Saturday, April 26, 2008

Feeding program for dolphin in Shark Bay

At 7.35 am sharp, Nicky, Puck and Surprise approach the shoreline from the expanse of Shark Bay and make their way to the knee-deep waters by the beach. The three female dolphins are accompanied by adolescents and already know the "game" that is about to be played in Monkey Mia.

Tourists have gathered to feed them with fish just as they have done in this western part of Australia almost every day since the 1960s.

The name Monkey Mia is synonymous in Australia with dolphin feeding.

It's quite ironic that the dolphins have become such an attraction here as the name Shark Bay is not the most attractive in marketing terms for tourists.

Dolphin Bay would please the local tourist authorities much better but 12 different species of shark also live in these waters.

"Every third dolphin calf has scars and shark bite marks," says ranger Lyn Harding.

People have been feeding dolphins here for the past 44 years. In 1994, a government funded programme was instituted to oversee the feeding.

"You can count on one hand the number of days the dolphins don't appear," says Harding, while explaining how feeding works.

Only the mother dolphins are given fish. They receive a maximum of two kilos per animal per day.
"The calves get nothing. They should learn to look after themselves first."

The male dolphins usually remain further out in the bay with one or two other companions. Yet, dolphin feeding is not the only attraction Shark Bay has to offer visitors.

The area was declared a World Heritage Site in 1991 thanks - in part - to the presence of stromalites at Hamelin Pool.

Stromalites are sedimentary rock-like structures formed by colonies of micro organisms. They are located on the southern edge of the pool in shallow water.

The pool is part of the bay and was named after Emmanuel Hamelin who explored Australia's western coast from 1800 to 1804.

The stromolites' micro organisms resemble some of the earliest life forms on Earth, and because they produce oxygen, they are regarded as having helped in the evolution of higher forms of life.
Stromalites are very rare and exist in the Bahamas and here in Shark Bay.

If you observe one of these stromalites close to the surface of the water, you can see small bubbles emerging from the "living rock" - more oxygen for the atmosphere.

The water in Hamelin Pool is saline and provides ideal conditions for the stromalites to thrive. A species of cockle shell has also adapted to the conditions here.

When the molluscs die, their shells are always washed by the sea in the same direction and over the past 4,000 years a beach midway between the coastal highway and Monkey Mia has formed into a massive bank of cockle shells.

The bank is several metres thick and extends for dozens of kilometres.

Back at the beach on Monkey Mia it's 8.15 am and the show is about to begin.

A few spectators are pulled from the crowd by the rangers and fish held under their noses.

Lyn Harding tells them a little about the dolphins: they are 2.30 metres long and weigh 120 kilos. Some of the animals have been coming to feeding time since the 1970s.

Moored at Monkey Mia's small pier are two catamarans competing for passengers wanting to travel around the bay.

The "Shotover" and "Aristocat 2" specialise in visits to the dugong sea cows.

Shark Bay is home to the world's largest known area of sea grass.

At a depth of nine metres below the surface, 10 of the 60 varieties of sea grass can be found here - sometimes nine at a time in just one square metre.

And it's thanks to this variety that Shark Bay has a population of 12 000 dugongs.

Another very different way of looking at Shark Bay is provided by Wula Guda Nyinda Aboriginal Cultural Tours.

A bare-footed Daren Capewell sets off with his guests and cautions them: "Do not try to walk in the sand but on it."

For Capewell, humans "must respect the land and not just exploit it".

That's the main message of Capewell's trip to the sand dunes.

In the evenings Capewell provides an appropriately atmospheric background to this when he plays a didgeridoo in the light of the camp fire below a starry sky.

By 8.30 am the dolphins have been fed and returned to the open water.

The tourists begin dispersing over the beach while the rangers fill their buckets with fresh fish.
They know the dolphins will probably return two more times today to get their next ration of food.

Marinelife group is promoting whales and dolphins research

Marinelife’ has extended its EU-recognised whale and dolphin research conducted in partnership with several well known commercial ferry and transport operators in order to further enhance scientific knowledge on endangered whale, dolphin and seabird populations in and around the UK and European coastlines.

From March 2008, the charity will start operating monthly research surveys on two new year-round survey routes and periodically on a further multi-port survey route.

• Monthly from Poole (UK) to Santander (Spain) passing through the English Channel and Bay of Biscay with Brittany Ferries Freight on their ship Cotentin.

• Monthly from Felixstowe (UK) to Vlaardingen (Netherlands) passing through the English Channel with Norfolkline Ferries

• Periodically from Felixstowe (UK) to another east coast UK port or Rotterdam (Netherlands) through the English Channel and the North Sea with Feederlink on their ship Clonlee.

‘Marinelife’ Community & Operations Officer, Emma Webb, said: “These additional routes will significantly increase our ability to monitor endangered marine species and complement our existing research routes operating from Portsmouth (UK) - Bilbao (Spain) and Plymouth (UK) – Roscoff (France)”.

The research protocols that ‘Marinelife’ have developed and used over the last 13 years have led to strong partnerships with commercial ferry operators who have been very willing to assist with whale and dolphin (collectively known as cetaceans) conservation.

‘Marinelife’ Director, Dr Tom Brereton, commented: “The research work of ‘Marinelife’ has been invaluable in providing year round monitoring of endangered whale, dolphin and seabird populations and understanding how these populations change with season and from one year to the next”.

‘Marinelife’ Senior Researcher and PR Officer, Adrian Shephard, said: “The crew on board the commercial vessels we operate from are often as enthusiastic about whales and dolphins as the volunteer research teams; they love finding out more about the wildlife in the waters they sail through day in and day out”.

The first survey with Brittany Ferries Freight was a successful experience for all involved passing through rich and diverse marine habitats and ‘Marinelife’ look forward to the forthcoming surveys with Norfolkline Ferries and Feederlink.

‘Marinelife’ also aim to further extend its research routes into new areas in the future through its existing partners and also through new potential partners. Marinelife’s unique long term monitoring project, the Biscay Dolphin Research Programme (BDRP) has been conducting monthly scientific whale, dolphin and seabird surveys through the English Channel and Bay of Biscay for the last 13 years, using the P&O Cruise Ferry, The Pride of Bilbao, as a research platform.

In 2006, the charity extended its research in the English Channel with Brittany Ferries operating between Plymouth (UK) and Roscoff (France) on the Pont-Aven. The charity is also a founder member of the Atlantic Research Coalition (ARC), a partnership of many marine charities working together in adjacent areas of ocean in Europe to better understand the pattern of cetacean behaviour and threats they face.

Two men are facing charges for disturbing Dave the dolphin

Two men accused of disturbing a dolphin when they swam in the sea with it after a night out told a court today that they believed the animal had "enjoyed itself".Michael Jukes, 27, and Daniel Buck, 26, said they swam with Dave the dolphin off the coast of Sandgate, near Folkestone, Kent, after it approached them in June last year.

The pair appeared at Dover Magistrates' Court charged with recklessly disturbing a wild animal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.The bottle-nosed dolphin became a popular tourist attraction for visitors to Folkestone but a lack of recent sightings has led to speculation that it has died.The animal, which is actually a female, had been spotted off the coast of the seaside town for months beforehand and was a solitary dolphin that had become separated from its group.The court heard the two men had attended a party at a friend's house where they had both been drinking heavily.At around 5am they and another friend had walked to a nearby garage for cigarettes and then decided to have a swim in the sea.

Buck, giving evidence, told magistrates that he had been the first to go in the water and had not realised the dolphin was nearby.He said at first he was scared of the animal as it approached him as he swam about 10 feet out from the shore."If I'd seen the dolphin first I wouldn't have gone for a swim," he said.Jukes denied reports by witnesses that he had grabbed hold of the dolphin's dorsal fin and tried to climb on top of it to ride on its back.

He said: "I didn't hurt the dolphin in any way. I didn't think I did anything wrong".The two men were arrested after residents living in nearby properties called the police to complain about the noise they were making.They denied they had ignored officers orders to swim ashore and said they were swept further out to sea by the current rather than because they were attempting to get away.

James Barnett, of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, also gave evidence and said that the more interaction solitary dolphins have with humans the less likely they are to rejoin their group.Mr Barnett, a vet, with nearly 20 years' experience who has been involved in many marine animal rescues across the country said that when dolphins become too familiar with humans they can become unpredictable and dangerous and even make sexual advances towards them.

Also the longer amount of time they are encouraged to spend in shallow water makes them more receptive to catching bacterial diseases and puts them at greater risk of becoming entangled in fishing nets or damaged by boats.

However, Jukes argued that Dave the dolphin had already experienced a significant amount of human contact prior to the night of June 9 as he had become something of a local celebrity for up to a year beforehand.Pipe-fitter Jukes of Castle Hill Avenue, Folkestone and ground-worker Buck of Church Road, Folkestone, both deny disturbing the dolphin.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Las Vegas, a meeting place for dolphins and kids

If you're here with your family and can stray from the tables and slots for an afternoon or so, there are a host of attractions that you and the rest of your family can experience and enjoy.

While Las Vegas is primarily for adults, the youngsters -- the under-21 set who can't frequent the casinos -- and other non-gamblers can enjoy their stay, too. After all, Las Vegas does attract some 4 million of the younger set annually -- 10 percent of the city's annual visitor total -- reports the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

High on the list of attractions for the youngsters -- and others, too -- are the various animal and marine habitats that, in some cases, are only steps away from the casino. They are educational, too.

We've visited several, and the most enticing in our view is Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage Hotel-Casino.

It's a diversified animal fix, in the view of Travel Agent Magazine, and the Secret Garden is one of the most noteworthy attractions. It's a lush jungle setting that features black panthers, golden tigers, leopards, lions and Siegfried and Roy's famous white tigers. There's a four-ton elephant, too.
The most sought-after sight at the Dolphin Habitat is Sgt. Pepper, a male calf born a few months ago to his mother, Duchess, a 30-year-old bottlenose dolphin. He enjoys his audiences -- particularly the younger kids -- and puts on a show whenever he is in view.

The habitat is an impressive facility -- a 2.5 million-gallon complex of linked pools with a sand floor and artificial coral reef designed to mimic the bottlenose dolphins' natural habitat. Most of the dolphins were born there, and they regularly perform tricks, from jumping through hoops to tail-walking.

Onlookers often gaze in wonderment at the intelligence of the fast-moving dolphins, which can swim at speeds up to 22 mph. The reason, say habitat officials, is that they use "echolocation," and have the ability to locate objects by emitting sound waves and interpreting the resulting echo. This system of sonar allows a dolphin to "see" without using its eyes. Dolphins use echolocation to navigate and to find food; they can use echolocation on objects two inches or smaller, up to 650 feet away.

The Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat is a tribute to the amazing magical duo of Siegfried and Roy, who performed in Las Vegas for some 30 years, mostly at the Mirage, where they performed for millions of show-goers -- more than any other Vegas entertainers.

Their performances ended in October 2003, when Roy was attacked by a white tiger that was a part of the act; Roy nearly died.

There are certainly many other attractions that appeal to the younger set, and adults as well in some cases. We've visited several, including the Mandalay Bay Shark Reef, which contains almost 2 million gallons of water. Inside are 1,200 species of sharks, sea turtles and exotic fish.

Among the most amazing creatures are five rare, golden crocodiles with a male water monitor -- a cousin of the komodo dragon, notes MCT News Service. There's also an exhibit of piranhas.

Circus Circus, a standby for our family when the kids were growing up, offers Adventuredome, an indoor amusement park stretching across 5 1/2 acres. There's the Canyon Blaster, a 90-foot-high roller coaster, and Chaos, a Tilt-a- Whirl. Younger kids can ride Miner Mike, the train.
It's hard to beat Las Vegas as a family destination -- it has something for everyone.

Large pod of dolphins was sighted in Cook Strait

A 3 News crew has caught on camera an astonishing sight in the Cook Strait - a pod of hundreds of dolphins.

The camera was in a helicopter flying over Palliser Bay when the pilot spotted a large area of confused water. A closer look revealed the cause - a dolphin convention of truly enormous size.
The common dolphin is one of New Zealand's most widespread species and large gatherings are frequent at this time of year.

Dolphins' slaughter caught on tape from underwater angle

Mandy-Rae Cruickshank has an astounding ability to hold her breath underwater with one giant-sized gulp of air.

The 33-year-old Vancouver woman holds the national record, clocking in at six minutes and 25 seconds.

Water is Cruickshank's natural habitat. "I'm more comfortable in water than on land," she says. "The water has always been my environment. It's what I've always loved."

A nationally ranked synchronized swimmer, she moved from Edmonton to B.C. to be near water.
She managed a dive shop on Granville Island and taught scuba diving for nine years. After reaching top certification, she began to crave a new challenge.

In 2000, she took up freediving under coach, and later husband, Kirk Krack.

Her quest to be the best has brought her a slew of world records.

She can swim the equivalent of two Olympic-sized pools in a single breath. One breath has also sustained her to a dive of 142 metres. A former asthma sufferer, her lungs can now hold about 6.4 litres of air, 160-per-cent more than average.

Her unique talents made her the perfect choice for a tense, military-style covert mission funded by Netscape founder Jim Clark to expose the dolphin drive in Taiji, Japan -- the largest slaughter of dolphins in the world.

It started innocuously enough. In 2005 Cruickshank was approached by Louie Psihoyos, founder of the Oceanic Preservation Society and a noted photographer for National Geographic, for a documentary about the beauty of marine life.

"It started with fairly benign topics, something on tuna dolphins, something quite beautiful," says Psihoyos, 50, from OPS headquarters in Boulder, Colo.

He wanted a female diver for scale and Cruickshank was ideal because she can do it without tubes and tanks. "She almost looks like a superhero in that silver suit she wears," he says. "And she's a lot easy on the eyes."

But by the time Cruickshank landed in Japan a year later, the focus had changed: Psihoyos's lens zoomed in on Taiji's gruesome dolphin hunt and its secret coves.

On her first night in a neighbouring town, Psihoyos told her: "We're not just doing tuna any more," and showed her a video of the dolphin slaughter.

"She saw the footage and started crying," recalls Psihoyos.

Then Krack turned to him and asked: "What do you want us to do?"

Before Japan, filming the documentary brought Cruickshank and Krack to the world's most beautiful diving spots.

They frolicked with humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins in the Bahamas, Tahiti and the Dominican Republic.

For Cruickshank, who had never swum with marine mammals before, it was a humbling experience that blew her away.

"You can see all the intelligence in their eyes, checking you out," she says. "You know you're only there because they allow you to be there."

During one dive, a pod of white-spotted dolphins swam beside their boat, inches away from their faces.

Cruickshank broke one of her rules and stretched her arm out toward the wild creature. "The dolphin looked at my arm, to my face, then rolled into my hand," she says. "It was this totally wild dolphin and it let me rub it from nose to tail."

Psihoyos says dolphins are the only wild animals known to rescue humans.

He knows this first-hand. During a dolphin dive, the playful creature abruptly swam away. Puzzled, Psihoyos tried to see where it was going: It was chasing away a hammerhead shark heading his way.

The killing cove of Taiji, located in a national park, is spectacular.

Three cliffs verdant with foliage surround the U-shaped cove, creating a natural fortress.

The 3,500 residents of the seafaring village, a three-hour drive away from Osaka, are fiercely proud of their whaling heritage.

A whaling museum pays homage to the centuries-old tradition and everywhere in town are cartoon images of smiling, happy dolphins.

In Taiji's grey-green waters, more than 2,500 dolphins are killed from September to March every year.

Thirteen skiffs, each manned by two whalers, set sail at dawn, following the mammals' millennia-old migratory paths.

Once the whalers track down a pod, they surround them and insert long metal poles in the water and bang on the ends with hammers. The cacophony disorients the dolphins, cutting off their communication.

The panicked animals are herded into the capture cove, barricaded with nets, and left to calm down overnight.

At first light the next day, the killing begins.

Using sweep nets, the men herd the dolphins from the capture cove into the adjacent killing cove. Then, with spears and spiked steel bars, they stab and hack at the captive dolphins until they bleed to death and the waters glitter ruby-red.

Dolphin meat, despite having mercury levels so high as to be toxic, is sold in grocery stores as a local delicacy and served to village children in the school lunch program.

Some luckier dolphins are spared and sold to popular swim-with-dolphin programs.

The OPS crew had already been covertly filming in Japan for weeks before Cruickshank and Krack arrived.

It was a military-style operation, with high-tech gear including underwater cameras, night-vision goggles, a $50,000 infrared P-645 thermal camera and HD cameras camouflaged in fake rocks made by George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic.

But tailed by undercover police and harassed by union fishermen, the crew tried without success to plant recording devices in the waters of the killing cove.

Hiking rocky trails, dodging guards and getting in and out of the water within a half-hour time frame was difficult with 65 pounds of underwater breathing equipment weighing them down.

"I can't describe the fear," says Psihoyos. "It was a race against the clock. We didn't know how deep it was there in the water, and we thought: Mandy. She can go deeper than any woman in the world."

On a moonlit January night last year, Cruickshank and Krack made their move.

They suited up in black, hooded wetsuits and, along with Psihoyos and three others, piled into a van and headed to the cove.

A thermal-imaging sweep of the area found no security. The group sneaked past gates and barbed wire, ignoring the keep-out signs posted during whaling season.

Cruickshank and Krack skirted the sunken beach, traversed the rocky trails and clambered down boulders into the water.

With 15 pounds of lead weights strapped around their waists, the freediving pair swam 30 feet into the middle of the cove. Bobbing in the cold water, they triangulated their position using points of light made on the surface of the water by the distant lights of the village.

"All's clear, it's good to go," crackled through the radio. Cruickshank and Krack squeezed each other's arms, the go-ahead signal.

Their fins flew up as they plunged head-first into the pitch-black water, arms above their heads, as straight down as they were able.

Krack carried the hydrophone, an audio-recording device, and Cruickshank controlled a cable attached to the equipment.

The darkness made the dive "eerie," says Cruickshank. "We were going in blind. We didn't know how deep we were going to be. We had no idea what we were diving into, or what we would find in the bottom."

Cruickshank knew that slaughtered whales were allowed to sink to the bottom and were pulled up later. "I kept on hoping I wouldn't run into a carcass down there."

The cove was shallower than expected. At 45 feet deep, with only "little fairy sprinkles" of bioluminescence to break the darkness, she and Krack hit bottom.

They pushed the hydrophone into the sea floor, trying to anchor it into the sand, silt and mud.
After they surfaced and crawled toward the cliff, Cruickshank's heart almost stopped. Silhouetted against light from a vehicle was a guard.

She and Krack hid in the bushes. Ten minutes stretched out forever. Then the coast was clear.
The pair would repeat the dive three more times -- once to plant another hydrophone, and twice to retrieve them. Assistant director Charles Hambleton would later plant an underwater "blood-cam."
The devices would yield graphic footage -- the first to capture the slaughter from beneath the water.
Cruickshank and Krack's mission yielded "unbelievable sound," said Psihoyos. "That particular pod had about 200 striped dolphins. They were all screaming."

On her last days in Japan, Cruickshank heard the loud, drawn-out, high-pitched screams for herself.
She and OPS members were on the beach in broad daylight. A pod of 40 adult dolphins had just been herded into the killing cove, which was hidden from view. The sound, however, came through crystal clear.

"I can hear the dolphins screaming," recalls Cruickshank. "The water was almost bubbling. They were thrashing around so much trying to escape. It was a horror movie."

The documentary titled The Rising, scheduled to be released this summer, will only show a minute of the slaughter.

OPS plans to present the most graphic footage -- which can't be included in the film -- to the International Whaling Federation in Santiago, Chile, in June.

Cruickshank's experience has turned the dedicated athlete into a passionate activist.

"When [the film] comes out, I hope it will have a profound effect on people," says Cruickshank. "To see the horrors happening to [the dolphins], I feel it's our job to help protect them and let people know what's happening."

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Mean tourists make dolphin ill!

A dolphin whose kidneys failed after eating junk food that tourists had thrown in its tank is now in stable condition after receiving several weeks of treatment at Changsha zoo, in this Hunan provincial capital.

The 5-year-old dolphin had to stop performing tricks at the zoo after falling ill a month and a half ago.

Kidney experts at major hospitals in the metropolis were invited to the zoo to help cure the dolphin in late February.

Experts from international wildlife associations will also be invited to Changsha for group medical consultations in the near future.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Is friendly dolphin in danger due to tourist's attention?

Moko, the playful dolphin which has been charming beachgoers and water users at the East Coast's Mahia Beach, is potentially in danger as a result of all the attention he has attracted.
The dolphin has been thrilling visitors to the beach by frolicking in the shallows, happily swimming with people in the water and playing around boats.

Earlier this month, Moko saved two pygmy sperm whales from stranding, guiding a mother whale and her one-year-old male calf out to sea.

Hawke's Bay environmentalist Dave Head said he had noticed an increasing number of scratches on the dolphin.

"The biggest concern I have is that a bunch of hairy-legged, boozy city dwellers will come down for a fishing weekend and get mad at Moko for scaring away the fish, and possibly take a swipe," he told The Gisborne Herald.

Mr Head was also concerned boaters may inadvertently hurt the friendly dolphin, and that the constant attention Moko received meant he was not resting as much as he needed to.

"Anyone in a boat needs to be careful if Moko comes to play nearby," says Mr Head.

"It is important that if people in boats see Moko, they don't suddenly change direction. They should turn the motor off if he swims too close."

Mr Head said it was important Moko's resting place was respected.

"If people go out and search for him, he will never rest and become exhausted," said Mr Head.
Mr Head said he thought Moko had done everyone a favour.

"I hope he can make people realise how wonderful dolphins are and how horrible it is that the Japanese kill thousands a year," said Mr Head.

It was still unclear whether Moko, a two-year-old bottleneck, was a boy or girl. While Mr Head was convinced Moko is a boy, DOC staff believe it to be female.

Department of Conservation (DOC) programme manager Jamie Quirk said it was important for people to remember Moko was a wild animal.

"We really need to encourage people to let her approach them, and not to ride on her, grab her tail or fins and not give her things to play with," he told the paper.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"