A Dolphin Bites Back

So, most of you have probably seen news of the stir created by a SeaWorld dolphin that nipped a little girl who was feeding it.

Here’s the video:

You have to feel sorry for the girl, but she and the family at least learned a little something from the dolphin perspective on a life spent begging for food from paying tourists (and thankfully, the damage doesn’t look too bad).

If you want to know how odious the “petting pool” moneymaking strategy is, then I recommend “Biting The Hand,” an excellent report from Whale and Dolphin Conservation that explains the problems and dangers to both the petters and the pettees.

I don’t have much to add, other than to say petting pools (and this little girl) are one more example of how all the people who head to marine parks because they “love” dolphins do not really love dolphins. They just love the idea of being with dolphins, and having a relationship with a dolphin (superficial as it might be). What they never seem to consider is what their “love” (and willingness to spend money to fulfill their fantasies) means for the dolphins. That is not real love, and it would be nice if more parents would explain that instead of indulging their little dolphin-lovers.


Anyhow, here is how one SeaWorld insider responded when I asked for any insight into what happened with the little girl:

Two things: the little girl was holding the fish tray and not even paying attention to the dolphin; and in recent years these dolphins have increasingly received more and more of their total base of food from these public feedings, so you have hungry animals. SeaWorld charges ridiculous prices for just 4-5 smelt so it’s a huge money-making venture. Not ideal for the animals in a lot of ways, including it not being a proper way to manage healthy weight. The more dominant dolphins get most of the fish so you see overweight animals and this type of management causes aggression when you condition animals to compete for food. I hate it.

Yep. Me too.

Killing (And Maiming) Dophins

PHOTO COURTESY INSTITUTE FOR MARINE MAMMAL STUDIESA dolphin was found dead by IMMS on the shores of Ship Island with a mutilated jaw.
All photos via Sun Herald. 

Sometimes you just have to wonder at how sick and twisted the human psyche can get.

Case in point: Dead and mutilated dolphins are turning up on the Gulf coast, some shot and some with parts cut off.

Here’s a report from the Sun-Herald:

Somebody is maiming and killing dolphins.

On Friday, a team from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport found a dolphin on Ship Island with its lower jaw missing.

Last weekend, IMMS responded to a dead dolphin found along the Ocean Springs/Gautier coastline with a 9mm bullet wound. “It went through the abdomen, into the kidneys and killed it,” said Moby Solangi, IMMS executive director.

In Louisiana, a dolphin was found with its tail cut off.

“Animals don’t eat each other’s tails off,” Solangi said.

“We think there’s someone or some group on a rampage,” he said. “They not only kill them but also mutilate them.”

IMMS investigated the first dolphin shooting earlier this year and incidents have increased in the past few months. In Alabama, someone stabbed and killed a dolphin with a screwdriver, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration press release. In September, a dolphin was found on Elmer’s Island, La., with a bullet in its lung. Others have been mutilated with knife-like lesions.

Turns out that this has been going on for a while now, this year. I can’t pretend to understand what motivates anyone to do such things, any more than I can pretend to understand so much of the violence humans inflict on each other and the rest of the world.

COURTESY INSTITUTE FOR MARINE MAMMAL STUDIESA dolphin found off the shore of Belle Fontaine Beach in Jackson County on Nov. 9 died from a gunshot wound to the abdomen.

But I hope they catch someone and prosecute to the full extent, which could include a fine of up to $100,000 and a year in jail. One important point made by NOAA about this dolphin killing spree is that feeding wild dolphins–which happens all too often–encourages dolphins to approach boats, which either makes them more vulnerable to maniacs with guns, or can led to conflict with fishermen if the dolphins go after their catch.

More pictures, if you can stand it, in this Sun Herald gallery.


Enlightened Viewing: Minds In The Water

This documentary has long been on my list, and now it’s now available on DVD and Video On Demand, Definitely worth seeing.

Here’s the description:

Minds in the Water, is a award winning documentary following the quest of professional surfer Dave Rastovich and his friends to protect dolphins, whales and the oceans they all share. Through Dave’s journey—a five-year adventure spanning the globe from Australia to the Galapagos, Tonga, California, Alaska and Japan—we see one surfer’s quest to activate his community to help protect the ocean and its inhabitants…[snip]

…Five years in the making, Minds In The Water is the story of one surfer’s international journey to help protect dolphins, whales and their ocean environment. Through the charismatic journey of one person’s life, witness an adventure spanning the globe from Australia and the Galapagos to Tonga, Alaska and Japan. See first hand how one surfer’s quest to protect dolphins and whales has blossomed into a movement of like minds. The film captures a key moment in one person’s life when apathy is no longer an option.

Pro surfer Dave “Rasta” Rastovich went from an ocean minded admirer to an ocean activist when he embarked on a personal mission to help stop the worldwide commercial slaughter of dolphins and whales. While unsure at first, Dave quickly found his activist sea legs and helped build a core team of filmmakers, journalists, musicians, eco-pirates, celebrity surfers and even a professional mermaid to help spread the message. All this has been documented in the film, Minds In The Water.

The message of the film is two fold: The power of one individual to inspire people to take action and make a difference and if ocean minded people are to pass on a sustainable culture, then they must become responsible stewards of their coastal environment.

And here’s the trailer:

Seeing Is Important: Taiji “Dawn To Death”

Via the ever-vigilant Elizabeth Batt comes this 28-minute video which captures the full tragedy of what is happening in Taiji’s killing cove.

Elizabeth has the backstory here. The video is as painful to watch as you might expect. But that’s why it is important that people see it.

What is happening there is almost beyond imagining, and certainly beyond understanding.

Communicating With Dolphins

The idea that we might be able to establish a two-way conversation with dolphins is so intriguing that I wrote a story about it. I came away convinced that it will happen. The only question is how long it will take to get there.

If you are interested in knowing more, then you should check out this interview with evolutionary neurobiologist Lori Marino.

She knows more about the dolphin brain, and dolphin cognition, than most. Here’s a taste:

What’s currently most difficult in understanding the language of the Bottlenose dolphin?

We don’t have the Rosetta stone or a basic understanding of the nature of their communication system. We don’t know whether they’re using dimensional information, or categorical information. We don’t know how they parse their communication system.
We don’t know if they’re putting different components together in ways that we don’t.

Do you think their whistle carries the most information content?

It’s likely. The dolphin’s whistles have been sampled, statistically-parsed and then analyzed to determine whether certain whistle types can be predicted from the same or another whistle type. Results show that dolphin whistle repertoires contain higher-order internal structure or organizational complexity. This suggests their whistle “language” contains elements loosely analogous to grammar or syntax in human language.

Read the rest. And if you want to stay on top of how efforts to communiocate with dolphins are progressing, then you need to check in with the Wild Dolphin Project.

Wild Orca And Dolphin Show

Thanks to the ever vigilant and always interesting Pete Thomas, a great reminder that orcas and dolphins are capable of putting on some pretty impressive spontaneous shows out there in their natural world.

Here’s a dolphin stampede off South Africa filmed by Chase Jarvis from explorer Mike Horn’s sailboat.

And these orcas in the Sea Of Cortez did a nice job of showing some boaters the joy of being a wild orca. Doesn’t get any better than that.

Orca Sea Of Cortez

Orca Sea Of Cortez

Orca Sea Of Cortez

Orca Sea Of Cortez

Two Dolphins Go Back To The Sea

Mostly we take dolphins FROM the sea. We put them in marine parks, we charge tourists to watch them do tricks and to swim with them, and we often breed them to produce more dolphins that can stock the parks. So it is pretty cool when there is an attempt to take captive dolphins and send them in the other direction: back to the wild.

It’s a process that is highly complex (the dolphins have to be taught how to hunt for themselves again, among other things), and many argue that returning marine park dolphins to the wild puts their lives at risk. So we should pay close attention to what is happening with Tom and Misha, two dolphins who have been rescued from a filthy pool in Turkey, rehabilitated and prepared for release by marine mammal experts, and set free in the Aegean.

Tom and Misha are part of an expensive, ambitious and risky program sponsored by the UK-based Born Free Foundation, which is aiming to prove that captive dolphins can be reintroduced to the wild.

For more than a year, Foster and his team worked in a quiet cove on the Aegean, teaching the two dolphins how to catch their own food. He said the intensive training was necessary to get the dolphins ready to fend for themselves.

“It would be like taking your dog and releasing it into the woods,” Foster said. “If you don’t prepare your dog for that, it would never happen.”

When Foster first met these dolphins more than a year ago, he said they would eat only if humans placed dead fish directly in their mouths.

“We had literally thousands of fish in the pen, and they just wouldn’t look at them,” Foster said. “They had just been so used to being hand-fed in a captive situation that they did not recognize fish as a food source.”

If they can survive, and even thrive in the wild, it will help establish that marine park releases, for dolphins that are good candidates, are viable. So far, Tom Continue reading “Two Dolphins Go Back To The Sea”

The Fisherman And The Dolphin

Because you can never see enough examples of the complex and moving relationships dolphins can choose (that’s a key word) to develop with humans, I want to point you toward a fascinating documentary series that depicts the complex bonds that can form between wild dolphins and humans.

Here’s a summary from the press release:

Blue Velvet In Sinai shows the remarkable relationship between a wild solitary female dolphin in the Red Sea named Olin, who in 1996 initiated a close relationship with a Bedouin fisherman called Abdullah, from The Mezzeina Tribe in the Sinai desert, Egypt.

This tribe is deaf due to inter-breeding, and communicate via sign language. In late December 1996 Olin, after mating with a dolphin from a passing school, gave birth to a male calf named Jimmy (by the Bedouin). Jimmy’s arrival heralded a massive tourism wave that changed the area and the lives of the Bedouin.

The programmes also highlight many aspects of Bedouin life and culture against the vast landscapes of the Sinai Desert. We will catch fish with Abdullah and members of his tribe, and compare differing life styles between the traditional and modern Bedouin..

An extract from a story by the ancient Roman writer Aleian, about a tragic love affair between a young boy and a female dolphin, will show that human and dolphin interaction is not something new. Dolphins were abundant in classical times, though now their species are declining.

Before discovering Olin, Abdallah had difficulty with speech. Now Abdallah is able to talk freely, and his hearing is said to have improved. A remarkable achievement, almost miraculous, though it can be partly explained scientifically.

Footage of pregnant woman swimming with dolphins, and interviews with women who have undergone water births, are examples of how close we are in nature to these playful creatures. Including the first birth with dolphins in Israel, which hit major headlines.

Dolphin healing is an area that makes me very, very nervous, because it is so ripe for commercial exploitation. When humans think dolphins can give them something they tend to take (and someone always has a way to make money from that dynamic). But the series at least helps show how remarkable dolphins are, which can only help humanity change the way it sees dolphins and the many ways in which human culture exploits them.

Here are some trailers from the Blue Velvet In Sinai website, and for a small fee you can watch the whole series online here, or buy a DVD.

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