Blog Tags: Dolphin
For today’s Creature Feature, we’d like to introduce you to a new species of humpback dolphin—so new, in fact, that it doesn’t even have a name!
Humpback dolphins are a family of dolphins with a distinctive hump beneath their dorsal fins, similar to the humpbacked whale. Growing to about eight feet in length, they range in color from dark gray to white to light pink.
This Labor Day weekend, as Americans everywhere closed out the summer with barbeques and trips to the beach, Miranda Cosgrove had a different plan. She decided to save dolphins.
Taking advantage of her break from school at the University of Southern California, where she studies film, Miranda flew to Bimini Bahamas with Oceana to film a forthcoming Public Service Announcement about the need to protect dolphins. Accompanied by her mom, Miranda landed in South Bimini amidst a rain storm and braved the elements as she drove to Bimini Sands Resort in a golf cart—the main mode of transportation on this tiny island.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that a measles-like virus is responsible for hundreds of bottlenose dolphin strandings along the mid-Atlantic coast this summer.
Since early July, unusually high numbers of dead or dying bottlenose dolphins have washed ashore from New York to North Carolina. About 155 dolphins strand in the mid-Atlantic from January to late August during a normal year, but this year almost 500 dolphins washed ashore in the same time period. The sudden increase prompted NOAA to declare an Unusual Mortality Event for bottlenose dolphins.
To the editor:
This letter is in response to the July 24 article titled, “Dolphin dies after beaching in Ocean City.”
We always knew that dolphins were incredible, but this story made our jaws drop – a dolphin, captured and held in captivity for several years, escaped from her pen and reunited with her pod. The dolphin, named Sampal, was accidentally caught by fishermen off Jeju Island, near South Korea, as reported by the environmental blog Take Part, which has been charting this epic tale. Instead of being released, however, Sampal was then illegally sold by fishermen to the Pacific Land Aquarium, where she was forced for years to perform tricks for food.
In a House Natural Resources Committee meeting last week, Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey expressed his strong opposition to proposed seismic airgun testing along the Atlantic coast, and even delivered a question on seismic testing from Oceana directly to Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell. Pallone, a senior member of the committee, stated that because he is “staunchly opposed to drilling in the Atlantic,” he is against the proposed seismic airgun testing for oil and gas in the region. Seismic airgun testing, which uses dynamite-like blasts of compressed air to search for fossil fuels under the ocean floor, is the first step towards offshore drilling for oil and gas. A proposed plan for seismic airgun testing will span the Atlantic Ocean from Delaware to Florida.
In one of those incredible-but-true stories that makes you want to give the oceans a giant hug, a disabled killer whale missing two of its fins and unable to hunt to feed itself is able to survive through the help of its family. The young male killer whale, or orca, has no dorsal fin or right-side pectoral fin, leaving it unable to hunt and capture prey for itself. Instead of being abandoned or rejected by its pod and left to die, however, the killer whale appears to have been cared for and supported by the members of its pod, which share food with the young whale.
American photographer Doug Perrine, 60, captured this priceless image of a false killer whale mid-grin off the coast of Kona, Hawaii.
Less commonly known than the killer whale (or orca), the false killer whale is the third largest member of the oceanic dolphin family. Growing to 1,500 pounds and up to 20 feet long, the false killer whale looks like no dolphin you’ve seen before. Its small conical head lacks the “beak” we expect in common dolphins, and its flippers have a distinctive hump along the front edge.
False killer whales were first discovered by their fossils in 1843, and were assumed to be extinct. In fact, the species wasn’t discovered alive until fifteen years after the discovery of their fossils. Like the gregarious-looking fellow captured in the photo, false killer whales are intensely social, forming strong social bonds in groups of ten to twenty that belong to larger groups of up to 40 individuals in Hawaii or as many as 100 elsewhere. False killer whales travel and hunt together in broad bands that can be up to several miles wide, and they even share their food with other group members.
Unfortunately, the false killer whale’s population numbers in Hawaii are nothing to smile at – these social creatures have suffered major decline in the last 25 years. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, aerial surveys showed about 400 false killer whales in 1989. More recent studies suggest the number today is closer to 150. As of November 2012, false killer whales were listed as endangered in Hawaii, due in large part to the creature’s vulnerability to be caught as bycatch by tuna and swordfish fisheries. The false killer whales become hooked or entangled in longlines when they take bait off of longline fishing hooks set for Hawaiian swordfish and tuna, a dangerous mistake that often turns deadly.
The future for false killer whales is in danger, but with education, advocacy, and increased respect and protections for these social and gregarious sea creatures, we can give the false killer whale something to smile about.
Herman Melville’s Moby Dick may paint a picture of the sperm whale as a terrifying, ferocious creature that destroys ships and attacks the sailors on them, but modern research shows that sperm whales are compassionate and social creatures, dangerous only to the fish and squid that the giant whale feasts on for dinner, or to the orca whales that prey on sperm whale calves. A heartwarming and unusual recent discovery does even more to distinguish the sperm whale from its deadly reputation, as a group of sperm whales were observed “adopting” a bottlenose dolphin with a spinal malformation.
Behavioral ecologists Alexander Wilson and Jens Krause discovered this unique phenomenon when they set out to observe sperm whales off the island of Pico in the Azores in 2011. Upon arriving there, they discovered a whale group of adult sperm whales, several whale calves, and an adult male bottlenose dolphin. Over the next eight days, the pair observed the dolphin with the whales six more times, socializing and even nuzzling and rubbing members of the group. At times, the sperm whales seemed merely to tolerate the dolphin’s affection, while at others, they reciprocated. "It really looked like they had accepted the dolphin for whatever reason," Wilson reports to ScienceNOW. "They were being very sociable."
Think that you could survive in the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean? Probably not, but beluga whales have certainly found a way.
The beluga whale, sometimes known as the white whale, is an unusual-looking marine mammal. A typical individual can be 13-20 feet long, and with its white coloring and distinctively lumpy head, the beluga is one of a kind. You can find belugas way up north in the waters of Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Russia.
Beluga whales have many adaptations that allow them to live in extremely cold waters. They don’t have a dorsal fin, which is believed to help them survive under ice. They have round bodies and a thick layer of blubber to keep out the cold.
So what’s with that protruding lump on the beluga’s head? It’s called a melon, and other marine mammals like dolphins and porpoises have it too. It’s an organ with lots of oils and fats that is believed to be important during echolocation. The melon of a beluga whale is unique: by blowing air around its sinuses, a beluga whale can change the shape of its melon, which may be used in specialized under-ice echolocation.
The beluga whale is referred to as a sea canary, because of its high-pitched song. Individuals use squeaks, clucks and whistles to communicate with each other. Belugas are a very social species, and live together in groups called pods. When they move into bays, estuaries, and rivers during the summer they have been known to congregate in the thousands. Pods aren’t permanent though—belugas switch social groups frequently, sometimes moving hundreds of miles to join another group.
Beluga whales are smart and playful, and like to spit water at other whales or their keepers in aquariums. They’re the only whale species that’s commonly kept in aquariums, though captive breeding programs haven’t been successful.
Worldwide, beluga whales are ranked as near threatened by the IUCN. A subpopulation in the Cook Inlet in Alaska is listed as critically endangered. They suffer from pollution, especially in the rivers and estuaries they spend their summers in—there have been incidents of cancer in beluga whales linked to pollution in the St. Lawrence River. If we want these unique whales to be around in the future, we have to keep their environment safe and clean.
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