In July of this year, we told you about some very important research happening in Sarasota Bay on the west coast of Florida. The Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP), an organization which Dolphin Connection has supported and partnered with for years, has been conducting health assessment studies on the local bottlenose dolphins for over 40 years. The data emerging from this study provides us with the majority of what we know about wild dolphin anatomy, behavior, natural history, and health. Whether it’s with financial resources, supplies, or personnel, Dolphin Connection is dedicated to contributing all we can to this incredibly valuable study.
This year, the data from the past 40 years is especially valuable because it provides baseline information about animals living in a relatively healthy environment which can be compared to data from health assessments conducted in parts of the Gulf of Mexico impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill disaster. In 2011 and again in 2013, SDRP and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conducted health assessments on dolphins in Barataria Bay and the Mississippi Sound, areas in the Gulf severely affected by the oil spill. Sample and data analyses for 2011 and 2013 are underway, but preliminary results show that many of the dolphins in the study are underweight, anemic, have low blood sugar and/or some symptoms of liver and lung disease. Nearly half also have abnormally low levels of the hormones that help with stress response, metabolism and immune function.
While these preliminary results are disturbing, there may be some good news in the form of inspiration: How does it make you feel when you hear about a manmade disaster threatening the lives of dolphins? Sad? Angry? Motivated? How about informed? Aware? Committed? With all of us living near the coast, or near waterways or drains that lead to the coast, we all impact the health of the oceans. What kind of an impact we make is up to us. Knowing how an oil spill may be affecting dolphins might be just the wakeup call we need to take action. Will it encourage a beach walker to bend down and pick up a plastic bag from the surf before it becomes a sea turtle’s lunch? Will it inspire a grocery shopper to purchase in bulk and use canvas bags to minimize the amount of plastic in their life? Will it inspire a busy family to take some time to go for a walk together and participate in a coastal cleanup?
With warm winter temperatures and beautiful sunsets, life at Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys can feel pretty idyllic. Surrounded by the protected waters of a National Marine Sanctuary, it is easy to swim with our dolphins and enjoy the tropical fish darting around our toes and forget that not so far away are habitats and animals who truly need our help. So in the spirit of the season, rather than letting the bad news defeat us, let’s use it as a reminder to enjoy all that we have and help those in need.
Happy November! One of our favorite months here at Dolphin Connection, filled with gratitude, good food, and beautiful temperatures. Migratory birds pass through on their annual trip south, cooler air brings less humidity, and the gorgeous sunsets come a little earlier in the day, but the most noticeable change for us will be the darkness that descends on the Florida Keys so quickly: November marks the end of Daylight Savings Time! Now, instead of having hours at the end of the day to appreciate the beautiful views from our islands, we find ourselves in darkness by supper time. Luckily for us, a flip of a light switch means we don’t miss any of the gorgeous sights at Hawks Cay Resort, so we can continue to enjoy our little slice of paradise. For dolphins, however, special adaptations are required to allow them to safely maneuver through a world in which they may not be able to see.
Bottlenose dolphins, and all toothed whales, have an adaptation called “echolocation”. This adaptation allows dolphins to use sound to see. By producing very special high-pitched clicks, and then using the fatty “melon” to focus these clicks at specific objects or across general locations, a dolphin can listen for the echoes created as the sound waves bounce back. These sound waves are altered depending on what kind of object they interacted with and so each returning sound is different and will produce a very specific and unique image in the dolphin’s brain. This image, much like an ultrasound image that you might receive at the doctor’s office, provides details as to the object’s shape, density, and movement. Even a fish buried under the sand is not safe from a hunting dolphin who uses his echolocation! The dolphin’s brain, which is dedicated in large part to the interpretation of sound, can identify these altered waves as having bounced off of a fish, a rock, another dolphin, etc. Pretty useful when you’re a predator who needs to find food, and even occasionally a prey animal who needs to avoid sharks!
When the sun is shining and the water is clear – which is true almost all of the time in the Florida Keys – dolphins rely most heavily on their eyesight. But in dark or murky conditions, this ability to use echolocation is as useful as our ability to turn on the lights when the sun goes down. So, as winter descends on the Florida Keys and our precious sunshine becomes a little more limited, it’s good to know that all of us have successful ways of surviving. We look forward to seeing you here as you celebrate the holidays by swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Connection!
October is here and for those of us living in the Florida Keys, we look forward to celebrating fall holidays like Halloween with jack-o-lanterns, costumes and – of course – plenty of sweet treats! For you and me, that probably means chocolate, but what about the dolphins? If a dolphin were to go Trick-or-Treating, what would they want?
If we want to give the dolphins at Dolphin Connection a treat to eat, we might offer them ice cubes or unsweetened and unflavored gelatin! While not providing any important nutrients other than additional water, these items are just a great way to have fun with the dolphins in a way that they really seem to enjoy! Alternatively, we can give the dolphins a special treat that is not edible. This might be like you receiving something besides candy when you’re Trick-or-Treating. Maybe it’s a toy or a game or even just a warm and friendly greeting when you knock on the door. Believe it or not, all of these would be wonderful treats for our dolphins as well. A fun game of catch with a dolphin-safe ball, a rub-down with a loofah or a sponge, or even a water fight (which the dolphins are always sure to win!) are all just as much fun to the dolphins as the ice cubes or the gelatin treats are.
Even more than treats or toys, we all know there is something else that dolphins love the most: Fish! Here at Dolphin Connection, our dolphins eat capelin and herring: up to 45 pounds each per day! Fish provides the dolphins with everything that they need in the way of protein, fats, carbohydrates, calories, and even hydration! Think of this as equivalent to a healthy menu of fruits, vegetables and protein for you. Not only is fish the perfect food for a dolphin, but our dolphins are fed only the very best of this perfect food. Every morning we sort through hundreds of pounds of fish, making sure to pull any out that don’t meet our standards. A scratch, a scrape, or a cut on the fish? Throw it out. Our dolphins get only the best, restaurant quality fish every day.
So, if a dolphin comes trick-or-treating to your door, now you know what they might like. Give them a fish and that’s like you receiving an apple in your bag – delicious and nutritious! Give them an ice cube and that’s like you receiving a candy bar – a special treat that’s completely separate from your daily meals. Throw a ball or offer a rub down and that’s like you receiving a warm greeting or a fun game – a chance to interact with folks you care about in a way that’s enjoyable and special.
Next time you’re here at Hawks Cay Resort enjoying a sunset, come on over and watch our trainers and guests as they swim with the dolphins. Of course you’ll see them providing lots and lots of fish, but if you pay close attention you’ll see treats, rubs, toys and affection being given out just as freely. October really is a wonderful month, and not just for the little ghouls and goblins in your neighborhood!