Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dolphin Therapy

When I was a child, my family used to take summer vacations at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. During the early mornings, I recall seeing the dolphins diving in and out of the ocean. They were close enough to observe; however, too far away for any contact. I always wondered what it would be like to swim with these graceful and intelligent creatures.

In Ancient Rome and Greece, scholars thought that dolphins had special healing powers. Or were good omens if they appeared during the launch of an ocean voyage. About thirty years ago, researchers, doctors, and behavioral therapists began to investigate this ancient belief. Could the dolphins actually heal humans, especially children, with disabling and/or other serious conditions?

Special TraitsPerhaps it would be helpful to provide some background information about dolphins; specifically, the bottle nosed family that are found in the Atlantic Ocean. Dolphins belong to the Cetacean order of mammals. Like us, they have lungs and breathe air. They live in pods with other dolphins, and are very social animals. Similar to the individual nature of human voices, dolphins have whistles that distinguish them from each other.

Interestingly, their brains are larger than ours.Dolphins have a highly developed sense of underwater vision that assists them in dark waters. They send out a series of signals, or clicks, that bounce off of nearby objects in the manner of an echo. When the clicks return through the dolphin´s inner ear, it provides their brains with an image of their surroundings. This unique sense is called echolocation, and is facilitated by a round organ called the melon that is found in the head of the dolphin.

Expert Opinions about Therapeutic Effects According to Dolphin Human Therapy of Key Largo, Florida, and its founder, Dr. David Nathanson, an innovator in this type of treatment, many illnesses and disabilities are receptive to interactions with dolphins.

The three most common diagnoses are cerebral palsy, autism, and Downs Syndrome. Although dolphin therapy may provide benefits for all ages, research and empirical evidence indicate a significant efficacy with children.

Some experts use dolphin therapy as a reward for desired behavior. Others expose the children to dolphins as a part of a comprehensive therapy plan. For some, it is the primary therapeutic vehicle. While it is not known exactly what mechanism is at work, the success rate with many illnesses is a positive result of this alternative therapy.

According to Dr. David Wolgroch, a respected researcher who performed studies in Eilat, Israel, dolphin therapy merits our consideration."As an academic, many questions need to be investigated before definitive claims can be made about Dolphin Therapy.

However, as a clinician there is no doubt that this unique modality of treatment has contributed significantly to the welfare of many individuals receiving treatment. Whether it is the Dolphin Sonar emissions, their permanently fixed anatomical smile, their playful nature or our mystical perception of them is unknown. One thing for sure, the presence of Dolphins produce an atmosphere unique in the therapy world."

Chinese river dolphins swim in better protected waters

The Chinese government, which has done quite a lot for the Yangtze river’s endangered freshwater dolphins, last week decided it needed to do more.The key initiative of the new Yangtze Dolphin Network is to connect existing reserves established for the Baiji dolphin, the world's most endangered member of the whale family, and the finless porpoise.

The network was initiated by the aquatic and wildlife protection office of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and is funded by donors including WWF-China.

«WWF started working on Yangtze dolphin conservation as early as 2002 and I am very happy to join the Yangtze Dolphin Network today,» said Dr. Wang Limin, WWF-China’s deputy director of conservation operations. «It is of big significance to dolphin protection efforts in China and around the world.»

Human activities such as illegal fishing, pollution and shipping have hit the Baiji dolphin and finless porpoise hard, causing their numbers to dramatically decline over the last few years.

During a Yangtze Freshwater dolphin expedition in 2006 no Baiji dolphins were found, while the population of the finless porpoise has dropped to an estimated 1,800, half the number found in the 1990s.

«It is necessary to integrate each nature reserve to effectively protect the Baiji dolphin and finless porpoise,» said Fan Xiangguo, director of aquatic wildlife protection at the Ministry of Agriculture.
Over the past few decades the Chinese government has made considerable efforts to protect the freshwater dolphin by setting up nature reserves. The Yangtze Dolphin Network includes six nature reserves and two monitoring sites.

«Dolphins are the indicator species of river health,» said Li Lifeng, Freshwater Programme Director, WWF International.

«If they are gone, the river will not be able to support human development. The Yangtze Dolphin Network is a great step towards protecting the river for both species and people.»

The network was established in Xingzikou, Jiangxi province, on September 24, with the launch ceremony followed by two days of dolphin monitoring and rescue training, as well as one day of field monitoring practice.

Apart from the Yangtze, river dolphins are found in South America's Amazon, India's Ganges and Pakistan's Indus rivers as well as a few locations in south and south-east Asia.

Dolphins' rescue has been unsuccessful

A pair of bottlenose dolphins remain trapped in a small lake in northern New South Wales after two unsuccessful rescue attempts today.

It is believed the two dolphins entered Prospect Lake in Ballina two weeks ago via a narrow creek.
Rescue teams from the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Queensland-based Sea World Research and Rescue Team tried to rescue the dolphins early this morning.

But both their attempts failed when the dolphins - an adult and a 12-month-old calf - first swam under then broke through the net used to capture them.

Sea World director of marine sciences Trevor Long said a staff member would travel to the lake to feed the mammals until the next rescue attempt on Wednesday.

Officials remain confident the dolphins will be successfully captured.

Death of young dolphin in New Jersey river raises concerns for other dolphins

A young dolphin was found dead in the Navesink River on Wednesday morning, probably from a group of wayward dolphins that made a wrong turn out of Sandy Hook Bay in June, officials said.
It was found by a marina worker in Fair Haven near where a group of 15 dolphins has been staying since early summer, drawing crowds of sightseers but worrying rescue groups that say the approaching winter puts them in grave danger.

The cause of death was not immediately clear; tests were planned.

"We got a lot of enjoyment watching them," said Jim Ceruti, owner of the Fair Haven Yacht Works, near where the dead dolphin was found. "For as good as that made you feel, it hurts even worse when you see one of them die."

The plight of the dolphins has become a point of contention between rescue groups and national wildlife officials, who have been reluctant to approve a plan to coax or scare the dolphins out of the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers back out to sea.

"Hopefully this animal did not die in vain," said Bob Schoelkopf, co-director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine. "Hopefully this is a wake-up call to let people know these animals are not going to make it through the winter."

Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, did not immediately return calls seeking comment Wednesday. The agency has said it would not act to move the dolphins back out to sea unless it appeared they were in danger or becoming ill, partly because a rescue could stress the animals and do more harm than good.

Fiji: Survey done on dolphins and whales

The Fiji Department of Fisheries and the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium research team has completed a three week survey for whales and dolphins in the waters off Levuka.

This survey, following on from similar surveys undertaken in 2002 and 2003, confirmed an increase in the number of humpback whales sighted since the last survey five years ago. Mr Aisake Batibasaga, Principal Fisheries Research Officer with the Fiji Department of Fisheries said: "it is encouraging to see the results of the survey have shown an increase in whale numbers since the Fijian Government declared the waters of Fiji a whale sanctuary in 2003."

The research team lead by Mr David Paton from Blue Planet Marine, undertook a survey of whales and dolphins in the Lomaiviti waters to compare current numbers with that sighted during a survey conducted 50 years ago by Dr Bill Dawbin. The team also recorded a number of pods of pilot and false killer whales as well as spinner and bottlenose dolphins during the survey.

The research team collected data including identification photographs of the tails of the humpback whales seen as well as skin samples for genetic analysis and humpback song. This data will aid in gaining a better understanding of the population structure and movements of these whales.

Fisheries Research Officer, Ms Saras Sharma, who was also part of the team, said: "working with whale researchers from Australia has allowed us to learn the techniques used to identify and undertake research on whales and dolphins."

Fiji Fisheries Department has set up a database to record and document sightings of whales and dolphins in the Fiji waters. The Fiji Government is working towards drafting a Management Plan to conserve these species which are not only important culturally, but also have the potential for tourism opportunities within Fiji.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Taiwan must protect their dolphins!

A Canadian scientist dedicated to the preservation of aquatic mammals urged the Taiwan government Wednesday to take immediate action to protect an isolated and endangered population of dolphins that is found only in the eastern Taiwan Strait.

Peter S. Ross, a marine mammal toxicologist at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Canada, made the call at a press conference held in Taipei by Taiwanese environmental protection advocates, including Legislator Tien Chiu-chin of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party.

Ross is currently on a visit to Taiwan to attend the two-day 2008 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Roundtable Meeting on the Involvement of Business/Private Sector in Sustainability of the Marine Environment, which opened Tuesday in the capital city.

Along with other international and local cetacean scholars, Ross organized the Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group to provide expert advice, guidance and scrutiny on conservation issues concerning Taiwan's remaining Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, known by the scientific name of Sousa chinensis.

The dolphins, which are white in colour and endemic to Taiwan, were discovered in 2002 off the west coast of the island. In August, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) listed the species as critically endangered after research found that the population of dolphins had dropped to less than 100.

Ross said the species might soon become extinct if it is not properly protected.

There will be no vibrant economy if the oceans are not healthy; and there will be no healthy oceans if there are no healthy dolphins, the scientist said, referring to the plight of the coastal dolphins as a signal from heaven to the Taiwanese people.

Ross urged the Taiwan government to list the dolphin's habitat as a preservation zone as soon as possible and to prohibit any kind of development there.

In Taiwan, the humpback dolphins are called "Matsu Fish" by local fishermen because they usually are seen between March and April off the western coast when the northeasterly monsoons weaken and the birthday of Matsu, the goddess of the Sea, is celebrated in Taiwan.

Originally published by Central News Agency website, Taipei, in English 1101 17 Sep 08.

Dolphins hunters are now being hunted by the BFAR

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) is now hunting down a gang behind the slaughtering of dolphins off Baler town in Aurora province, a radio report said Wednesday.Radio dzRH reported that the remains of the dolphins were found off Reserva village in Baler town in Aurora.

Only the heads, bones and tails were found.Provincial fisheries and aquatic resources officer Victoriano San Pedro said this prompted them to suspect the dolphins were killed so their meat can be sold.San Pedro cited initial reports indicating the dolphins would have been 89 inches long and 100 kilos each.

Cancer even affects dolphins

Kelly, Napier Marineland's last dolphin probably died of cancer, a team of Massey University researchers determined yesterday.

A tumour the size of a mandarin was discovered inside the otherwise healthy dolphin during a post- mortem examination at Massey's Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

The 38-year-old dolphin had been unwell for several days and died on Wednesday.
She had been at Napier's Marineland since 1974.

Wildlife health centre director Dr Brett Gartrell said the main findings were indicators of Kelly's remarkably old age for a dolphin.

"But we also found what we think is cancer at the base of her stomach. The mass is being tested and we will know for sure in a couple of weeks.

"What we do know is that she was in really good body condition, and that she had no parasites or long- standing disease other than the cancer."

The 95kg common dolphin's body remains at the vet teaching facility on the Palmerston North campus.

"Her body is being used by researchers studying wild dolphin," Dr Gartrell said, "so there will be some good to come from her death much like the way a human body left to medical research can contribute".

Staff at the University's Institute for Veterinary Animal and Biomedical Sciences undertake post-mortem examinations many times each year, on wildlife ranging from birds to marine mammals.
Dr Gartrell was assisted by Masters student Jodi Salinsky and marine biologist Karen Stockin.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"