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Outdoors & Recreation
Dolphin watch
Dolphin spring is not yet sprung
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[Image]
Photo by ANN WEAVER
Twig with a twig. Stick’s little calf Twig mouths a horsetail toy as it waits for mom to return from a hunting trip. Its toy is visible in its mouth if you look close.
The dolphin spring remains un-sprung. Three recent events at sea whisper of its coming. But it is late.

The dolphin spring is marked by a return of dolphins to the Intracoastal Waterway estuary from their winter quarters. Their winter quarters are presumably the Gulf of Mexico. But no one really knows where our local dolphins go during the cold months, which, when you think about it, is strange.

The first maritime sign that the dolphin spring is almost un-sprung is the flirting of the water temperature. Why is the water temperature in our local backwaters in the 60s for most of the cold months and in the 80s for most of the warm months, but is so briefly at the transition temperatures of the 70s in between?

Water temperatures have been flirting with the telltale 70-degree mark in the last couple of weeks, coyly approaching it and then retreating from it bashfully. I should ask my database if dolphins begin returning in earnest once the water temperatures hit the 70s or it only seems that way.

A second sign that the dolphin spring is almost un-sprung was the small squad of teens we encountered the other day. Their message was double-speak. We found them as a quartet of three males (VC, Oyster and PC) and one female (Babyface) that swelled into a quintet as they headed west and joined teen female AM. They were uncharacteristically quiet for teens.

The part of their double-speak that said the dolphin spring is almost un-sprung was PC. PC has been a sign of spring at sea for the last two years.

PC is nine years old now. Capt. John Heidemann and I watched him grow up. In fact, we were allowed to babysit him. His mom P dropped him off at the boat, went off to hunt hundreds of yards away, returned, picked him up and off they went! Obligingly, while she was gone, PC gave us precious footage of his game of Toss the Horsetail.

PC “left home” and became independent of P at the unheard-of age of 16 months. Thus, we are doubly pleased to see him. It means he continues to prosper amid the many dangers of the sea.

In the bottlenose bull way, he threads through those dangers to find what he likes. When he finds it, he stays where it is. When he does not, he continues his search of the seas. We did not see PC in 2010 or 2011, and only glimpsed him briefly in the spring 2012 when he swung through to check out our local waters.

He returned four months later after Thanksgiving. He must have found something he liked because he stayed through July 4, 2013. He left again save for one appearance. Thus, we have not seen this strapping young bull for six months.

But he not only returned. He returned to the company of VC and Oyster. They must be friends, for they are ones he has appeared with in the past.

The other part of the teen double-speak was that teens are still here. As the adults return in the spring, teens vanish or become more circumspect. In particular, teen bulls contra-indicate the more mature (more beat-up) bulls. Once we see those pairs of big bruisers in the backwaters (Ouch and Fishlips, Grin and Twin Dip, Ekard and Spry, Midface and Lax, Brick and Nose, N and Riptab, among others), we are unlikely to seeing teen bulls like Oyster or VC until the fall. In keeping with his early maturity, PC is not intimidated by these bruisers as other teen bulls are.

A third sign that the dolphin spring is almost un-sprung was the milling mess of moms and kids that we found the week before.

The milling mess was fun and frustrating to watch. There were at least a dozen dolphins. They were a nursery group that included six calves. With all those kids, there was lots of action! The three wiggliest were born last year in 2013. This spring, they are entering the stimulating phase of dolphin development called Baby’s First Spring; more on these bracing activities later in the season!

The little wigglies included our second youngest calf from 2013, Q’s mysterious calf Qody. Qody is pronounced Cody but alphabetizes with mom Q in the database. I hope Q stays in John’s Pass so I can watch her raise Qody the way I watched her raise Qball. (No new word on Qball’s injuries, reported last week in Dolphin Watch.) The three wiggly dolphins were poked and prodded and rolled by three older calves until the seas bubbled.

But they did not stay. They had proverbially poked their heads into John’s Pass as if to see if they found whatever it is the dolphins come here to find. They did not find it, for they then returned to the mysterious locale from which they had come. This gives me another idea to check in the database. How often have dolphins appeared in early spring, “not found what they were looking for” and vanished until some later date? Is the pool still too cold?

Oh yeah, one final clue that spring is almost un-sprung. Local bull Scrapefin ran into local bull DD2 the other day and vanished in short order. DD2 will not tolerate Scrapefin in his vicinity. Scrapefin knows it. Ahh, things seem to be nice and normal!

Dr. Weaver studies wild dolphins under federal permit 16299, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Send her an email at annstats54@gmail.com or visit her website www.goodnaturedstatistics.com. 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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