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Dolphin Watch
Dolphins play in the Bay on Inauguration Day
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Teen dolphins avoid big bull dolphins with good reason. One way they do it is to swim very close to manmade structures as VC does here.
People who opted for an early dinner along the John’s Pass boardwalk on Inauguration Monday, Jan. 21, got a great meal and a great show that, now that I think about it, was a tidy seaside analogy to the behavior of journalists assembled to cover the big day.

Journalists covering a big event sometimes are asked to wait together in a nearby room until they’re given en masse permission to leave as a group and scatter in pursuit of their stories. Like journalists milling about in their pre-inaugural waiting room, 15 dolphins were milling between the causeway and the mangrove islands in the late afternoon light.

Sequestered journalists spend their time in vivacious milling and mixing in their waiting room. A casual glance suggests they’re an anonymous assembly, but they’re in fact sufficiently acquainted with one another to introduce plenty of politics outside the inauguration.

Similarly, a dozen adult dolphins milled and mixed among themselves, evenly split into six babes and six bulls. Like the journalists, they’re well acquainted with one another, though the strength of their individual friendships varies. The six bulls were all Bowery Boys but they swam in pairs of direct alliance partners (BB and DD2; Lax and Midface; Scrapefin and Hi W Ski).

It initially appeared that the bulls milled aimlessly among local ladies Stick, Split, Q, Courtney, LA Stick and Valiant. But in fact the bulls engaged the babes and each other with as much political posturing as journalists sequestered before prominent events like presidential inaugurations.

Ladies Stick and Split stayed close together; bull buddies Scrapefin and Hi W Ski hovered around them, skidding out of reach of the other four bulls busy dickering over lady LA Stick. To most onlookers, it just looked like a bunch of dolphins swimming around.

For the sake of analogy, let’s allow that the waiting room crowd included a handful of cub reporters. Bubbling with excitement, they were islands of animation among the restrained murmur of the more experienced journalists. Similarly, a small wad of dolphin calves gave dolphin tour boats a vivacious presentation on the wonders of local wildlife as the folks milled around nearby.

Capt. John Heidemann and I got there just as the waiting room door swung open and the journalists were free to scatter. Though mom Valiant retrieved her cavorting calf Vidalia and vanished with dispatch, they were the only dolphins who resembled journalists scattering in hot pursuit of a journalistic legacy. The rest dispersed in the unhurried pace of creatures innocent of clocks and business hours, to the delight of the people craning over dinner plates and the railings along the entire length of John’s Pass boardwalk.

Cub reporter Qball rushed back to her mom Q “huffing and puffing” en route in vocal behavior called chuffing that may have reflected the excitement of romping with other kid dolphins. Mom Q was animated enough to reply with a few chuffs of her own. They fell in with local ladies Stick and Split, their boy shadows Scrapefin and his bull buddy Hi W Ski, and shy mom-calf pair Courtney and Cutlass. In [dolphin] time, they all eventually meandered under the causeway and out into the Gulf of Mexico.

There was more sparkle among the remaining dolphins, centered around one very attractive female, LA Stick. As they do, two pairs of bulls (BB and DD2; Lax and Midface) alternately followed and escorted her as they vied to swim at her side. Lax was her most frequent escort, followed by Midface, but BB and DD2 didn’t give up. With that combination, surely something was brewing.

Unlike the President on Inauguration Day, LA Stick had a little more breathing room from her entourage of suitors an hour later. They’d come upon three teen bulls that temporarily diverted the bulls’ attention.

Teen bulls are well served to avoid mature bulls because the latter can be aggressive to them. Like cub reporter wallflowers shrinking from the experienced hubbub of Pulitzer and Pyle journalists, teens Oyster and VC swam side by side directly along seawalls and around protruding docks, setting up a storm of barking dockside dogs. These two teen bulls had run-ins with big bulls before.

But their teen buddy PC was right in the middle of the experienced hubbub and was alternately escorted by them, perhaps testing some early rise to dominance while lady LA Stick occupied herself some distance away.

All analogies fall down and here’s where our analogy gives its last gasp. When journalists get together over something as noteworthy as a Presidential Inauguration, there’s plenty of competitive vigor because the right story, footage, or photograph can make your career. Similarly, it’s always noteworthy when dolphin groups have a strong sexual skew like this one (five or seven bulls to one babe), we expect them to bubble with competitive tension like the journalists.

But as hard as Capt. Heidemann and I sought clues to tension, such as rigidly-held bodies to symbolic punches, all we saw was the unhurried pace of creatures innocent of clocks and business hours.

Dr. Weaver studies wild dolphins under federal permit 16299, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Send her an email at or visit her website NOAA advises anyone who sees a stranded dolphin in the Gulf of Mexico to call 877-942-5343 or 877-433-8299.
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