived, Nash said, the baby dolphin was already dead.

"I guess it couldn't get up to breathe," he said. "Lifeguards got in the water, cut the net and freed the mother. She swam off unhurt."

Nash said dolphins are frequently spotted off the coast of Long Beach but this is the first time he has heard of them getting caught in a fishing net there.

He said the net was retrieved and authorities will try to identify who it belonged to.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Irrawaddy dolphin specie is close to extinction

Asia's critically endangered Irrawaddy river dolphin may be in greater danger of extinction than ever, scientists say—and not less, as the government of Cambodia recently announced.
According to Touch Seang Tana, chair of Cambodia's Commission for Mekong Dolphin Conservation, there are now about 160 dolphins in the upper Mekong River, up from only 90 when the Cambodian government banned the practice of net fishing last year (see
map of Cambodia).

But researchers who study the rare dolphin have expressed deep skepticism that such a dramatic turnaround could have occurred.

They said it would be biologically impossible for the dolphins to rebound so quickly, because their gestation period is 11 months and the animals generally only have one offspring every two years.
There are no dolphins from other areas that could have moved into the upper Mekong River once nets were removed, the researchers added.

"It's impossible that the dolphin population would have increased substantially in only one year," said Isabel Beasley, a Ph.D. candidate at Australia's James Cook University who researched dolphins in the Mekong River from 2001 to 2005.

"The mortality [in recent years] is too high and 95 percent of dolphins in the river already occurred in the areas where the nets were banned."

Dams and Boat Traffic

Two to three meters (seven to ten feet) long, the Irrawaddy river dolphin is similar in appearance to the better known
beluga whale. Also known as the Mekong River dolphin, the Irrawaddy is found near coasts and in estuaries in parts of southeast Asia and Australia.

The Irrawaddy's three river populations are some of the most critically endangered dolphins known to exist.

As of April 2005 Irrawaddy dolphins numbered between 127 and 161 in the entire Mekong River, according to Beasley.

Smaller populations are found in
Indonesia's Mahakam River and in the Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar (Burma).

Two small lake-bound populations in India and southern Thailand are also known.
Dam-building, boat traffic, and pollution have negatively impacted dolphin populations over the last several decades.

"The Mekong dolphin population [has been] declining by 4.8 percent per year, with most newborns dying from unknown causes within one to two weeks of birth," Beasley said.

"The population will not increase until calf survival improves."

"Accidental catch in gill nets is the other major threat," Beasley added.

(Read related story:
"Gold Mining, Nets Imperil Rare Dolphin, Groups Say" [March 4, 2003].)

No Gill Nets

Net fishing was banned last year in Cambodia's upper Mekong River, where local people were encouraged to grow crops or work in the burgeoning tourism industry instead of fishing.

The absence of gill nets strung in the river has resulted in the sudden jump in dolphin numbers, Cambodian officials maintain.

"We should have about 20 new babies born every year if the current trend continues," Tana, the conservation commission chair, told Reuters news service earlier this month.

Zeb Hogan, who studies large river fish in Asia, visited the area last month and confirmed that fishers were no longer using gill nets.

"It was the first time that I had seen that in Cambodia," said Hogan, a researcher with the University of Nevada at Reno and a
National Geographic Emerging Explorer based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

(National Geographic News is a division of the National Geographic Society.)

"Wishful Thinking?"

In response to researchers' skepticism about his government's latest population estimates, Tana said his figures were accurate.

"Even [though] the deaths of new offspring [were] found to have increased from about ten in 2000-2001 to more than 20 in 2005-2006, the dolphin population was slightly increased," he said via email.

"And according to my observations, [the population] was about … a hundred and sixty in February 2007."

Tana also pointed out that obtaining accurate population numbers can be very difficult.

The Mekong's frequently murky waters make techniques such as photo censuses impossible, he said, and the dolphins' tendency to break off into small, mobile groups can make "confusion and mistakes unavoidable."

Ian Baird of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, has studied Mekong River dolphins since the early 1990s.

He said he "appreciates the efforts that people are making to try to help" the dolphin population, but he said major rebounds are not going to occur in just one year.

"While we would all love to report that the dolphins are rebounding, I think that it is highly likely that the opposite is actually occurring," he said. "This may well be a case of wishful thinking."

Baird said plans to build large dams on the Mekong River pose a serious threat to the future of the dolphins and fisheries.

"One large dam could lead to the end of the Mekong River dolphin," he said.

Beasley, of James Cook University, said "it is extremely detrimental to dolphin conservation efforts to indicate that the population is making a comeback when it probably isn't."

She is also concerned that encouraging local communities to diversify into ecotourism activities such as dolphin-watching may place even more harm on this critically endangered population.

"As far as I know, no studies have yet been conducted on the effect that dolphin-watching is having on the population," she said, "though I suspect that the effects are quite significant as a result of … high levels of boat activity."

Deaths of 60 beached dolphins puzzle scientists

The stranding deaths of about 60 bottlenose dolphins on Texas beaches over the past three weeks has puzzled researchers and is a cause for concern during the calving season, a senior scientist said on Monday.

"This is the calving season so we often have strandings at this time of the year. It's tough to be an air-breather born in the water," said Dr. Daniel F. Cowan, professor of pathology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and director of the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

"But over the last few weeks we have had about 3 to 4 times the usual mortality," he told Reuters.
Most of the carcasses were in an advanced state of decomposition, suggesting that they were carried to Texas beaches from areas further off or up the shore.

Suspected causes include parasites, an outbreak of infectious diseases or red tide, an algal bloom prompted by fertilizers or other excess nutrients.

Most of the dolphins have been too decomposed for a necropsy -- the animal version of an autopsy -- and so volunteers have been burying them on the beaches.

Several of the dolphins which have washed up on shore have been young with umbilical cords still attached.

Saga ends with joyful reunion for two dolphins

A MOTHER dolphin and her baby were reunited at Glenelg last night - on the wrong side of the Patawalonga locks.

Residents of Holdfast Shores apartments saw the mother swim into the Patawalonga lake before 7pm, leaving two young dolphins on the locks' seaward side.

The gates closed before the mother returned to her young.

Despite rescue efforts to coax the mother back out to sea, one of the young dolphins swam into the lake while the other lock gate was open.

Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary conservation officer Brett Pendlebury said mother and baby were safe in the lake while the older calf on the sea side would be okay. Efforts to get the pair out will continue today.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Dolphin dream come true!

SCHOOLGIRL Amy Morris is to realise her dream of swimming with dolphins and riding a rollercoaster for the first time.

Because she was born with a rare heart defect, the 12-year-old twice needed emergency surgery and had a pacemaker fitted to her original heart before, in October 2003, she received a life-saving transplant.

On Saturday the Westhoughton High School pupil flies to Walt Disney World in Florida after being chosen for the holiday of a lifetime by the Wish Upon A Star charity, which makes dreams come true for children who have suffered serious illness.

Amy, of Stanley Close, Westhoughton, was nominated by her mum, Tracy, and will travel to Florida with her dad, David, grandparents Marlene and Alan Backburn, 11-year-old sister Danielle and uncle Steven Calderbank.

She said: "I can't wait. Because of my heart problems I haven't been able to go on a roller coaster before it will be fantastic."

Maui's dolphin's future is at stake!

A conservation group is renewing its call for a national ban on set netting, after the world's first sound recordings of Maui's dolphin - the world's rarest marine dolphin.

The New Zealand arm of the World Wide Fund for Nature said the recordings, made by Otago University scientists, tracked Maui's dolphin use of harbours on the west coast of the North Island and preliminary results had indicated the dolphins were present in harbours where set netting was still permitted.

The research was released within hours of a Maui's dolphin washing up on Raglan Beach - the fourth reported death in the past five months.

Dolphins are living it up in the Bahamas!

Life is fun in the sun for Kelly the dolphin. She's been to hell and back, swept away with seven other dolphins to the Gulf of Mexico when Hurricane Katrina ravaged their giant tank at the Oceanarium in Gulfport.

Weakened and sick after more than a week in the contaminated waters, workers were amazed to find Kelly and her companions swimming together. They swam to the boats, were brought aboard mats and given food and medicine.

Once back on shore, they were then put in hotel swimming pools and at the seabee base in a tank until a new home could be found. From the wreckage of their former home and the temporary tiny hotel swimming pools to Dolphin Cay - one of the largest manmade dolphin facilities in the world at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas.

Terry Corbet has worked with dolphins and killer whales for more than 20 years. She took us in the water to meet Kelly.

Reporter Rusty Dordin asks, "What kind of shape was kelly in when she was rescued after Katrina?"

"Some were very dehydrated. They had no fish to eat. Dolphins get all their water through their fish intake so when they don't eat they get dehydrated," Corbet says.

The eight rescued dolphins were reunited with another eight also rescued from the oceanarium, all sixteen together again.

"I think it was good, for not only the dolphins but the people as well, that they have that closure, and they are in a good place," Corbet says.

Kelly is one of six rescued from Katrina that are pregnant. They are expected to give birth over the next six months. The pregnant females are watched closely in a separate pen, and temperature readings are taken several times a day.

"When they get closer to giving birth their temperature will drop," says one of the trainers.

Anyone can pay 150 dollars to get up close and personal with the dolphins. Despite the tourist attraction, officials here claim it's about education and rehabilitating injured marine mammals.
"We have a state of the art laboratory facility here where we do all of our husbandry on the animals. We take blood samples. We do ultra sounds," says another trainer.

More than 80 trainers work with the dolphins. Work??? Well, that might be pushing it. These creatures need a lot of play time. Kelly and her crew are thriving and reproducing, and after their incredible journey, handlers at Dolphin Cay say, "What more could you ask for?"

What kind of experience can you expect to have when swimming with dolphins?

A dolphin is an intimidating creature to brush up against while swimming. Smile or no smile, it still has teeth, weighs 300 pounds or more and pops out of the water in front of you without warning. But when you pay good money to swim alongside two dolphins, it's best to forget these fears and place your trust in the animal trainers and their hand signals, whistles and fish.

The dolphins, in turn, respond to the trainer's every request, clapping their fins, making sounds from their blowholes and spinning and jumping in unison. Still, there's that brushing against your thighs as you hold onto the dorsal fins on the backs of two dolphins, being dragged through the water like some plaything. If this isn't adventure enough, you can always head over to the shark enclosure and sit holding a trained nurse shark on your lap.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Dolphin's hunt finally ends in Japan following petition

"Dear Friends and lovers of the ocean. Sometimes the ocean needs our help, and this is one of them To view the video is very disturbing, to not act in stopping such behaviour would be a travesty ... At the very least please sign this online petition. Lovers of the ocean and it's inhabitants - this is a clear call to action. To do nothing is to approve of it.

Please take the time to look at the video and sign the online petition. From little things, big things grow........ And then send it on to as many like minded people that you know. If we build the numbers, we will be heard eventually and things will change, one way or the other.

Please help! We must change the way people think about their oceans and inhabitants for the good of us all."

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Dolphins tagging is a MUST!

I'm a firm believer in the knowledge that can be obtained by tagging fish.

Some of that knowledge is scientific. For example, an amberjack I once caught and tagged off the South Carolina coast was recaptured months later off Florida.

And some of that knowledge is whimsical. Once, while tagging a spotted seatrout in Charleston, I realized I did not have anything on board to measure the fish.

Surveying the situation, I placed the fish on top of a 48-quart Igloo cooler and counted off the number of squares on the patterned plastic. I put that information on the card and mailed it in. Several days later, I received a query from Kay Davy, who headed DNR's tagging program at the time, asking me the size of the Igloo cooler because the squares are different on different-sized coolers.

Reflecting on those fish and others that I've tagged and had recaptured, I read with interest a couple of articles on tagging that were sent to me this week, one from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and the other from the Cooperative Science Services Dolphin Tagging Research Project headed by former DNR biologist Don Hammond of James Island. Both pointed out the importance of recreational anglers assisting the scientific community in studies that will help manage different fish species.

The dolphin tagging study also pointed out the importance of anglers quickly filling out tag cards and returning them. A tag was recovered from a dolphin recaptured in the Bahamas, but the person who first tagged the fish failed to turn the card in. Hammond asks that participants in the dolphin tagging study check their tackle boxes and storage drawers for old cards and send them in promptly.

The latest newsletter from the dolphin study focuses on dolphin information off South Carolina.
Four pop- off archival tags have been deployed off the U. S. East Coast, including two off South Carolina which were attached to 30-pound bull dolphin. The first was attached in June 2005 by Capt. Howard Moseley aboard the boat, Tag Team. The second was deployed in June 2006 by the crew of Capt. Dick Rakovich's boat, Jenny Lynn.

The fish were tracked for 10 and 6 days, respectively. The tags are programmed to pop off after a certain period of time and send the information (including pressure and temperature) back to the home base via satellite.

While most people think of dolphin as a surface- dwelling fish, these two fish made dives to more than 400 feet and spent 15 percent of the daytime and 29 percent of the night at depths below 30 meters (98 feet). As many as 40 deep dives ( beyond 30 meters) were made in a single day.
Information about the study and the knowledge that has been gained is available at

DNR's tagging program has been going on since 1974. When it began volunteers were tagging almost every species found in South Carolina waters, but because of the overwhelming success the number of taggers is now limited and they are asked to tag only certain species where more data is needed.

Interestingly, the top tagger last year in the program was Gary DenBraven of Surfside Beach.
DenBraven tagged 254 fish, all from the Surfside Pier. DNR said most of the fish tagged by Den Braven were small coastal sharks such as Atlantic sharpnose and smooth dogfish.

DNR biologists expect his tagging to provide greater insights into the spawning activities of small coastal sharks.

If you catch a tagged fish, you can report it by phone at 1- 888 824-7472 or mail information to DNR Marine Gamefish Tagging Program, P.O. Box 129559, Charleston, S.C. 29422-2559. If a tagged fish is caught, fishermen are encouraged to record the tag number, measure and record the total length and re-release the fish with the tag in place. Report the date, location and species to DNR. The International Game Fish Association (IGFA) will hold an IGFA Certified Observer training class March 32 at the Marine Resources Division of the S.C Department of Natural Resources at Fort Johnson on James Island.

Applications are available at the IGFA website,

Applications must be completed and mailed or faxed (954-924 4220) to IGFA accompanied by a $150 fee. The fee covers the cost of the training class, an observer's handbook with species identification video and a oneyear membership in IGFA.

The class will train and certify experienced anglers, boat captains and crew members as observers for fishing tournaments around the world.

The one- day training period will begin at 9 a.m. with the following topics covered: program overview; species identification; IGFA saltwater fishing rules and regulations; safety at sea; and boating etiquette. At the end of the instruction, there will be a written exam which will take approximately 30- 45 minutes to complete.

Attendees will be notified of their certification within a week of the class. Any candidate who fils the exam will have further opportunities to retake the exam at no additional cost.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Sweaters for dolphins

Sweaters for dolphins? Some people in Washington state are knitting hats, mittens and sweaters for dolphins. It's their way of needling the Navy.

The knitters are protesting the Navy's plans to use dolphins from warm San Diego to guard a Trident submarine base in cold Washington. The Navy insists the dolphins won't get the chills. Officials say the animals will patrol for only two hours apiece, before returning to their heated enclosures.

Dolphin born in captivity is now 54 years old!

Nellie may be known as the world's oldest bottlenose dolphin born in captivity, but she still gets her kicks, and marine-lovers say they're impressed by her youthful vigor.

She squirted out a candle atop an ice and fish birthday cake Tuesday morning. And the 54-year-old Pisces leaped into the air before dozens of clicking cameras, drawing oohs and ahhs from the children, parents and grandparents who gathered around her tank for the celebration.

A chorus of "Happy Birthday" rang through the Dolphin Conservation Center at Marineland, and later, about 70 people grabbed slices of a yellow cake with white frosting topped off with an image of Nellie.

Nellie's fame lives beyond her age. She's known for her old Smokey the Bear routine in which she put out camp fires by squirting water on them. She was once featured in a Timex commercial, and participated in a Benji movie. And she's the official mascot for Jacksonville University.

She's also distinguished for being a little on the heavy side, or "big-boned" as Marineland employees like to tease her. An average dolphin might weigh 400 pounds, said Billy Hurley, the center's general manager. Nellie weighs in at 480.

But the park likes it that way, Hurley said. It's a nice cushion in case she feels like not eating. Her birthday cakes have been made from paper maiche, Play-Doh and from the traditional flour and egg, which Marineland employees said left goop in the water.

She celebrated with longtime buddy Lilly, a blonde-colored bottlenose dolphin who park employees estimate to be about 50 years old, which is old for a dolphin in captivity.

Kevin Roberts, who works for Marineland, said Nellie has had at least two calves, one of which, Sunny, lives at the park. Nellie's grandson Bailey lives at SeaWorld in Orlando.

Hurley said Nellie's healthy and scientists say her vocalization and general energy are that of a dolphin in its 20s. Hurley said his only concerns about her next birthday are old age and Mother Nature.

"I'll be deeply saddened when the day comes that Mother Nature calls her home," Hurley said. "Until then, we're going to live every day like there won't be another. To that end, every day is a birthday for her at Marineland."

Nellie's not blind, but her eyesight has diminished over the past decade, Hurley said, which isn't a problem because she uses echolocation. With echolocation, dolphins, like bats and some other animals, emit high-pitched sounds that bounce off an object to determine its whereabouts.

And like other aging mammals, Nellie's metabolism has slowed and she's mellowed out, Hurley said.

"At age 54, scientists are very interested in what her blood chemistry looks like, because we've never had a chance to study those in an animal that old," Hurley said. "That's really important, because as we try to understand wild populations of dolphins and the challenges they face, geriatric concerns have to be weighed."

Flint, Mich., visitors Marina Kimeall and her 13-year-old son Gavin walked away from Nellie's tank with smiles.

Gavin said he was surprised he could get so close to the animals, and coming to Nellie's party has certainly made the vacation worthwhile.

The last time Gavin's mother, 44, saw Nellie, she was also 13.

"I think it's awesome," she said about Nellie's party. "I think they need to be celebrated. I think the work that happens is important to us all."

Randy Wells, a program manager at Mote Marine Laboratories in Sarasota, said he's used Nellie as an example when talking about older dolphins. He's been with the world's longest running study of wild bottlenose dolphins since its beginning 37 years ago.

Scientists watch over about 150 dolphins in the Sarasota Bay area. Included in the study is Niklo, a female estimated to be 57, and who may be the oldest bottlenose dolphin in the world, Wells said, with an emphasis on known.

"There aren't a lot of people aging dolphins," Wells said.

During the 1970s, scientists used to think bottlenose dolphins could only live to be 25 or 30, and that 30 was a dangerous age for a dolphin to breed. But when Niklo was 48, she gave birth to a calf.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"