Swimming with the Dolphins – Happy Birthday Christopher!

Hi Ya All, Blondiepie here, just returning from our trip to The Dolphin Research Center for Christopher’s birthday!  Yay!!  We had the best time, and I’m sure Christopher will remember this day for the rest of his life and if not there is always all the pictures and videos we took.

If you ever come to The Keys you just gotta make a stop at the Dolphin Research Center, everyone there was so nice and the dolphins were so friendly.  I never knew when they go sideways in the water their looking at you.  My mother thought there was something wrong with her at first, but she was just looking up at us.  They only use females to swim with.


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The video’s below are short clips, don’t worry they are not long.  Hope you enjoy!

Christopher swam with two dolphins named Diva and Windly.  You can watch below all the fun Christopher had.

Did you Know?

Defining Culture

Do dolphins and whales have culture as we know it? Discover ideas which may point to culture in these animals and the hurdles that scientists contend with when trying to prove that they possess culture.

In order for a species to possess culture, a few basic requirements must be met. One of those requirements is that a species engages in shared behaviors which vary between populations and are perpetuated across generations. Additionally, these behaviors must be acquired through social learning and be independent of genetic factors in order to be considered culturally transmitted.

Bottlenose dolphins show the strongest evidence of possessing culture within the infraorder Cetacea. It is a gregarious species, displaying distinct shared behaviors among different groups, which appear to be passed on from mother to calf or between associated individuals. Bottlenose dolphins are also well known for their strong capacity to observe and imitate both vocalizations and motor skills. This strongly suggests that many behaviors are acquired though social learning. Social learning is the most likely explanation for shared behavior in most cases, but lack of proof keeps this a speculation. Further research is necessary to provide concrete evidence that these behaviors are truly passed on via social learning before science, as a whole, may accept culture in the bottlenose dolphin under the current definition.

Bottlenose dolphins have been extensively studied in both human care and in the wild. They are long-lived animals that can sometimes exceed 30-50 years of age. They are social animals that live in complex, ever changing communities, where individuals have long term associations with other individuals that are repeated but not necessarily constant. Bottlenose dolphin societies are comprised of a large number of individuals with distinct subgroups. These subgroups include:

  • maternity bands, made up of females and their calves or females of the same age and state of reproduction
  • juvenile groups, consisting of youngsters that have become independent from their mothers
  • bachelor groups, alliances of 2-3 adult males which have the most stable bonds in bottlenose dolphin society outside the mother and calf bond (Reynolds, et al., 2000).

Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are well known for the “plasticity” in their behavior and apparent cognitive ability (Reynolds, et al., 2000). The discovery of these traits, coupled with the social nature of these animals, has led scientists to speculate whether or not bottlenose dolphins and other cetaceans have culture. Seemingly, the most difficult aspect of determining whether a species has culture is the definition of culture itself. Ethologists, biologists, anthropologists and psychologists all have varying views on how to define culture. Some authors define culture in a very broad sense, while others restrict it to certain properties that are often unable to be determined in species outside of humans.

I just want to thank The Dolphin Reseach center for making Christopher’s Birthday one of the best birthday’s yet!

Evolution

Dolphins are mammals, and have characteristics which are distinct to mammals. They have three middle ear bones, and they have hair at some point during their life cycles, and  females have mammary glands which are used to nurse their young. The ocean can be a very harsh place for a mammal to live. However, dolphins are uniquely adapted for the marine environment. How have dolphins and other marine mammals come to live in an aquatic world? Scientists believe evolution holds the key to the answer.


Based on DNA, molecular, and genetic studies, the current theory suggests that cetaceans share a common heritage with that of the hippopotamus. This theory would place cetaceans in the group formerly known as Artiodactyl (now Cetartiodactyla), composed of even toed ungulates (deer, sheep, cows, pigs, hippos, etc.) New skeletal discoveries seem to back this claim, giving possible morphological evidence as testimony. Scientists have recently discovered ancient whale skeletons in Pakistan with well-preserved anklebones displaying features similar to that of the Artiodactyl group. Inside their pectoral fins, dolphins have a skeletal structure similar to a human arm and hand. They have a humerus, complete with a ball and socket joint. They have a radius and ulna, as well as a complete hand structure, including five phalanges, or finger bones. This is one of the many internal physiological structures leading scientists to believe that dolphins and whales evolved from a terrestrial ancestor.

The terrestrial ancestor of the cetacean quickly adapted to a new aquatic niche and the evolutionary process continued at a rapid rate. When animals move into unoccupied niches, evolutionary radiation tends to act swiftly, as it appears to have done in this case. Pakicetus the terrestrial extinct genus that is currently thought to be the direct ancestors to the modern cetaceans.

Ambulocetus is a semi-aquatic to aquatic ancestor to modern day cetaceans which lived approximately 49 million years ago. This evolutionary link displayed subtle changes, resembling a terrestrial animal less and a marine mammal more. The legs on the Ambulocetus were shorter and more paddle-shaped. However, it probably still spent some time on land. The nostrils of this cetacean ancestor had also migrated to the top of the snout, probably to facilitate more efficient breathing. Ambulocetus expended less energy breathing because it only had to poke its nostrils above water as opposed to its whole head.

The oldest and most primitive whales were the Protocetids, a family of archaic whales or Archaeocetes. These whale ancestors arrived around 50 million years ago, during the Eocene Epoch. Due to the locale of their remains, it appears that the earliest phases of cetacean evolution, including the Protocetids, were confined to the Tethys Sea. The jaw of this animal is much more slender and elongated than that of the Ambulocetus. The shape of Protocetus is not entirely clear because most skeletal structures discovered are not complete. It appears that they still had hind limbs, and that their life style may have been amphibious, rather than fully aquatic.



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About 38 to 45 million years ago, Basilosaurus, the largest known advanced Archaeocete, appeared. The skeletons of these animals have been found as far south as New Zealand and Antarctica. The spread of this early cetacean would indicate its successful adaptation to aquatic life. Basilosaurus was, in fact, fully aquatic. The forelimbs of Basilosaurus were elongated flippers/paddles. As they elongated, the cartilage between the phalanges fused, preventing the joints from curling. The sinuses in the skull base of the Basilosaurus enlarged, a feature seen also in early toothed and baleen whales. The hind limbs of Basilosaurus became virtually non-existent. At this point, the only function that the hind limbs might have served would have been for alignment in mating, or for pushing off of the bottom of the ocean. While Basilosaurus is one of the best known Archaeocetes, analysis of the skull suggests that Basilosaurus does not have any direct modern relatives.

There were many other evolving forms that led to the modern-day cetacean. Baleen whales and toothed whales diverged from a common ancestor around 35 million years ago. The family Delphinidae made its appearance around 11 million years ago, while the bottlenose dolphin emerged only about 2-5 million years ago. Through evolution, dolphins have made significant adaptations to become the aquatic marvels that you see today.

Babies

Babies are usually born tail first, weigh 25-40lbs, and are generally three to four feet long (Wells 1999). We can get an approximate idea of how old a baby is by looking at the dorsal fin. It is thought that the dorsal fin stiffens within a few hours. The tail flukes seem to take a bit longer.

A baby dolphin swims in a position next to its mother called the echelon position. The baby swims in this position to catch mom’s slipstream, allowing the calf to work less hard in order to keep up with its mother.

When babies are born they have lighter colored bands spanning their mid section. These are called fetal bands and are caused from being scrunched up in the mother’s womb. These bands will slough off after multiple weeks.

Newborn dolphins are very dark in color. It is possible that this dark shading is used for camouflage as the baby travels in the mother’s shadow. This coloration also sloughs off after multiple weeks.

When we assess the health of a newborn, we look for good body weight and good breathing. Another way we can get a good indication of the baby’s health is from the mother’s behavior. If she is relaxed and comfortable, it is a good sign. If a baby is not healthy, a mother will usually display frantic and erratic behavior.

When babies are new to the world, they have to get used to their bodies not only swimming, but also breathing. They have to get comfortable with their blowhole’s location. As a result, babies do something called chin slap breathing, which involves lifting their heads farther out of the water than necessary to breathe.

Echolocation is an ability that babies learn how to use over time. For this reason babies end up with a few cuts and scrapes within the first weeks of life.

Due to the need to look out for a clumsy calf, you sometimes see mothers “steering” their calves away from what might be considered a danger. Merina had a lot of steering to do within her daughter Pandora’s first very active days of life. Pandora was quite spirited and would often try and race in front of her mother. We often saw Merina physically pick Pandora up with her rostrum and place her in another part of the pool.

Christopher’s Birthday cake made by Grandma and decorated by me Blondiepie! GET MORE INFO ON DOLPHINS AT:  Dolphin.org

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