Saturday, March 29, 2008

Swimming with dolphins is a great activity for children with Autism

Children with autism enjoy a unique experience when they swim with the dolphins in Key Largo.
Parents bring their children to the nonprofit Island Dolphin Care there to interact with the animals in a unique sensory experience that puts a smile on the kids' faces.

Avi Greenfield said he has been bringing his 13-year-old son Jordan there since he was only 4.
"I enjoy watching him being so happy in the water with the dolphins," Greenfield said.

No one claims that swimming with the dolphins cures autism or any other ailment, but the activity has benefits for the children and their parents.

"The dolphins are just a way to bring out the best in people," said Peter Hoagland of Island Dolphin Care. "It gives kids something unbelievable to look forward to. It's a very powerful tool while the children and the family are here. It gives those kids and those families unbelievable memories."
"It provides me with hope, more than anything," said Omar Ramos, whose son, John-Ross, has autism. "I want my child to be able to experience a lot of different things, and so it gives me a lot of hope, especially when I see him being able to do stuff in the water or with the dolphin, even with a computer."

Most families go to Island Dolphin care for a five-day program tailored to their children's needs and abilities.

"He's been saying the word 'dolphin' for the past few days and so obviously it's something he's learning from," said John-Ross's mother, Judy Ramos.

Greenfield is a single dad, and he said he is still wondering why his son Jordan was dealt such a difficult hand.

"Every day. But I accept him the way he is, and spend my life trying to make it better for him," Greenfield said.

It might be tempting to think that the dolphins and the children see eye to eye and that the majestic animals know these kids are special. The fact is, they are just being dolphins and the boys are just doing the best that they can.

Island Dolphin care, a nonprofit organization, offers financial aid for families who cannot afford to pay the whole cost of a program.

Is dolphin therapy in little artist future?

For 2-year-old Chance Armstrong and his mom Lainie, his art show was months in the making.
"I'm completely overwhelmed and completely blessed," Chance's mom Lainie Armstrong said. "We're very, very thankful and grateful."

Grateful for those who came out to support little Chance's first art show. A feat in itself, that becomes even more amazing when you hear the little boy's story.

Chance was born three months pre-mature, and doctors gave him little hope to survive. They said he would never walk and would never use his arms. However, Chance defied those odds and began painting.

Now two years old, Chance's mom wants him to take part in dolphin therapy. It's a program where kids interact with wild dolphins, and somehow the dolphin's sonar helps special needs children. The problem is the program is expensive. So little Chance decided he would paint the way. That's what the art show is all about.

"It's amazing what he can do," Manuel Garcia said. "We drove all the way in from Dallas, Texas to see the art show."

Each painting sold will ensure that Chance and his family have the money needed to participate in dolphin therapy this summer. So far, this tiny tot appears to be one of Wichita's hottest artists with his paintings flying off the walls.

"This community has definitely got behind his cause and supporting us as a family," Armstrong said.

Support Chance knows will make all the difference.

"Thank you," Chance Armstrong said.

To learn how you can help Chance, visit the newslinks section of

Hybrid dolphi/false killer whale is developin in utero

Sea Life Park in Hawaii has discovered that wolphins -- hybrids of bottlenose dolphins and false killer whales -- are not sterile, as hybrids tend to be.

The park said Kekaimalu, a wolphin that was born at the park in 1985, has given birth to two calves, The Daily Telegraph reported Thursday.The calves, fathered by male bottlenose dolphins, show that wolphins, unlike many other species of animal hybrids, are capable of reproducing.

Kekaimalu was born in 1985 to a bottlenose dolphin that was impregnated by a false killer whale that was housed in the same tank at the park. The hybrid measures nearly 10 feet long and weighs in at 600 pounds, about halfway between the sizes of her mother and father.

Amazon river dolphins impress their mate with waterweeds!

Amazon river dolphins use lumps of waterweed or large rocks to impress their mates, much as humans might use flowers or chocolates. Scientists believe the animals hold the objects during displays to woo females or intimidate rivals, the first time aquatic mammals have been seen using objects in social displays.

The lead author of the study, Professor Tony Martin of St Andrews University, said he first realised something interesting was happening while observing the animals in the wild in 2003. "I noticed a dolphin carrying a lump of wood or something in its mouth," he said. "I saw the behaviour again a couple of hours later and noted it down." When it happened for a third time he decided to investigate further.

Trawling back through years of observational data on the animals, his team found 57 instances of the behaviour - nearly all were adult males, suggesting that it was not simply play. The animals pick up sticks, waterweeds, rocks and even in one case a turtle. "I realised then that we were on to something. There was more to this than met the eye," he said.

The animals are extremely difficult to study because the waters they live in are full of silty mud which stops researchers from seeing what goes on under the surface. "It's like trying to look through a keyhole at their behaviour," he said. The observations suggest it is the biggest males which can carry the heaviest objects - and they are the ones which father the most offspring. The research will appear in the journal Biology Letters today.

The Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphin has been seen using marine sponges during foraging, but this is the first time an aquatic mammal has been seen using objects in social display. The behaviour is rare in mammals, but more common in birds.

The dolphins are increasingly threatened by fishermen who kill them illegally for bait. Dolphin numbers are still high, but Martin is concerned: "In the last five years there's been a dramatic decline - more than 50%. It's absolutely frightening."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Dolphin death toll doubles up in Texas!

Another 20 dead dolphins had washed up on the upper Texas Coast as of Thursday, bringing the death toll to about 40 as Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network officials pleaded with people offshore to report any they see.


To report a stranded dolphin, call 1-800-9MAMMAL (1-800-962-6625)

Hourly notices this week to mariners requested reports of floating dolphin carcasses, said Heidi Watts, Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network operations coordinator.

The network has been unable to pinpoint a cause of death either this year or last during a similar die-off, she said. Studying bodies that aren't as badly decomposed could help researchers, she said.

On March 3 and 4, about 20 badly decomposed dolphins washed up on McFaddin Beach near High Island, Crystal Beach near Rollover Pass and Galveston's West End and the San Luis Pass, according to the archives.

Those dolphins ranged from 3 feet to 10 feet long and were either very young or very old.
Since then, about 20 more have washed up, Watts said.

"It's still unusually high," she said. Network personnel typically see stranded dolphins - both alive and dead - from January to March, but not usually this many.

Tissue samples have been sent off to a laboratory for testing and analysis, she said.

Recently, most of the dolphins are washing up on Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island, and some have been reported by beachgoers.

"They still continue to come in," Watts said of the dolphins.

Last year, an unusual mortality event was called after 68 dolphins washed up in three weeks on the upper Texas coast.

Biologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries division are monitoring the die-off but haven't labeled it an unusual mortality event yet, said Kim Amendola, a division communication specialist.

New Zealand: Protecting rare dolphin species is the next step!

The New Zealand government issued fresh calls Wednesday for the banning of certain types of trawler nets, following the deaths last December of 22 dolphins that were killed in the nets. The government wants to prohibit use of the nets within the Maui’s dolphin’s habitat, which includes the area along the western coast of New Zealand’s north island.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Maui's dolphins are in dire need of protection from set nets and trawler nets if they are to survive. Officials estimate the animals are on the brink of extinction, numbering only 111 and found only along the north island’s west coast. Another endangered New Zealand species, the Hector's dolphin, have declined in number from an estimated 29,000 in the 1970s to 7,000 today.

Set nets are typically used by recreational fishers near the coastline, whereas the large trawl nets are used by commercial fishing further out to sea to catch large schools of fish.Last Tuesday, the government released photographs of 22 common dolphins killed in trawler nets off the north island’s west coast last December.

WWF’s executive director, Chris Howe, said the photos were proof that current fishing controls are failing to protect endangered dolphins, and that the fishing industry cannot be trusted to follow the voluntary code of practice that currently protects the species.

The government-imposed code was established to curtail the accidental capture of dolphins during trawl fishing.Howe said that while many fishing boats obey the voluntary code of practice, it only takes one or two who do not to wipe out the endangered species."All fishing with set nets and trawl nets should be banned throughout the range of Hector's and Maui's dolphins," Howe told The Associated Press.

"That's the only way to ensure a slow-breeding, rare species can recover," he said.Steve Chadwick, New Zealand’s Conservation Minister, said he was "not surprised" that conservation groups are calling for the nets’ prohibition."We'll have to consider how realistic that is while we also have sustainable fishing and how we will manage protection of those endangered species," he told the AP.

Owen Symmans, chief executive of the New Zealand Seafood Industry Council, said the "accidental capture" of 22 dolphins was regrettable."Nobody wants to catch dolphins, common or otherwise, and fishermen ... feel gutted about this sort of thing," he said. "It's the last thing that they want in their nets," adding that trawlers leave the area "as soon as dolphin are seen," and that the industry is resolved to trying to avoid such events.

As part of its response to conservation groups' demands, the government is due to release options for further ways to protect the dolphins. In a letter delivered Wednesday, 214 international environmental and animal protection bodies urged New Zealand to give "full protection" to the endangered Hector's and Maui's dolphins to prevent their extinction.

"Maui's dolphins, the world's smallest dolphin, are one of the rarest animals on earth and Hector's dolphins are almost as scarce as tigers," Barbara Mass, Chief Executive of Care for the Wild International, wrote in the letter.Conservationists have already cautioned that even the best of the proposals will give the dolphins only a 50-50 chance of recovering to their original numbers by 2050.

22 dead dolphins in nets raise alert in New Zealand

The New Zealand Government's release of photographs of 22 dead dolphins in trawler nets has prompted fresh calls for it to ban two types of nets from the habitats of two critically endangered species.

The World Wide Fund for Nature in New Zealand says Maui's dolphins are down to just 111 animals living along North Island's west coast.

To avoid extinction, the world's smallest dolphins urgently needed protection from set nets and trawler nets.

The numbers of another endangered New Zealand species, the Hector's dolphin, have declined from an estimated 29,000 in the 1970s to 7000.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Dolphin carcasses washed up on UK shore

An increasing number of mutilated dolphins are washing up dead on British coasts, conservationists have warned.

The corpses of 29 dolphins and porpoises have been found on the beaches of south-west England since the beginning of the year, compared with 80 for the whole of 2007.

Experts suspect that most have drowned after being caught up in fishing nets, and have criticised the Government for delays in the introduction of a sonar device designed to deter the creatures from swimming in fishing areas.

Some of the dolphins' bellies have been sliced open after death to try to make them sink. Others have had their tails amputated to free them from the nets, or have sustained deep cuts on their beaks and bodies from the fine threads. Ten recent "strandings" occurred in a 10-day period, including three on Cornwall's south coast.

But marine mammal specialists believe "bycatch" incidents, when fishermen catch them in their nets while fishing for other species, could be responsible for killing far more dolphins than those washed ashore.

Mark Simmonds, science director at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, said: "It is a horrid way for these dolphins to die and you can see that when they come ashore. Fishermen are getting more adept at hiding the evidence and what we see on land is only a proportion of the problem."

Under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, porpoises, dolphins and whales are protected species. Anyone convicted of ill-treating them faces a six-month prison sentence or a £5,000 fine. But the Act does not apply to bycatch.

In April 2004, the EU passed legislation requiring £60 "pingers" (sonic devices) to be fitted, but the Government has yet to force fishermen to use them.

Andy Wheeler, of the Cornish Fish Producers' Organisation, said: "Every reasonable effort is made by fishermen to avoid bycatch of dolphins. The jury is still out on whether the level of bycatch is a threat to the population."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Two stranded whales were saved by dolphin

A dolphin guided two stranded whales to safety after human attempts to keep the animals off a New Zealand beach failed, a conservation official said Wednesday.

"I've never heard of anything like this before, it was amazing," Conservation Department officer Malcolm Smith said.

The actions of the dolphin, well known locally for playing with swimmers at Mahia beach on the east coast of the North Island, probably meant the difference between life and death for the whales, Smith told AFP.

Smith had been working for over an hour and a half to save the two pygmy sperm whales which had repeatedly become stranded despite his attempts to push them back out to sea.

A bottlenose dolphin, named Moko by locals, appeared and guided the whales to safety after apparently communicating with them, Smith said.

The whales, a three-metre (10-foot) female and her 1.5 metre male calf, were apparently confused by a sandbar just off the beach and could not find their way back to open water.

Smith had been alerted at daybreak on Monday by a neighbour about the two stranded whales on Mahia beach near his home.

"Over the next hour and a half I pushed them back out to sea two or three times and they were very reluctant to move offshore," Smith said.

"I was starting to get cold and wet and they were becoming tired. I was reaching the stage where I was thinking it's about time to give up here, I've done as much as I can."

In that situation, whales are often humanely killed to end their suffering.

Smith said Moko arrived on the scene and he could hear the whales and the dolphin making noises, apparently to one another.

"The whales made contact with the dolphin and she basically escorted them about 200 metres (yards) parallel with the beach to the edge of the sandbar.

"Then she did a right-angle turn through quite a narrow channel and escorted them out to sea.
"There's been no sign of the whales since Monday, they haven't restranded."

"What the communication was I do not know, and I was not aware dolphins could communicate with pygmy sperm whales, but something happened that allowed Moko to guide those two whales to safety."

Moko has become famous for her antics at Mahia, which include playing in the surf with swimmers, approaching boats to be patted and pushing kayaks through the water with her snout.

Such close interaction with humans is rare among dolphins but not unknown. "She's become isolated from her pod obviously for one reason or another, but obviously made Mahia home just at the moment."

Mahia gets up to 30 whale strandings a year, most of which end with the whales having to be put down.

"I don't know if next time we have a whale stranding we can get her to come in again. She certainly saved the day for us and the whales this time." •

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Beached White-sided dolphin meets sad fate!

Rescue efforts by marine life experts and police failed to save a stranded white-sided dolphin off Seaside Park Sunday.

The female dolphin, held in the frigid waters by Sandi Schaefer, a staffer from the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, and police divers for nearly three hours, died about 15 minutes before a rescue crew from Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration could arrive.

"The cause of death could have been anything," Schaefer said Monday. She got a call about 3:45 p.m. Sunday that a dolphin had been spotted in the water off Bridgeport.

Schaefer left a message with Mystic's line to report stranded sea life and notified Bridgeport police. Initial reports were that the female dolphin had beached itself, but had been pushed back into the water by a passer-by.

Schaefer was called to the scene at 5:15 p.m. when a marine patrol found the sea mammal about 100 to 150 feet off shore.

Schaefer hurried to the scene and found the dolphin in poor condition.

"Out of the water, the pressure on the body can cause severe injury to the animal. We moved the animal back into the water and remained with the animal, keeping it upright so it wouldn't drown," she said.

Meanwhile, Mystic had dispatched Cindy Davis, an assistant in its program to rescue stranded sea life, to the scene.

Schaefer said there were quite a few onlookers at Seaside when the rescue effort began. The crowd thinned out considerably as night fell.

One onlooker was Jessica

Hernandez, 27, of Bridgeport. A photography student at the Academy of Art University, an online school based in San Francisco, Hernandez was driving around with her mother, looking to photograph "a memorable image" to fulfill a midterm assignment due this week.

"We decided to go down to Seaside and saw all these police cars. Everyone was looking in the water. It was low tide," said Hernandez.

She grabbed her camera, walked out on the sandbar to get close-up shots. She didn't learn until Monday that the dolphin didn't make it.

Schaefer said the dolphin, about 5 feet long, had an injury to its dorsal fin but not significant enough to kill the creature.

Tim Grey, a spokesman at Mystic, praised the rescue efforts. He said a necropsy of the dolphin was under way Monday at Mystic.

He said it is much more common for harbor seals to get stranded, but that a beached dolphin is not unheard of. One was found two weeks ago off Rhode Island, he said.

Newly discovered rare dolphin may now face extinction

ONLY three years after being found off the coast of Australia, environmentalists fear the rare snubfin dolphin could be facing extinction.

Snubfin dolphins are thought to be the only new dolphin species to be discovered in more than two decades. "These little snubfins are unusual in that they live in small family groups ... they don't do any kinds of ocean voyage (and) they live in shallow waters close to land," said research scientist Carol Palmer. Ms Palmer is heading a $50,000 project launched yesterday to gather data on the "pretty ugly" mammals in the waters around Darwin Harbour in the Northern Territory.

"We don't know (how many there are). That's the baseline for the research. We have to get a handle on how many animals are here and then work out how to monitor the population," Ms Palmer said. Discovered in 2005 near Townsville, the snubfin was found to be distinct from its Asian cousins following genetic testing, and subsequently declared Australia's only native dolphin. It has a slow reproductive rate and spends years raising its young.

WWF-Australia has since listed the snubfin as one of its flagship species for priority conservation and has established a partnership with ING Direct to help fund the project in Darwin.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Experts to research cause for dolphins' deaths

Researchers in Virginia are attempting to determine why seven dolphins have beached themselves on the state's shores in the past week.One of the dolphins was dissected Wednesday by scientists searching for answers to the unexplained phenomenon, the Virginian Pilot reported Thursday.

Rescuers were unable to save any of the dolphins. Experts said it was previously a rare occurrence for a dolphin to become beached in Virginia. "Up until now, mass strandings of any kind have been unusual in Virginia," said Sue Barco, a senior research scientist on the stranding team at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. "Delphinus (dolphins), in the past couple years, seem to have been showing up in odd places at odd times."Tissue samples from the necropsy are being analyzed.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The National Board for Wildlife (NBW) plans to protect the Ganges river dolphins

Although called the sons of the Ganges, the number of freshwater dolphins has been falling due to pollution and poaching. The National Board for Wildlife (NBW) has now decided to come to the rescue of the endangered species. The NBW has, for the first time, selected freshwater dolphins for conservation along with five other endangered species - the snow leopard, Kashmiri stag, wild buffalo, great Indian bustard and Jerdon’s courser.

Official sources said the NBW would be allocated funds for the conservation work under the next five-year plan.

According to official estimates, India’s river dolphin population is a little over 1,500. Half of these are found in the Ganges in Bihar but their numbers have dropped drastically over the past few decades. In the 1980s, the Gangetic delta alone had around 3,500 dolphins.

Studies have identified pollution and poaching as the major factors behind the fall in the number of river dolphins. The rapidly shrinking Ganges and the river’s changing course are also threatening the dolphins.

The dolphins are often killed for their skin and oil. Fishermen also kill them to use their fat to prepare fish bait.

“Dolphins are locally called the sons of the Ganges river, but pollution and rampant fishing are threatening their existence,” said Gopal Sharma, a researcher.

R.K. Sinha, who heads the central government’s dolphin conservation project, said the dolphins would disappear unless urgent steps were taken to clean up the Ganges.

Nearly a decade ago, a dolphin sanctuary - the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary - was set up on the Ganges at Kahalgaon near Bhagalpur. This is Asia’s only fresh water dolphin sanctuary, spread over a 50 km stretch of the Ganges.

In 1996, freshwater dolphins were categorised as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Despite an order issued by the Patna High Court in 2001 that asked the state government to check poaching, at least three dolphins were reportedly killed last year.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"