Local lady DD1 arches to avoid a particularly bothersome bull.
You’re unique, but share something with every creature on earth: You win some and you lose some. How wonderful the wins! How lousy the losses!
As long as they’re roughly balanced, things are OK. When they’re off-balance, it’s tempting to embrace the meditative philosophy that nothing is good or bad. It just is.
The idea that events are neither good nor bad is one way to see life at sea, whose natural rhythms have recently unfurled a gripping series of events. Overall, the number of dolphins using our area is generally consistent but we find them less often now. Perhaps they’re behaving differently, which conceivably corresponds to a classic feature of warming seas: novel new dolphins.
Novel new dolphins include the seven babies born so far. Six have resident moms (Club, J, Face, FM, Slightwin and LA Stick). The remaining mom is nonresident Osiris, whose appearance with her tiny shiny newborn reaffirms John’s Pass waters as vital dolphin nursery grounds.
New moms tend to scatter, roaming alone to teach the newborn her unique whistle while avoiding the potential confusion of competing sounds, whether other dolphins or boats.
FM’s newborn didn’t survive tropical storm Debby. But like the sunshine that followed her havoc, its loss was an unexpected silver lining for FM’s previous calf Fennel, born in 2009.
When a mother dolphin with an older “calf at heal” gives birth again, it usually triggers the older calf to wean. But its strong ties with its lifelong companion aren’t always broken with a resolute snap. Weanlings often trail their mom for several weeks after the birth of the rival sibling or are found in bays adjacent to her.
Little Fennel haunted his mom’s vicinity in the days following the appearance of her June newborn, giving us a glimpse of the tough side of life. Fennel is small for his age. He got bit on the back by a shark last summer, which healed to a conspicuous dent behind his dorsal fin. Wounded calves pour resources into healing instead of girth and often stay small. You don’t want to be small and alone at sea. It attracts the wrong company.
When FM appeared without the newborn after the storm, Fennel swam sturdily at her side once again.
Speaking of the hazards of small lone dolphins at sea, poor Split emerges with an increasingly somber reproductive record. She successfully raised her zesty 2005 son Steve to weaning. The loss of her 2008 newborn revealed the grave fact that dolphins mourn their dead. Split gave birth in 2010 but the newborn was lost within the month. She had Seville in 2011, who was doing beautifully through Memorial Day this year. Five days later, reports of Split once again tending the corpse of her dead baby ended all that.
The cosmic tide pushed back with a spring parade of bulls that, like Treasure Island’s Fourth of July fireworks, included many charming surprises. A number of young and mature bulls have returned after years of absence along with two novel new dolphins.
One of the new dolphins is a husky character we call Xiphos. He spent May and June haunting the vicinity of mom-calf groups but never joined them directly that we saw. However, he not only joined local bulls N and Rippington directly. He found it necessary to pepper them with an extensive big fish handling display, perhaps as an exercise in intimidation.
Over Memorial Day, three dolphins sprinted off the shadows of a seaside school before vanishing into the wake of a passing yacht. One was a dolphin we call Hoffman. We’ve seen it only once before. Hoffman’s return is another reflection of the rhythm of free-ranging dolphin movement patterns. Hoffman’s companions were new to us. One remains mysterious. The other’s dorsal fin pattern was so distinct that it was an obvious new addition to our photo ID catalogue, the compendium by which we recognize and document local dolphin dramas. We’re calling it Gem, a sparkly gender-free combination of Jen and Jim.
A couple of weeks later, three bulls pestered local lady Front Slash as she tried to hunt along a private section of seawall. Bulldozed into open waters, she communicated her response to the bothersome bulls by launching into a series of aerial maneuvers and then rocketing away at top dolphin speed.
The trio harried her as a pair and a singleton. The pair was a surprise. Lax is a local Bowery Boy who usually swims with Midface so it was peculiar to see him swim in careful synchrony alongside Dune. Dune is an occasional visitor insofar as we’ve seen it only once in August of 2009, when it and companions fought with local bulls.
The singleton who worked alone is a bull we identified during our 2004 pilot work. His name, Square Bite Face, is a rough description of the notch pattern on his dorsal fin. We saw him annually before John’s Pass Bridge construction began but only three times since. His buddy Two Lips was nowhere around, maybe lost in the tides of time.
But a fourth dolphin trailed the bulls who trailed the lady. It was Keyhole Plus, another occasional visitor bull we saw annually before John’s Pass Bridge construction began but only three times since.
New babies, Xiphos and Gem push the number of identified dolphins in John’s Pass to 290! Yet between newer dolphins and fewer dolphins, it’s not easy to watch the tentative imbalance with meditative neutrality.
Dr. Weaver studies wild dolphins under federal permit 16299, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website www.dolphinsuperstore.com. Read her award-winning Dolphin Watch column weekly at www.TBNweekly.com. NOAA advises anyone who sees a stranded dolphin in the Gulf of Mexico to call 877-942-5343 or 877-433-8299.