Archive for ‘marine mammals’

March 29, 2012

Something About Cats and Tuna ..

I couldn’t resist the title.  This is a clip of dolphins Shiloh and Thunder having quite the interactive session with Arthur the cat at Theater of the Sea in Islamorada, Florida.  The clip is pretty old – back from 1997 – but it sure does make me raise an eyebrow or two.  What about you?  Harmless and enchanting clip?  Or possibly encouragement to otherwise-well-meaning Floridians to go out and interact with wild dolphins?  (Particularly since its not too obvious until you see the bridge – the whistle – that these are trained animals.)

August 12, 2011

Manatee Release Photos Part II

FWC posted a few more fantastic photos from yesterday’s release of a four year old male at Kars Park in Merritt Island, FL.  In them you can easily view the panel truck that SeaWorld Orlando uses for transport of injured and rehabilitated manatees (note the extensive styrofoam padding) and get a sense of the overall procedure for releases.   You can also see in a few photos where the FWC biologists do last minute health checks to ensure the patient is ready and rarin’ to go and to do finalized photographs of scar patterns for future identification purposes.

In some cases released manatees are tagged with satellite trackers so that movements can be detected.  The belt is worn at the tail stalk where the paddle meets the body.  This individual doesn’t appear to be carrying one.

Also, I see some familiar faces from the SeaWorld crowd in these photos!  The Animal Care team pictured here represents decades worth of vested time and experience in caring for marine mammals.  And they’re all quite fabulous off the clock as well.  Cheers again for both teams’ hard work in the hot sun!

August 10, 2011

Juneau Gets His Kicks

What a minute, I know that whale!  I used to run back and forth across his underwater panels while Juneau was still at SeaWorld Orlando.  What a sweetheart.  Never thought to bring my trumpet in to play him a tune.

And yes, the sillier you think you are being, the more entertaining you are to a marine mammal.  In the field we call this “environmental enrichment”, when we literally play to break up a zoo animals’ day.

As highly acoustic animals, it makes sense that a beluga would respond to this quirky display.  Never mind the dancing and enormous sombreros.

June 23, 2011

Amber is a Momma!

When I worked with SeaWorld Orlando the fabulous animal care staff were constantly busy with orphaned and injured manatees behind the scenes.  A few that were considered more long-term patients were frequently added to the main exhibit space within the park, a spot where I spent many hours and even one New Years Eve.  (I was even known to sing to them on late nights when there weren’t any guests around.)

In my three years with the aquarium several manatees came and went out of the exhibit space and the hospital back areas, particularly several dozen orphaned calves.  As you might expect, orphaned manatee calves are delicate, require constant care, and they don’t always thrive well enough for eventual release back into the wild.

Amber was quite the exception.  She came in from Blue Springs State Park to SeaWorld Orlando several years ago after her mother and twin sister left her behind at the freshwater spring.  While manatees do occasionally give birth to twins, the females as a rule only care for one offspring.  It’s thought their relatively low-energy diet only allows them to sustain a milk supply for one calf.  Amber was rescued by SeaWorld at 68 pounds and 3.5ft in length.

For several months she was nursed on a replacement milk diet by the staff, then coaxed onto romaine, spinach, and lettuce, and finally received the go-ahead after several years from Florida Fish and Wildlife for release back in February 2009. While Rita, the much older manatee released at the same time didn’t make it, Amber has steadily adapted to her wild environment in central Florida’s lakes and marshes.  She sticks primarily to the Blue Springs area, Lake Woodruff, Lake Dexter, and the outflows of the St. Johns River.  She’s frequently seen socializing with other manatees, including several other SeaWorld-veterans, and at some points she’s also been mating with these other manatees!

In January 2010 we suffered weeks of extremely cold weather in Florida forcing rescues of several manatees and hundreds of sea turtles around the state.  At that time Amber gave birth prematurely to a calf that ultimately did not make it.   Luckily, not too long after she successfully mated again and brought the latest pregnancy all the way to term (about a year).  Amber showed up to Blue Springs State Park last week with a brand new calf, born on June 13th!

I’m very excited about this birth announcement and I know SeaWorld, the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership, and Sea to Shore will all share a certain sense of pride and cautious optimism about this new life.  Keep your fingers crossed that Amber’s natural maternal instincts can kick into full gear and raise this calf.

Oh, and if you happen to be a central Florida native, get in touch with me if you’re interested in volunteering to help watch Amber and her calf in the busy spring.  As an orphan that grew up around people she’s not shy about approaching visitors.. not exactly a good thing!  State park personnel, as well as all the marine conservation groups involved, want to assure that Amber can bond with the baby through the first few critical weeks in a safe and calm environment.



June 21, 2011

Video Break: Indy's Dolphin Calf

I won’t lie, we’ve got a few more negative stories up on the block for this week so if you – like me – haven’t even yet recovered from reading about sharks being hacked apart then I think you’ll enjoy this break from reality and into cuteness brought to you by the folks at the Indianapolis Zoo, who have a brand new bottlenose dolphin calf.   The keepers got fantastic video including shots of the calf nursing underwater (see 0:54 – 0:58)!  Enjoy!

June 13, 2011

IRL Dolphin Study Back Underway

Since 2003 researchers from the Georgia Aquarium, Florida Atlantic University, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, and NOAA’s National Ocean Service Center for Coastal Environmental and Biomolecular Research, have annually traveled out to two estuaries in the southeastern United States with one mission: to assess the health and status of local bottlenose dolphins.   This year one of Deep Sea News‘ contributors is actually joining in the fray (and tipped me off to the project!)

The aptly named Health and Environmental Risk Assessment (HERA) Project is built upon the idea that dolphins, as apex predators, can serve as a model species for the impacts being felt in their environment.  Even more, the researchers hope that their accumulated data can develop predictive models to evaluate current and future conservation programs and policies.

And let’s face it, dolphins are the very embodiment of the phrase “charismatic megafauna”.  If we can’t motivate funding, policy change, and the public by citing research on dolphins, we probably can’t do it with stats and findings on any other species in the estuaries they inhabit.  (Ahem, no one gets up in arms and excited about problems with oyster toadfish except for geeks like me!)

So, just where is the HERA projected focused?  The Indian River Lagoon!  (Also Charleston, SC as another estuarine environment.)

Why the IRL? Well, I could type for hours about the importance of this estuary but let’s face it, if you’re reading WaterNotes, you’ve been fully appraised of its virtues.  What you may not know is that the IRL’s bottlenose dolphins have rather high reported rates of mortality events within the past decade associated with a number of diseases.  The IRL’s population of bottlenose are also thought to be somewhat residential and to travel within home ranges, in fact three communities have been reported previously, one for Mosquito Lagoon (or the Banana River) and two more splitting the larger North and South Indian River.

What is also split between regions are the striking differences in water quality, particularly in relating to contamination with wastes, mercury, organochlorine pesticides, PBDEs and PFCs.  This makes the IRL population a great resource for comparisons and analysis of one community to another with potentially less static from fluctuating variables in environmental conditions and genetic background.

Of the diseases reported, some have no known cause (or etiology), but a few of the most studied include those resulting in skin lesions and disorders like lobomycosis as well as ongoing research into morbillivirus and emerging diseases such as orogenital papillomatosis.   Lobomycosis is a fungal disease and is thought to only occur in dolphins and humans, and there is at least one incidence on the books of the disease being transferred from a dolphin to a person.  This makes the HERA research all the more interesting and potentially valuable to the people living near the IRL!

(As a side note: Fungal infections of the skin are not uncommon among people who regularly work and fish within the margins of the IRL.  Potential overshare: I’ve had several occurrences of infections when I sat too long in wet gear or scratched myself while in the water.)

Something else dolphins and humans share? Antibiotic resistant organisms cultured from their bodies including E. coli from IRL dolphins and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) from three dolphins in the Charleston population.   Yes, that MRSA!  This finding back in 2009 led researchers to ponder whether the dolphins had picked up these transferred organisms from humans (say from contaminated effluent) or if antibiotics reaching their environments were acting upon otherwise typical strains of S. aureus and E. coli and spawning resistant strains through selection.

The HERA Project will also focus on photoidentification, genetic relationships, and immune system function in addition to following lobomycosis, orogenital papillomatosis, antibiotic resistance patterns, and evaluate exposure to mercury and pesticides.   Let’s all cross our fingers and wish the research team a great week of fieldwork!

June 4, 2011

Shedd's Newest Little Bundle

Shedd Aquarium in Chicago welcomed a tiny Pacific white-sided dolphin calf to its pools just in time for World Ocean’s Day next week! (Aquarium and zoo types call this species “Lags” as a short form of their genus name.)  The little tyke is actually quite large – about thirty pounds and three feet in length – compared to his mother.  I worked around marine mammals and cetaceans for several years in a spot that routinely had pregnant and laboring females and always missed the births.  They go pretty quick once you see those little tail flukes present themselves!  Shedd did a lovely job capturing the event on film for everyone to see.

Speaking of World Ocean’s Day, will you be anywhere near Washington, DC on June 7th?  The Smithsonian will be hosting a splash event at high noon exactly so hightail it there if you’re curious to learn more!