Local bottlenose dolphin Qball becomes embroiled in a rare dispute with a pelican over a fish. When a pelican suddenly dove on a fish the dolphin drove to the surface and the dolphin lunged in retaliation, the bird gave a wildly unusual response: It squawked at the dolphin!
The classic meaning of saga is a medieval Scandinavian story of battles, customs and legends telling the traditional history of an important Norse family.
In contemporary society, however, a saga is any account of adventure or heroic deeds. In this article, the saga is the life of little local lady Qball and her cold shower in hot summer seas.
Qball is a wild bottlenose dolphin living in the shallow salt river called the Intra-Coastal Waterway. She and her mom Q are the dolphins we have encountered most in the last five years and featured in countless Dolphin Watch columns. Q is our “favorite flirt” because she often engages us - sometimes winningly, often frustratingly - as if dolphins study us as we study them.
Qball is 5 years old. Like all of her kind, she is obligated to spend her life swimming naked at sea among endless dangers. This, to me, makes her life scintillatingly adventurous and heroic. She has accomplished stout recoveries from close calls and numerous dolphin childhood diseases without a whiff of health insurance. Pointedly, she has dodged fatal encounters with many menaces.
That could change in a heartbeat. This week, Qball’s mom Q appeared with a tiny shiny newborn at her side. Thus Qball’s cold shower – being replaced at her mother’s side by a younger sibling in the age-old process of weaning – began. At least, weaning seems like a cold shower from a human perspective.
Qball was carefully and consistently tended by her mom Q her whole life. When Qball was just 3 weeks old, Q scooped Qball onto her back and carried her away from excited bulls, more like a monkey mama than a dolphin mama.
When Qball got to be a “big kid” of 4 months old, mom Q let her have one of her first play-dates with bigger dolphins. Though local dolphin moms appear to be merely swimming nearby their cavorting calves, they are quite opinionated about when and with whom their tender young charges are allowed to play. Moms will intercede when necessary.
As a lithe little 7-month-old, Qball had one of her first big escapades rocketing around in a long play bout with a big bull while Q hunted in the distance. The big bull, N, was clearly a trusted babysitter and maybe even Qball’s dad.
From her first year on, Qball’s social world and skills expanded as she learned how to socialize with more and more dolphins. Q was always nearby, save once. Qball got into trouble with strange bulls that seemed to use her as handy scapegoat. Luckily, another dolphin named Bet charged the strange bulls three times and finally got Qball away from them. I still do not understand why Q did not intercede on this occasion.
In the last two years in particular, Qball has become appropriately independent, spending much time “separately together” with Q. She is presumably ready for greater independence, and her cold shower is probably just my imagination.
Based on the behavior of other weaned calves, Qball has several options for what do to next.
She could become shy. We call highly evasive weanlings “The Phantom.” Phantoms like Stick, Sharkey and Oyster go from social calves to solitary teens who shun company (research boat included) to feed off the beaten track. The Phantom stage can last a couple of months to a couple of years.
She could die. Calves Doodle and Falco each encountered a particularly peevish shark; short sweet sagas with ferocious endings.
Qball could pass a social test. Some newly-weaning dolphins sustain social interaction resulting in the Mosaic, whereby they appear covered with a montage of toothrakes from other dolphins. Mosaiced dolphins like Oyster, Stripe and Plunder look terribly dramatic for a while but survive and seem to prosper without apparent [physical] consequence.
She could turn opportunist. When FM’s newborn did not survive Tropical Storm Debby in 2012, her weanling Fennel returned to his place at his mother’s side, where he remains as of fall 2013.
Qball could wean late. Like VC, she could remain with Q and her new sibling for the next year. Like Kelly, she could remain with Q and her new sibling for two years. Or, like Little X, Qball could hover in Q’s vicinity for several weeks. Qball could also act like Babyface or Bet, and reliably occur in bays adjacent to mom and new sibling.
Qball could vanish but come back. PeeWee disappeared briefly and then reappeared in a clique of age-mates this spring and summer we called the Lollipop Kids. Thanks to her upbringing, Qball has known Lollipops PeeWee, Plunder and Trix for a long time.
Qball could move but visit periodically. If she handles weaning like AM, WR, Scarface and little Laska, we might expect to see her once or twice a year hereafter.
With plenty of preparation and options, Qball’s so-called cold shower may be unexpectedly refreshing, perhaps even adventurous. Qball’s saga will change, potentially including the friendliness she developed towards us in never failing to sail across even the widest bay to swing by our boat in greeting. Thus it is not her cold shower of which I speak, but my own.
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.goodnaturedstatistics.com. NOAA advises anyone who sees a stranded dolphin in the Gulf of Mexico to call 877-942-5343 or 877-433-8299.