Thursday, January 27, 2022

Giving Thanks… For Baby Dolphins

Stepping Stones

Now that you’ve sat down and enjoyed that turkey dinner, spent time with family and given thanks for all that you have, it’s time to be thankful for one more thing. When expressing our gratitude this time of year we often forget to look “outside of the box” and appreciate some of the signs and signals that remind us we live in a pretty healthy environment.

Some of the key indicators of a clean surrounding is the wildlife we see, or don’t see. There are five species of birds that are carefully watched in South Florida. If they are doing well, then the rest of the bird population usually does well. In the marine world, one of the apex species carefully studied is the bottlenose dolphin. This fall, these mammals have had an outstanding birthing season.

Twelve months ago, four dolphin calves were catalogued in the Marco River area and all of them have survived to their first birthdays. Over the past three months, seven new calves have been recorded. I can remember only one recent year, 2013, that this many births were noticed in a single season.

Female bottlenose dolphins will mature at about eight to ten years of age on average. Some mature more quickly, others may take a bit longer. Males will mature a few years later in life. One of our females giving birth last year, Jing Jing, actually became pregnant at about six years and eight months old so she was on the early end of the scale. This year a female named Orange gave birth to her first calf and she is now fourteen years old. The pregnancy period for a female is one full year, so Orange became pregnant when she was thirteen, at the latter end of the maturity scale. Let’s take a look at the genealogy of this year’s mothers.

Orange and Swoop

This first calf we saw this year was located on August 28th. Mom’s name is Orange and her very first calf, named by guests on board the Dolphin Explorer, is Swoop. Orange is mentioned above, maturing late in life (for a dolphin). Orange’s mom is still around and her name is Sparky. Sparky is busy raising a one-year-old as well. According to our records, the birth of Swoop makes Sparky a first time grandmother.

Kay Cee and Sunshine

This is Kay Cee’s third calf. She gave birth to Slick Joey in 2007 and to Manhattan in 2013. A few months ago, her new addition, Sunshine, was born. How did this youngster get its name? Kay Cee and the Sunshine band! Shake your booty, little one!

Cosmo and Humboldt

Mom Cosmo gave birth to Hunter in 2011 and to Honeymoon in 2015. Humboldt, like most of the other calves, was first seen in early October. There must have been a scientist on board to name this calf Humboldt!

Kaya and Ariel

Kaya turned eight years old this fall, meaning she became pregnant at age seven, early on the maturity scale for dolphins in this area.

Kaya’s mom, Halfway, is one of the most productive females in our waters, giving birth every three years to a new calf, like clockwork. This is Halfway’s first offspring to produce a baby so she, too, is now a grandmother. There must have been a Little Mermaid fan on the boat to give the little one the name Ariel.

Photo by Kent Morse
Newborn dolphins have vertical creases in their skin called fetal folds. These folds can help determine, at first sighting, if the calf is just a day or two old, three to five days old or a week or more.

Sintas and Gypsy

Sintas was born in 2006 and was named after a fire extinguisher. Her first calf, born in 2015, was Fireball for obvious reasons. In October, Sintas welcomed her second calf, Gypsy. Sintas’ mother is Giza, and is the only adult female that we have not seen since Hurricane Irma.

Chip and Guac

Like Halfway, Chip has given birth every three years since 2009.

She produced calves in 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2018. First came Buster, then we had Chip and Dip. Next, Chip and Salsa. To keep the party going, we now have Chip and Guac. Anybody hungry?

G3 and Muffin

This is G3’s second calf, the first is named Pancake and born in 2015. G3 gets her name because of her dorsal fin shape. We mentioned Giza earlier and her fin was struck by a boat and flopped over, leaving the upright portion looking like a pyramid ( the pyramids of Giza ). G3’s fin is the third one we’ve seen similar to Giza, hence the name G3. Pancake and now Muffin… do you think people are too hungry on our boat? All of these calves named after food!

So, there we have it! Seven new calves this fall, with two of the mothers being first time moms. That also means two new grandmothers. Last year we had four new little ones with two of those mothers being first timers as well. It is so amazing to watch these dolphins grow from babies to having their own calves.

It’s like watching your own family through the years!

Fortunately, we were spared much of the disaster that decimated the marine life in waters north of us because of red tide. At least forty-nine dolphins washed ashore in Lee and Sarasota counties. By keeping a record of our local dolphins, we would know if such an event were affecting the adult males, females, sub-adults or young of year, or all of the above. We would, also, know how much of the total population was involved.

I strongly give thanks at this time of year for my family, friends, and the comforts that my wife and I have worked to obtain. But, let me tell you, I’m looking out of the corner of my eye, watching the waters, and giving thanks for the special creatures that make everyone smile! Happy Thanksgiving!

Bob is a Naturalist on board the dolphin study vessel Dolphin Explorer. He is the author of two books available in the Marco area. He is a regular speaker at several venues throughout the county. Bob loves his wife very much!

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