Monday, October 25, 2021

How is Our Dolphin Population Doing?

Stepping Stones

Join Bob on Monday, July 16th, at the Marco Island Historical Society’s Rose Auditorium as he presents his semi-annual update of our local dolphin friends. Learn about our yearlings, juveniles, males and females with all new photos from the past few months. Start time is 7PM. Admission is free to MIHS members and only $10 for guests.

Everybody loves dolphins. If you’re lucky enough to get a photo of one coming out of the water, or just see one breaching the surface, they always seem to be smiling. I can recall many evenings walking with my mom at sunset along the beaches of Casey Key, searching and hoping to see these amazing creatures come up to take a breath.

“Ooh!” my Mom would exclaim. “There’s one!”

She was like a kid on Christmas morning opening that special present. For most of us, including me, that feeling never gets old. Having a dolphin look you in the eye is like having a major celebrity come to your door.

So how is our local population of bottlenose dolphins doing? Let’s catch up with these very intelligent creatures.

Starting with the young of the year, five new born were sighted last fall, not too long after Hurricane Irma passed through Marco Island. Four of them are regular patrons of the north Marco waters and all are doing well. These calves are now 8 to 9 months old and just learning how to fish, with mom’s help.

Calves are born with no teeth and will nurse from their mother’s milk until they are nearly two years old. However, the teeth will begin erupting through the gums at about 6 to 8 months old and the youngsters will begin their fishing careers. Once they stop nursing, they will fish for the rest of their lives.

Mom Jing Jing and her calf Jordan are the most commonly seen in the Marco River area. This is Jing Jing’s first calf. This mother was born in 2010 and her mom, Sydney, is still around, actually raising a twenty-one month old of her own and is now grandmother of Jordan. Other pairings include mom Patches Twin and calf Petoskey, mom Sparky and calf Porkchop and mom Destiny and Destiny’s child, Irma.

Sub-adults are those dolphins that have left mom’s side but are not yet physically mature. Females typically reach full maturity at about 8 to 10 years old with the males maturing a few years later.

One of the favorite sub-adults in the area is Skipper. Turning 5 this fall, Skip is doing well after a series of close calls. She survived a shark attack at 8-months-old and a life-threatening fishing line entanglement, which required a rescue, at 14-months-old. She will sport a scar from the attack for life but it has not affected her ability to fish and socialize with the other dolphins. She is great.

Many of our adult males are regularly seen but two have not been around for nearly a year. Dolphins will live to be about 30 to 35 years old in the wild on average. However, males Marco and Flag have not been spotted for about 12 months and it is suspected that old age caught up with them.

The female population is intact with all of our adults seen in the area since Hurricane Irma except one. There does seem to be a new girl in town catching the eye of some of our males. Her name is Mia (named after the Marco Island Academy) and two of our big males, Hatchet and Capri, have been vying for her attention since she arrived.

As for some of the other females, it will be interesting to see what happens in the fall. That is when the majority of our new calves in the north Marco area are born. Some of our sub-adults are at the age that they could become first-time moms and a few of the other adults could be possibly giving birth this year as well. Time will tell.

The overall health of our dolphin society seems excellent. Our ecosystem is very clean and the young of year are surviving at a higher rate than other areas around the globe. We humans are fortunate to share this habitat with such amazing creatures.

Enjoy those walks on the beach and get out on the water. It will come as no surprise to you when you see a dolphin and find yourself pointing and excitedly saying, just like my Mom, “Ooh! There’s one!”

Who knows…maybe a dolphin will smile back at you!

Bob is a Naturalist on board the dolphin study vessel Dolphin Explorer, which departs from Rose Marina. He is the author of two books and a regular speaker at venues throughout the area. Learn more at Bob loves his wife very much!

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