AM rocketed into a group of bulls conspicuously and continued with the even showier behavior shown here. AM leaps into the sky (aerial avoid) to avoid the bulls following on her heels (rostral ram).
Can you think of a human behavior that is always showy but not always for show?
Showy human behaviors involving diamonds, yachts and Porsches, for example, are always for show. Behaviors that are not showy, like eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, are rarely for show. Can you think of a human behavior that is always showy but not always for show?
Dolphin behaviors that are always showy but not always for show are among the most dramatic capabilities of the sleek and powerful bottlenose dolphin. One is rocketing. The other is zooming.
Rocketing is both the name and description of the behavior. Rocketing is when a dolphin accelerates in the water at such speed that it appears to have been launched out of a cannon. Entirely self-propelled, dolphins rocket in a range of circumstances.
Like you “flooring it” in traffic to avoid a car, adult dolphins often seem to rocket out of the way of other dolphins. Unlike you flooring it, though, dolphins sometimes rocket in a big circle right back to the dolphins they left in the dust. They circle this way to briefly evade rather than wholly avoid the provoking situation.
The speed of rocketing dolphins has to be seen to be believed. Think of a torpedo on adrenaline!
Zooming is the behavioral cousin of rocketing. If rocketing is a dolphin sprint, zooming is a dolphin gallop.
Zooming is when a dolphin streaks across the waters at speed to join other dolphins who are usually involved in active “discussion” with one another. Zooming is only slightly less dramatic than rocketing.
One, the dolphin zooms up to a group at speed but not at top speed. Rocketing is top speed and, as such, is not sustained. A dolphin can zoom longer and over much greater distances than it can rocket.
Two, a dolphin often zooms over to a group underwater and “just appears” in their midst. However, many John’s Pass dolphins zoom across a bay directly at the boat; you can see them coming. Better is when they zoom next to your boat on their approach. This is their way of greeting and your guarantee of noticing them.
Both rocketing and zooming are seaside spectacles. As the oranges and crimsons of autumn recently crept in, little local lady AM gave two dramatic demonstrations of the effect that such seaside spectacles can have on bulls.
AM’s first demonstration involved two mature bulls that AM has known all her 8-year-long life, BB and DD2. They were busy testing the social waters of young bulls Juno and Fugazi when AM’s small gray form zoomed into the middle of their general bull tomfoolery. With a female in the mix, their swirling intensified but not for long. In fact, the gathering broke up. The younger bulls vanished. BB and DD2 galloped off with AM to surf a passing yacht.
The bull quartet later re-formed. So this was a breathless example of dolphin spontaneity.
AM’s second demonstration involved a different quartet of bulls plus an unknown dolphin and an argument. This time, the mature bull pair was Hi W Ski and Scrapefin. The young bull pair was Oyster and VC. Their quartet had been ambling peaceably when little lithe AM zoomed in from all the way across the bay, giving us time to wonder who she was before she got there.
She swung by the boat (which meant we could identify her). But the dolphin she came in with, or was running away from, did not.
Their animation ignited the quartet of peaceable bulls into a bubbling brew. Suddenly the seas erupted into a scene of tumbling chaos! Wads of dolphins broke free of the sea, individuals climbing over or being sunken in the tumult. AM leapt high over the bulls, once even slapping the head of one of her pursuers with her flukes.
Then she rocketed away in a big spectacular circle. Her temporary retreat may have triggered conflict, for that was when the other dolphins started throwing their infamous tail punches, a sign of serious conflict.
The punching did not last long. The frothing of the bulls seemed to settle something. Everybody split up. AM zoomed away to the east. The quartet of bulls trailed AM’s mysterious companion to the north.
Dolphin rocketing and zooming are always showy, but done for show only sometimes. What human behavior is like that?
Dr. Weaver studies wild dolphins under federal permit 16299, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Send her an email at email@example.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.