Sunday, December 30, 2007

Stuntwoman rescues a pod of dolphins stranded on New Zealand beach

She's clung on to speeding vehicles, thrown herself off 15m high platforms and been set on fire. Now she's rescued a pod of stranded dolphins.

New Zealand stuntwoman-turned-lead actress Zoe Bell was spending the week with her parents on Great Barrier Island and was on Okupu Beach with her flatmate in Los Angeles, Elaine Browne, when they spotted a pod of six dolphins swimming close to the shore.

Her flatmate saw the fins first and asked if they were sharks.

"They weren't moving like dolphins so I was thinking it was a very shallow shark feeding frenzy and I was pretty excited because I hadn't seen one of those," said Bell, who stars in the Quentin Tarantino movie Death Proof and was Uma Thurman's stunt double in Kill Bill: Vol 1.

The dolphins were in about 30cm of water and the pair tried shifting them.

"Elaine and I had to literally manhandle the dolphins. I mean, they were all just muscle, just dorsal fins and muscle."

But the dolphins kept swimming back.

"They were really stressed and panicking. If you put your head underwater you could hear them going nuts underwater, screaming."

Locals soon joined them. Together they sat with the dolphins and kept them wet until they calmed down.

Up to a dozen people got involved in the midday drama on Saturday. "It certainly wasn't just me saving dolphins, you know what I mean, it was a massive team effort," Bell said.

Eventually the dolphins calmed down and slowly swam out.

"It was a definitely once-in-a-lifetime experience. "

DoC ranger Halema Jamieson said that after speaking to the rescuers he believed the mammals were likely to be common dolphins.

A similar stranding had taken place at Okupu about a year ago, but no one really knew why.
"Although they seem to be stranding, it's really unusual for dolphins to strand, and especially on an incoming tide, so it's quite possible the animals were coming into really shallow water either to feed, or possibly to calve."

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Central Florida is puzzled by the 81 whale and dolphin strandings in 2007

With 81 whales and dolphins stranded alive or dead this year in east Central Florida, scientists are wondering whether something natural or unusual is at play.“This area is highest of any in the state,” Megan Stolen, a research biologist at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute in Orlando, said in a statement released today.Brevard’s 48 strandings make up almost 6 in every 10 of the strandings within the four-county area Hubbs-SeaWorld researchers cover: Brevard, St. Johns, Flagler and Volusia counties. Brevard County has 72 miles of beaches.

This year is shaping up to be the highest dolphin and whale stranding year in the region since 2002. In 2005 there were only 49. Last year, there were 71 strandings of whales and dolphins within the same 4-county area.“Many things could be adding to this year’s count,” said Wendy Noke, one of the lead scientists on Hubbs’ team. “What we’re seeing could be part of a trend that will best be understood over the span of five to 10 more years of data.”More dolphin strandings could be on the way.

Recent studies have shown that bottlenose dolphins can die several weeks after exposure to red tide. The tide’s lingering toxins that build up in the dolphins’ systems as they eat menhaden and other fish.“The extent of the red tide problem in Florida’s dolphin and whale population isn’t yet clear,” said Duane De Freese, vice president of Research for HubbsSeaWorld Research Institute. “We have seen nine dolphin deaths on the Central Atlantic Coast since December 12 and that’s high, but we have to do the lab tests to prove what the cause of death was.”

That testing won’t be complete for several days, De Freese said.Hubbs has the “first responder” role for whale and dolphin strandings on Florida’s East Coast.

Dolphin's language is no longer a mystery

HUMANS have taken a major step forward in unlocking the mysteries of dolphin-speak and found their communication is more complicated than originally thought.

A researcher who spent three years listening to bottlenose dolphins living off the coast of Byron Bay has found certain whistles are linked to specific behaviour.

PhD candidate Liz Hawkins from Southern Cross University's Whale Research Centre in Lismore listened in to more than 50 different pods of dolphins.

Using the starting and final frequency of the sound and its duration, she distinguished 186 distinct whistle types among the 1650 recorded, of which 20 were common to more than one pod.

Ms Hawkins also grouped the whistles into five classes based on tone and found they were related to certain behaviour.

While socialising, dolphins made almost exclusively flat-toned or rising-toned whistles.

Travelling pods made mostly "sine" whistles, which rise and fall in bell curves, which Ms Hawkins suggested could be advertising their pod to other pods.

"They could be talking to another pod and saying 'We are over here . . . do you want to join?'," she said yesterday.

Resting was associated with "concave" whistles, sounds that went down in pitch and back up again, while downward toned whistles were not found to be associated with any particular behaviour.

One particular whistle was associated with feeding.

"They could be advertising they have found food, they could be advertising to other animals there is food there, or it could be referred to a particular type of feeding or a particular type of food," Ms Hawkins suggested.

Ms Hawkins noticed dolphins riding the bow wave her boat created had often made a particular sound, while in early research she found a group of dolphins living off Queensland's Moreton Island emitted a particular whistle when alone.

"That whistle could mean: 'I'm here, where is everyone?"', she said in New Scientist magazine.
Ms Hawkins said the sounds were not evidence of a language but showed the dolphins were communicating "context-specific information".

"A specialist in linguistics would not call this a language," she said.

"They are wild animals and generally wild animals only make sounds or transmit information that is essential to their survival.

"It suggests their communication is a lot more complex than what was generally thought."

Ms Hawkins said she hoped to take the project underwater to observe dolphin behaviour and match the whistles to actions.

"There is only so much information you can get from looking at the surface activity," she said.
"You really need to get under the water and to somehow eavesdrop and look what's going on with their lives under there."

Cambodia is doing everything to promote dolphin tourism

Measures are being implemented in Cambodia to secure the future of dolphin populations, according to reports.The country is acting to protect Mekong River dolphins in the mountainous provinces of Crache and StungCheng.

These measures are part of the Asian country's ongoing efforts to alleviate poverty and promote tourism in northern areas, the Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reports.Figures from the Cambodian tourism ministry suggest that around 80,000 local tourists and 12,200 foreign visitors came to the provinces to go on dolphin tours last year.

This demand was estimated to have contributed some $3.12m (£1.56m) to local economies.Cambodia's Mekong River is home to some 100 rare and endangered freshwater dolphins, according to the VNA.The country is located in south-east Asia, with a coastline on the Gulf of Thailand and borders with Vietnam, Thailand and Laos.Opodo cheap flights and hotels - let the journey begin!

Red tide is the prime suspect in dolphins' deaths

Since Wednesday, nine dead dolphins have washed ashore between New Smyrna Beach and Melbourne Beach.Last week, a dead manatee was found in the Sebastian River in Brevard County.And so far this month, about 30 dead sea turtles have appeared on beaches, most in Brevard County.

Though they are still awaiting confirmation from test results, scientists suspect that red tide, the algae bloom that has invaded the state's Atlantic coast beaches, is likely to blame for the animals' deaths.A bloom that first appeared in the Jacksonville area about three months ago appears to be slowly meandering south, with medium concentrations in New Smyrna Beach and Cocoa Beach and high concentrations in Vero Beach, according to recent tests.

Though it has caused scattered fish kills, red tide's latest victims seem to be the mammals and reptiles of the sea.Red-tide experts can't say when this bloom will disappear. Recent cold weather is unlikely to have an effect, but winds associated with it could push the red tide out to sea -- or could push it closer to shore.Consisting of one-celled algae, red tide emits a toxin that can cause respiratory irritation when people inhale it and kill animals that ingest it.

Fish often eat the algae, and dolphins are typically exposed when they eat those fish. Once released into the water, the toxin tends to stick to sea grasses. When manatees and sea turtles eat those grasses, they, too, can be poisoned.The dolphins, most of which were found along Canaveral National Seashore and New Smyrna Beach, were badly decomposed, bitten up by sharks, and had been dead for several days, according to Megan Stolen, a research biologist at Orlando-based Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute, which removed the dolphins and will test them for red tide.

Martine deWit, an associate research scientist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, said there could be more manatee deaths and added that red tide-related manatee deaths often continue, even after a bloom has left an area. The toxin sticks around, she said.Since October, four manatees have died from red tide in Volusia and Brevard counties. Test results haven't come back yet for the one found last week.Red tide originates in the Gulf of Mexico, where it has been known to cause massive fish kills and kill dolphins, sea turtles and manatees, but researchers believe that a rare set of circumstances brought it to the East Coast this year.

Stolen said she hoped the changing weather would push the red tide away and keep more dolphins from washing ashore, but she said more dolphin deaths are possible."We're not out of the woods yet."To report a dead marine animal, call the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922.

Pregnant dolphin washed up on UK shore

The 3.2m (10.5ft) long female bottlenose dolphin weighed 370kg and was carrying a female calf. It washed up on the shore of the Lizard.

Experts said there was no obvious cause of death but it could have been sick and had trouble feeding.

A team of 10 volunteers helped retrieve the animal and a post-mortem examination is being carried out at laboratories in Truro.

It means that we've lost two generations of a scarce animal in one stranding
Jan Loveridge

Nick Tregenza, a local expert on cetaceans, said the animal could have belonged to a rare pod of eight dolphins living off the coast of Cornwall or much larger and different groups that exist further from the UK.

He said: "Although we obviously don't want to see animals lost from either population, even a single animal lost from the inshore group threatens its long term survival.

"Over the last 10 years, the group has been just hanging on to survival and three have been recorded dead this year alone."

Mr Tregenza said dolphins off the Cornish coast faced the threat of pollution and being caught in fishing gear.

Female dolphins become pregnant once in three years. One in 10 will be pregnant.

Jan Loveridge, marine strandings network co-ordinator for Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said: "We were very concerned to see this dolphin because, although we record so many, it's always particularly sad to find pregnant females, especially when it's one of this species.

"It means that we've lost two generations of a scarce animal in one stranding."

Here are some facts about Hector's dolphin

There are two sub-species of Hector's dolphin - the South Island Hector's dolphin and Maui dolphins, which are found in the North Island. Maui's dolphin used to be known as North Island Hector's dolphin.

The dolphins are the world's rarest dolphins with around 8,000 South Island Hector's dolphins thought to be alive.

Hector's dolphins are one of the smallest marine dolphins in the world growing no more than 1.5 metres in length and weighing between 40kg and 60kg.

Hector's dolphins are grey with black and white markings, a round black dorsal fin and a short snout.

Hector's dolphins are found around the coast of the South Island concentrated between Haast and Farewell Spit in the west, around Banks Peninsula in the east, and Te Waewae Bay and Porpoise Bay/Te whanaga aihe in the south.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Can the red tide be responsible for the death of seven dolphins?

A dead dolphin was found along the shoreline near Kennedy Space Center on Friday, making it the seventh death in the past three days.

Another dolphin was also found dead in the same area on Thursday, and a second dolphin also washed ashore in New Smyrna Beach. A baby dolphin with its umbilical cord attached was found nearby. The baby dolphin was not added to the official total because it hadn't yet been born.
A rescue effort also continued on Friday in the Mosquito Lagoon for two additional dolphins trapped there. It's not known if those dolphins are ill.

Biologists are working to determine whether the dolphin deaths are related to a growing red tide problem along Central Florida's beaches. Samples were taken from the dolphin carcasses on Thursday for examination.

"This could be totally unrelated to red tide, but right now it's a pretty big coincidence that there have been dead turtles, dead sea birds, dead fish and now dolphins," biologist Megan Stolen said on Thursday.

Four other dolphins were found on Wednesday at the northern end of the Canaveral National Seashore. They were removed by the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute based in Orlando.
Researchers said the dolphins can breathe in the red-tide toxin and feed on fish that have been affected.

Golf course has unusual neighbors: dolphins!

Probably the most rewarding thing about a round of golf - other than a roped 240-yard 3-wood over water to six feet - is when you are a witness to nature in action.

Dataw Island is a small coastal community near Beaufort, SC. I'm still not all that sure where it is exactly, but you pass over a bunch of bridges to get there. It's a small, friendly community where everyone waves when they pass one another on the road. The posted speed limit is 30 mph, but going any faster than 25 doesn't feel right.

The private Cotton Dike course on Dataw Island plays along an old cotton dike and saltwater marsh for about six holes. The par-5 18th, doglegging around the marsh is a beauty. Members call it a kind of an '18th at Pebble Beach of the East'. Take away the jagged rocks and crashing waves of Monterey and insert more peaceful marshland and you get the idea.

You tee off as the squeal of dolphins echo nearby. Once you're in the fairway, you can see their fins swimming around in the water.

Something totally unique to Dataw however, is that when the tide is out, the dolphins will rapidly swim around in circles (you can tell by watching their fins), then somehow trap a fish onto the muddy banks. The dolphin then wiggles itself up onto the mud, eats the fish, and rolls back into the water in search of its next meal.

It's something locals say in these marshes it's the only known place in the world dolphins practice this method. That might be debatable (right now there's probably some island boy in Fiji reading this claim and shaking his head), but it's certainly cooler to watch than a trainer feeding dead fish by hand at Sea World. At certain times of year, you can see a family of dolphins passing the trick down to their young. It makes an already great 18th hole truly special.

This is the kind of wildlife I like seeing on a golf course - not coming face to face with a giant gator. I left Dataw with a good score and $10 in winnings after a match with some members, but I think it's seeing these dolphins in the shadow of the 18th green that is a capper on what will be a round I remember for a long time.

Skin disease affects dolphins living in the Gippsland Lakes!

Scientists from the Dolphin Research Institute are still baffled by a skin disease affecting dolphins in the Gippsland Lakes in south-east Victoria.

Most of the dolphins in the lakes have developed skin lesions since the floods in July and nine dolphins have been found dead there in the past two years.

Researchers held meetings with vets from the Melbourne Zoo and the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) last week to try and identify the problem.

Dolphin Research Institute executive director Jeff Weir says he is trying to raise funds to continue the investigation.

"It may well be ... that they've come into this environment in a 10-year drought and they've been able to survive quite well where the salinity has been fairly high, and it may be that, look, we really don't know," he said.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Can Cambodia save the Irrawaddy dolphin?

Cambodia's endangered Irrawaddy dolphin could be saved from extinction by a plan to reduce villagers' dependence on fishing and promote tourism near the animal's habitat in the Mekong River, officials said Tuesday.

The plan — funded by US$100,000 (€68,185) from the government and US$600,000 (€410,110) from the World Tourism Organization — will introduce alternative means of livelihood to villages along the river in two northeastern provinces, Tourism Minister Thong Khon said.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, an estimated 80 to 110 dolphins remain in Cambodia's stretch of the Mekong River, but about a dozen die each year. The WWF has classified the species as "critically endangered."

"The main cause of dolphins' deaths is fishing. So we want to encourage people to grow vegetables, raise fish in ponds or pilot boats to take tourists to see dolphins instead," Thong Khon said.

While many of the dolphins have died from being trapped in villagers' fishing nets, fishing is also depleting their food supply, he said.

The conservation plan, called the Mekong River Discovery Trail Project, will promote poverty alleviation through tourism development, the WTO said in a statement.

Thong Khon said dolphin conservation and tourism development are closely linked to improved living conditions for people. "No dolphins means no tourism. No tourism means no development," he said.

The plan is supposed to draw visitors to view the dolphin, which lives in 10 natural deep-water pools in a 190-kilometer (120-mile) stretch of the Mekong River, mostly between the capitals of Kratie and Stung Treng provinces, the WTO said.

The project will begin community-based tourism and training for villagers this month, it said.
Harsh Varma, director of the WTO's Development Assistance Department, described the project as "sustainable pro-poor tourism." The organization said about 30 percent of households in Kratie and 50 percent in Stung Treng live on less than US$1 (€0.68) a day.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Concerns have been raised by dolphins' health in Gippsland Lakes, in Australia

Concerns have been raised about the health of the dolphins in the Gippsland Lakes.

Jeff Weir from the Dolphin Research Institute says many have developed lesions, which appear to be a result of a fungal infection.

At least nine have died in the last nine months.

He says it is still unclear what the cause is, but it could be linked to recent flooding in the area.
"It might be that when the saltwater regime settles down, it might be over the next few months it might be that this all settles down too," he said.

"But if it doesn't then we all need to be prepared and put a lot more field effort down there."

Beached dolphins' deaths are under investigation

World Conservation Union experts inspect coastlines in Iran's southern Hormozgan province as part of a probe into recent dolphin deaths. "Two World Conservation Union experts have inspected 200km of Hormozgan coastlines," said the province's marine life deputy, Mojtaba Fadakar.

"The experts, who arrived here two days ago to find out what caused the dolphin deaths on the Persian Gulf coasts, have said the data they gathered must be analyzed before any theory on the event can be announced," he added. Almost a month ago, up to 70 dolphins that had beached themselves on the coast of the southeastern port of Jask perished after all attempts to rescue them failed.

The incident was very similar to one that had occurred around a month earlier in the same area.

Reports vary on the cause of the incident.The Jask coastline and the Persian Gulf waters in eastern Hormozgan are among the country's cleanest areas; therefore the incidents could not have been attributed to pollution, Fadakar said, adding, "International experts agree with regional marine biologists on that point."

The two Spanish and British IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) experts are to announce their findings after analyzing the collected data in their home countries.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"