Saturday, January 26, 2008

Studying dolphins in their natural habitat

You can imagine his reaction. Up from Port Charlotte, he was visiting his grandma, Charmeine Smith of Treasure Island. She’d arranged for him to spend time with one of her friends.At 17 years old, JR Smith must have quietly sighed as he agreed, “Sure, Grandma, love to spend the morning with your friend.”The trials of youth.His grandmother’s friend studies dolphins. She took him to see.He was impressed by the vigor of the 32 dolphins they saw arguing over sex, hurling into the sky and shooting through the water like cannonballs.

His grandmother’s friend was impressed too: Comfortable, courteous and curious, JR inspired her to think about dolphins and sharks in a whole new way.It started when he asked me if he could name the next dolphin Osiris.Absolutely. Osiris was a chief Egyptian god, the source of life, fruitfulness and all beneficent agencies.

After he had been slain by his brother Set, the personification of evil, Osiris became the judge of the dead and roamed the earth as the sacred bull Apis. Neatly, the next dolphin who needed a name was a mother with an older calf. Osiris and her calf Apis are not residents of the backwaters. They probably live in the Gulf of Mexico and visit here during the summers. They split their time evenly between solitude and socializing with a small, predictable group of companions, mainly other mothers with younger calves.

Osiris has a good memory because she remembers us although we don’t see her that often. Apis still swims with Osiris though old enough to strike out on its own. It’s very energetic, even for a dolphin its age, and plays particularly hard with other calves. But it plays nice. Creative and bold, Apis plays long games of catch or keep away and ventures over to ‘snort the engine,’ poking and prodding pals en route. But companions have yet to replace Osiris in Apis’ life.We first noticed Osiris’ shark scars one warm September morning last year.

Two groups of dolphins swam slowly around the edge of a large bay, far from boat traffic. They swam rhythmically, pacing the valiant efforts of 3-day-old Babyface.New mother Face and good old Tanks flanked the baby tightly. A second rank of dolphins paced nearby, Osiris and X among them. Calves Little X and Apis played briskly as they went. Osiris had two shark scars. The scar in front of her dorsal fin was old and well healed.

The scar behind it was newer, thicker and still healing. We didn’t see Osiris and Apis again until they returned this May. Sometimes miles beyond John’s Pass, they were usually within a mile of it either on the inside in the backwaters or outside in the Gulf of Mexico. They seemed to come inside for some specific activity; when they finished, they headed for the Gulf directly. Inside, they hunted the fruitful shallows, snoozed in large groups, or wandered the periphery of bottlenose bullfights. One shiny autumn day, dolphins slid into John’s Pass from the backwaters and slipped into the Gulf. The Gulf was as flat as a facet on an emerald.

A pushy ebb current shoved backwaters against bulky Gulf waters, making broad glassy circles of poetic disturbance.But the calm belied violence: Osiris had a raw shark bite in front of her dorsal fin where the old scar had been. It’s hard to approach dolphins with new shark bites. We don’t try too hard; they’re already stressed. Luckily, perhaps, Osiris’ companions knew about sharks; Front Slash, Scarface, Leading Dent and Sharkey all have scars of their own.Among the 27 percent of local dolphins with shark scars, Osiris is in the small subset of dolphins with multiple scars.

She revealed that dolphins could get bit at least three different times. This was the new way of thinking JR inspired.His namesake suggested something else. Osiris was thin this summer. A fruitful investigation would be the association between feeding stress and shark bites. Chronic hunger creates vulnerability, which predators are designed to find. Carefully collected data could reveal the direction of the relationship: get thin and get bit or get bit and get thin. Dear Osiris, may the gods of beneficence be with you.

Dolphin's carcass washed up on Sussex Beach

A dead dolphin washed up on the Sussex shore among pieces of timber yesterday.
The mammal was seen on the shore outside the wall of Brighton Marina at about midday.
It is not known whether the dolphin was affected by the wood which washed up along the Sussex coastline over the weekend.

Eyewitness Peter Arnott-Jop, said: "It was quite near the water's edge and is about 6ft long. It looks like it might have been dead in the water for a while."

A spokesman for the Marine Conservation Society said: "We had it reported yesterday at about midday.

"We actually put the call on to the Natural History Museum. They will come and collect the specimen and perform an autopsy to find out the cause of death."

What are the possible effects of floods on dolphins?

Marine scientists are concerned how the dolphin population on the New South Wales north coast will cope with the impact of the floods.

They are concerned that the dirty water and contaminated fish will impact on the dolphins and their calving season.

Dr Liz Hawkins, a scientist with the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre, says the region has one of the biggest populations of bottlenose dolphins.

"The population out there at the moment is one of the largest recorded to date," she said.
"We've got a very big population out there, but we have a lot of dolphins moving in and out, so they're not here all year round.

"My estimates indicate that we've got about 860 dolphins using the Byron Bay, Brunswick and Ballina areas."

People wanting to know more about dolphins and the marine environment can do so at a series of Oceanteach sessions, starting in Byron from January 24.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Southern right whale dolphin was found in Cannon Beach

An unusual discovery was made in Cannon Beach on Saturday.

Greenpeace Scientists say it's rare to see a southern right whale dolphin so far north. The dolphin was found washed up in Cannon Beach.

Crews with the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network recovered the body of a Wright Whale Dolphin in South Cannon Beach.

Keith Chandler with the Stranding Network said they have never seen a Wright Whale Dolphin this far north.

That particular dolphin usually exists off the coast of Southern California and researchers aren’t sure how it ended up this far north.

Beached dolphin driven back to safety

A beached dolphin was saved by a team of rescuers who released it back into the sea, after driving it to safety.

The mammal could not be put back into the water where it had washed up because of heavy seas, so it was driven 11km (seven miles) to Carbis Bay, Cornwall, on a trailer.

'He stayed around just long enough to say “thanks for the ride” then he was away,' said volunteer rescuer Dave Jarvis.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Can Gippsland Lakes dolphins be all gone?

A research team conducting a survey of dolphins on the Gippsland Lakes has failed to spot a single resident dolphin, but say it is too early to tell whether a recent bloom of blue-green algae has driven them away.

A team of researchers from the Dolphin Research Institute spent three days conducting a dolphin survey on Lakes King, Victoria and Wellington and connecting waterways, but didn't spot any of the population of around 50 to 60 dolphins that regularly reside in the system.

An outbreak of blue-green algae, which was reported in the Gippsland Lakes system earlier this month, has turned parts of the lakes an iridescent shade of green. But researchers say they can't be sure whether the algal bloom has affected the dolphins or caused them to leave the lakes system.

It is the first time the researchers have conducted a survey in January and they say other factors, such as heavy use of the lakes by recreational boat users at this time of year, may have contributed to their inability to find dolphins.

People haven't seen them for over a week to three weeks .

Kate Charlton, a research officer with the Dolphin Research Institute and a Monash University PhD student, said the researchers scoured the lake thoroughly in their pursuit of dolphins.

"We've not been very successful in finding our dolphins this trip which is something in itself because we know the areas that they tend to like to hang out in. We've well and truly covered those areas and we've not been able to find them."

Kate said anecdotal reports of dolphin sightings from community members in the Gippsland Lakes region also indicated that the dolphins were keeping a low profile.

"We do always get reports about where they are seeing the animals and how many. What we have reports over the last little while is that people haven't seen them for over a week to three weeks. What we are finding is consistent with what the community is telling us."

At this stage we have more questions than answers.

The research team is surveying the dolphin population to monitor an outbreak of skin lesions which began appearing on the Gippsland Lakes' dolphin population in November.

"The lesions are a secondary fungal skin infection, indicating that it's attacking animals that are compromised in another way," Kate said.

She said the Dolphin Research Institute was tracking the dolphins to monitor the progression of lesions and working with other agencies to figure out what may have caused them in the first instance.

"At this stage we have more questions than answers."

At this stage we don't have any evidence to suggest that it [the algae] is detrimental.

Kate said researchers were also concerned about how the recent bloom of blue-green algae may be affecting dolphins who were suffering from lesions.

"It is the first time we've had dolphins with lesions and algae. They do have the ability to move out of the system and they are top predators so they can feed on multiple different fish species and squid.
"It is a concern and that's why we are down here having a look, but at this stage we don't have any evidence to suggest that it [the algae] is detrimental."

Kate said if people found a dead or stranded dolphin in the Gippsland Lakes they should contact the Dolphin Research Institute, the Victorian Strandings Network or the Department of Sustainability and Environment.

"While it's unfortunate that these animals do die, the amount of information we can get out of their deaths is crucial to managing these populations," she said.

Brookfield's zoo loses dolphin!

Micco, a 6-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin at Brookfield Zoo, died Sunday, apparently of complications from a respiratory infection, officials said.Animal-care staff first became concerned about Micco in December, when he stopped eating normally, officials said.He was put on a regimen of antibiotics and other medicine as a precaution.

Although that seemed to improve his appetite for a while, Micco took a turn for the worse this weekend and died as trainers and animal-care staff examined him to determine the cause of his illness. Trainers administered CPR and heart stimulants but could not revive the dolphin."It's a very tragic loss for everyone at the zoo," said Kim Smith, vice president of animal care. "They went to great measures to treat and save this animal."

Staff members still are working to find the cause of Micco's illness. Initial postmortem reports indicate a severe infection in his trachea. According to experts, respiratory ailments are the No. 1 cause of death in dolphins, both in captivity and in the wild.Smith said the cause likely was something environmental that may not have affected a mature dolphin so severely."We suspect that it was a fungus," Smith said.

"While the rest of the population would not be susceptible to that ... juvenile male dolphins are particularly susceptible."Micco was relatively young, Smith said, adding that an average Atlantic bottlenose dolphin can live into its 30s.Micco was one of Brookfield's eight dolphins, a group that includes Micco's mother, Kaylee, 14, and grandmother, Tapeko, 25.The other dolphins are being monitored in the wake of Micco's death, Smith said, because dolphins are very social animals and may be affected by his absence.

India: Indus dolphin discovered in unlikely waterway

Wildlife in India is incredibly resilient. Nothing else can explain the discovery of dolphins recently in the unlikeliest of places—the Harike wetland in Punjab, which has so far been famous as a winter habitat for migratory waterfowl from lands as far away as Siberia.

The first sighting in Harike of the Indus dolphin (Platanista gangetica minor), one of the seven surviving freshwater species of the aquatic mammal, and classified as a critically endangered species in the Red Data Book of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, has spread waves of amazement among wildlife enthusiasts.

“In India’s drab wildlife scenario, this is the most significant find. It adds to the diversity of the country’s aquatic system,” says B.C. Choudhary, an authority on freshwater dolphins with the endangered species management wing of the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun.

The Eureka moment came on December 14, when Basanta Rajkumar, divisional forest officer in charge of the Harike wildlife sanctuary, was patrolling on a boat to follow up on reports of an unusually big fish in the huge water reservoir formed by the confluence of the Sutlej and the Beas.
Initially, it was presumed to be the mahseer, a species of trout not common in the area.

“When I noticed the smooth hump of the creature rapidly flipping out of the water, Iknew it was a dolphin,” he says. A week later, a World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-India team, led by Sandeep Bahera, a freshwater dolphin conservationist, vindicated his surmise after sighting a family of half a dozen dolphins at two different places along the 25-km stretch upstream of the Beas.

With the United Nations declaring 2007 to be the Year of the Dolphin, the chance discovery couldn’t have come at a better time.

So far, the only known sweet-water dolphin in India has been the Gangetic dolphin (Platanista gangetica gantetica), which inhabits the Ganga-Brahmaputra system.

The Indus dolphin has been reported in the Indus river and its tributaries in Pakistan, which were once linked with the river system of Punjab. Last sighted in Punjab in the 1930s, the Indus dolphin was thereafter believed to have become extinct.

A family of half a dozen dolphins was sighted at two different places upstream of the BeasThough the origin of the Harike dolphins is still not clear, experts believe this to be a small sub-group of the Indus species that got separated from the main population because of the construction of dams and barrages on the Indus river system in the 1950s, but survived extinction due to an ideal habitat.

“These are resident breeding stock which survived in the Beas,” says Bahera—a possibility corroborated by the fact that the Indus dolphin is common in the same tributary about 140 km downstream of the Harike barrage, in Pakistan.

With locals reporting native dolphins, known as bhuland (meaning big fish), for over a century, experts believe Indus dolphins have existed in Harike area for long but have somehow escaped scientific sighting.

Authorities, however, are not ruling out the possibility that the dolphins travelled upstream into the Beas from the Indus tributaries in Pakistan during the 1988 floods, but this seems improbable considering the barrages on the way.

Of the Gangetic species, only 1,800 dolphins are reported to have survived. Despite a WWF conservation programme, their number has been dwindling due to degradation of habitat.

Plagued by an alarming level of pollution, encroachments, indiscriminate fishing and government apathy, the ecological wonderland of Harike, too, faces a serious threat, as reflected in the dwindling number and species of migratory birds in recent years.

This grim reality check has toned down the euphoria over the discovery. “This is a very small population of rare dolphins, which needs immediate conservation efforts,” says the WWF report.
The area of illegal encroachments in Harike is pegged at 650 hectares, most of it dating back to the 1980s, when Harike was a popular hideout for terrorists. Cultivation has led to the destruction of tall grass—a natural habitat for birds.

The pesticide and fertiliser run-off from fields has added to the alarming level of pollutants. About 310 million litre of domestic and industrial effluent flows into the Sutlej and the Beas across Punjab every day. While the Sutlej has already turned into a toxic trove and a biological desert, two industries and seven towns discharge their effluents into the Beas.

Pollution is the root cause of another serious problem— the spread of hyacinth, an obnoxious weed which now covers two-thirds of the lake.

Indiscriminate fishing, which yields a revenue of Rs 1 crore a year for the Fisheries Department, has also been playing havoc with the habitat of migratory birds, and is now seen as a major threat to the dolphins.

Prohibited in 1999, when the sanctuary was declared protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, fishing continues to thrive in response to the demand for freshwater catch. Much of the degradation has stemmed from poor management. Eight government departments are involved in managing the wetland, with little coordination among them.

The funds are meagre and ill-timed. For instance, the State Council of Science and Technology (SCST), the nodal agency, sanctioned Rs 4 lakh for removal of hyacinth in November last year, ignoring the fact that waterfowl migrate to the sanctuary in winter. “We are only focusing on the protection of the wetland while habitat improvement is what it needs,” says Rajkumar.

Several plans for improvement are stuck in paperwork. One such plan by the Department of Forest and Wildlife for the development of the Harike habitat over the next 10 years, entailing a cost of Rs 32 crore, has been gathering dust for over a year.

“We will soon formulate an integrated plan,” says Neelima Jerath, additional director, SCST. The discovery of the dolphins comes as an excellent opportunity for the authorities to revive eco-tourism and garner funds from international agencies so that Harike’s endangered birds and dolphins no longer remain on a wing and a prayer.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hector's dolphins' toll of death rose in 2007

The number of hector's dolphins dying increased by two thirds in 2007 and more needs to be done to protect them, Forest and Bird says.

Department of Conservation figures showed 25 hector's dolphins, which are an endangered species, were found dead in 2007, up from 15 in 2006.

Forest and Bird conservation advocate Kirstie Knowles said the Government needed to act.
"Interim measures requiring that people don't leave set nets unattended in Kaikoura and Te Waewae Bay in Southland are not stopping dolphins from being killed.

"Comprehensive protection is urgently required if we are to prevent further deaths."

It was difficult to determine how the dolphins died because of decomposition, but one was confirmed to have been killed by becoming entangled in a set net.

A net was "probably" the cause of another death and "possibly" the cause of two others, Ms Knowles said.

Three were confirmed to have died of natural causes.

"The official figures are just the tip of the iceberg. We need to get serious about protecting them from human-induced threats.

"A comprehensive threat management plan including a total ban on set nets is urgently needed to protect this endangered species."

Ms Knowles said the Government had planned to implement a plan outlining protection measures for the dolphins by the end of 2006, but it had been delayed until March this year.

The interim measures put in place while the plan was being developed had done little to prevent deaths, she said.

The Government's condemnation of Japanese whaling was hypocritical when the dolphins, which were more seriously endangered, were not adequately protected in New Zealand waters, Ms Knowles said.

"We can't be taken seriously in criticising another country's actions in threatening endangered marine mammals while we are allowing our own endangered marine mammals to be killed at home."

The hector's dolphin is the world's rarest dolphin. About 7000 remain, down from about 26,000 in the 1970s, when set nets began to be widely used.

Set nets are banned or heavily restricted in many countries worldwide, including Australia, the UK and USA.

Can dolphins help soothe chronic pain?

"I woke up in recovery and couldn't breathe," said Claudia Rose.

Rose, 43, recalled waking up in the hospital after an operation to remove her gallbladder in November 2004. The surgery left her with internal scar tissue that restricted her diaphragm and upper rib cage — and caused her chronic pain.

But Rose, a distance swimmer with miles of ocean races behind her, returned to the water after a few months to recuperate, and got some unexpected help for her pain — dolphins.

Rose saw a pod of dolphins on her first post-surgery swim. The second time, the pod surrounded her and she swam with them.

But Rose believes her dolphin encounters are more than playful.

"I think they can detect the pain or that something is wrong," Rose said.

Dolphins tend to approach Rose when she is in severe pain, she said, and after these swims, she feels no pain for 10-12 days.

"It works much better than any drug or injection," Rose said.

Paging Dr. Doolittle?

Numerous studies have suggested that interacting with animals is beneficial to humans. For example, research has shown that owning a pet can have health benefits including lowered blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as reduced stress.

And some animals, like dogs with the ability to predict seizures, can have a direct impact on saving human lives.

But could it be possible that simply being around dolphins eases chronic pain?

Though Rose's physician, Joe Shurman, chair of pain management at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., chose not to comment on the validity of this idea, he did say that spending time with the gentle sea mammals could have some psychological benefits.

"The way dolphins swim and how gentle they are, it's almost like a meditative-type experience," Shurman said.

But dolphin experts are skeptical about whether dolphins can actually detect pain. Joan Mehew, director of the Special Needs Program at the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Fla., suggested the dolphins might be attracted to a swimmer because he or she is in their territory. They may simply be curious, or perhaps they have learned the swimmer's routine, she added.

"There is no measurable evidence that explains why certain things happen," Mehew said, regarding Rose's experience with dolphins.

Instead, Mehew said dolphins can detect abnormalities in a body, such as pacemakers or the double heartbeat of a pregnant woman, by echolocation. They may then respond by altering their own behavior. For example, dolphins at her center often swim more slowly in the presence of cancer patients, Mehew said.

Dolphin Therapy

Rose believes the connection goes further than this, however. She said that marine mammals have always had an affinity for her.

"Seals rub up against me, sea lions follow me, dolphins surround me," she said.

Once, after swimming with a pod of dolphins, Rose turned to swim ashore and a dolphin whacked her with its tail. Stunned for a moment, Rose returned to the shore where a lifeguard came to see whether she was all right. He told Rose dolphins usually hit another dolphin on a head with their tails when they begin to stray from the pod.

"They must have thought, 'Stupid defective dolphin, you're going the wrong way!'" Rose said.
And though contact with dolphins is unlikely to directly bring about pain relief, few doctors would tell Rose to cease her activities.

Swimming and water therapy are "ideal exercises for people in chronic pain" because there is no pressure on the joints and muscles, Shurman said. For Rose, swimming helps pull the ribs up and away from the injured tissues, which relieves her pain, as do the endorphins she gets from exercising.

Additionally, whether or not the dolphins Rose swims with actually respond to her pain, animal therapy is a well-documented way to cope with chronic pain and other ailments such as phobias, depression, fatigue and stress.

Rose continues to combat chronic pain in a variety of ways, including some medications and physical therapy, but she finds swimming more eases the pain.

"There is a mental boost from having [dolphins] there," she said.

Oldest dolphin tenant dies in Miami Seaquarium

April, the oldest dolphin at the Miami Seaquarium, and a resident of the park since 1970, died Tuesday morning. April was an Atlantic Bottlenose dolphin in her early forties. She had three offspring, Noel, Sky and Croix and four grandchildren, Denise, Aries, Rioux and Balboa. A necropsy will be performed to determine the cause of death. Dolphins in the wild have a life expectancy of about 40 years, and those in captivity typically live shorter lives.

“Due to her geriatric age we’ve been battling with her end-stage liver failure for two years, yet it is still devastating to lose such a dear animal that has been part of the Miami Seaquarium family for the past 37 years,” said Dr. Maya Menchaca Rodriguez, Miami Seaquarium veterinarian.

Since 1973, 63 dolphins, 54 sea lions, and one Orca have died in the care of the Miami Seaquarium.

A wild dolphin is wild even if it looks tamed!

A dolphin dubbed Moko has started giving the children holidaying in Mahia, south of Gisborne, rides in the shallows.

The friendly dolphin has been in the area for a while, having been sited last in August 2007. This time around, Moko is even friendlier than before.

But marine mammal expert Anton Van Helden warns that it may not all be fun and games, and people should be careful.

Helden says dolphins are large mammals which can behave unpredictably and there are also problems with disease.

"They (dolphins) may pick up diseases. They're not inoculated like we are so they could pick up things from us. These things can happen and some very nasty diseases are prevalent within dolphins and they're also transmissible to humans," says Helden.

In the 1950s another friendly dolphin Opo died mysteriously after wowing summer time beach goers.

Those catching the latest rides need to keep this in mind.

Fish die in Ganga River's dolphin sanctuary

Death of a large number of fishes along a stretch of the river Ganga, close to a dolphin sanctuary in Bihar's Bhagalpur district, has left forest officials and authorities worried.

'The mysterious deaths of fishes near the Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary may pose a serious threat to the endangered Ganga river dolphins,' a forest official said.

The government had set up the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary in Bhagalpur a decade ago. The sanctuary is spread over a 50-km stretch of the Ganga.

However, Abhay Kumar, in-charge of the sanctuary, said there was no threat to the dolphins.
Dolphins are locally called sons of the Ganga, but pollution and rampant fishing have threatened their existence.

Untreated sewage, rotting carcasses and industrial effluents that find their way into the Ganga during its 2,500-km-long journey across several states from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal have adversely affected the dolphins.

Researchers estimate the dolphin population across India to be a little over 1,500. Half of these are found in the Ganga in Bihar. The numbers have dropped drastically over the past decades. In the 1980s, the Gangetic delta zone alone had around 3,500 dolphins.

In 1996, freshwater dolphins were categorised as an endangered species by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), a forum of conservationists, NGOs and government agencies.
The Bhagalpur district administration has confirmed the death of the fishes.

'Fishes have died along a stretch of river Ganga but we do not know what had caused their deaths,' Bhagalpur district magistrate Bipin Kumar told IANS.

Official sources said over 500 quintals of fish died in the past week in the Ganga in Bhagalpur.
Local people said some fishermen might have poisoned the fishes while others said they might have died due to pollution in the river.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Two women confused circling dolphins with sharks

TWO swimmers were saved from circling "sharks" early this morning, only to find they had in fact been visited by a pod of curious dolphins.

Surf Life Saving SA operations manager Shane Daw said a craft was sent to rescue the two women from a pontoon off Grange jetty after an emergency call was made at 7.20am. The women were "saved" when the lifesaver identified the 12 circling sharks as dolphins. Mr Daw said it was a common mistake. "We do get a lot of phone calls and call-outs from people believing they are seeing a shark and it is a dolphin breaching the surface," he said.

"It is a common theme but with any incident, we need treat it as a potential threat." The call was an early start for the year, but beaches were already filling as people sought to beat the heat, Mr Daw said. He warned beachgoers to swim within their limits and to be careful of variable conditions.

Dolphin's carcass found on roof

The National Marine Fisheries Service is investigating a dolphin carcass found atop a home in Ventnor.

The resident of the home on the first block of Martindale Avenue told investigators that he found the dolphin dead on the beach about two years ago and brought it home, according to a preliminary report.

The name of the man was not available.

A local restaurant called authorities to the area due to the smell. Local police officers, along with representatives from the NMFS and the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife responded Dec. 12. The dolphin's remains - which apparently consisted of the head and spine - were found on the roof of the home.

A report is expected to be released next week.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"