Dolphins and a Contest!

This dolphin calf, named Dularge (and later Cayenne), was trapped in a borrow canal across the bayou from my home. She was later transported to Marine Life in Gulfport, Mississippi. She was evacuated from the center before Hurricane Katrina; upon her return, Cayenne contracted a fungal infection that caused her death.

Those of a particular generation acquired their first and only knowledge of dolphins through Flipper, the mid-1960s TV series about a precocious dolphin and its relationship with an adolescent boy. In the series, Flipper exhibited high intelligence and an extraordinary understanding of human motives, behavior, and vocabulary. This trained dolphin’s abilities, we now know, reflected the startling intelligence of the species.

Among other locales, bottlenose dolphins inhabit the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where they comprise about thirty percent of the total population of bottlenose dolphins in U.S. waters. (Often, bottlenose dolphins are referred to as porpoises, but there are no true porpoises residing in the Gulf of Mexico.) Members of the whale family, bottlenose dolphins are just one of thirty-two species of dolphin. Warm-blooded marine mammals, they breathe via lungs, bear live young, and nurse them. Sound familiar? The parallels do not stop there.

Like humans, dolphins exhibit a social structure that reflects the old adage “safety in numbers.” These sleek marine mammals travel in groups, called pods, which offer them protection from larger predators and make them more efficient hunters. But dolphins are also protected by laws. The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 makes it illegal to disturb wild dolphins at any time. It is against these protective laws to hunt, harass, capture, kill, or collect these creatures; and doing so carries fines of up to $25,000 and imprisonment of up to one year. They can, however, be watched from a distance of at least 150 feet; and the easiest place to observe dolphins in their natural habitat along the Louisiana coast is from the sandy beaches of Grand Isle.

In these shallow, salty waters, dolphin pods feed and frolic, putting on a veritable sea show free of charge. Adult and juvenile dolphins seem to play chase, swimming to and fro, slapping their tails on the surface of the water, and leaping out of the waves. But no matter the amount of play, they always stick together. 

One way they accomplish this is by means of echolocation, or sonar, which enables them to sense their proximity to one another as well as to other objects. This ability is aided by a fatty deposit called a melon, located between the skull and the blowhole. The melon directs and focuses dolphins’ communications, which sound like clicks to us. Although they have excellent eyesight, turbidity of the water prevents dependency on eyesight alone.

Another way the pods stay together is through the use of distinctive whistles. Each dolphin creates a whistle that researchers believe is an identifier, like a name. For example, when a calf gets separated from its mother, either or both dolphins repeat the whistle until they rejoin. In times of distress, the whistle is louder and frantic, analogous to a human scream. Their whistles also serve another vital purpose: ringing the dinner bell.

When a pod locates a food source, the whistles of its members call other pod-mates to assist in rounding up schools of fish for consumption. But it’s not always a free-for-all—they share. Once the pod circles and entraps a school of fish, members take turns swimming into the center of the ring, consuming their portion of the fish. 

To further confirm that dolphins are social animals, researchers have observed them rubbing pectoral fins, as though in a handshake. They’ve been observed swimming side by side, resting fins on one another, as in a gentle caress. And like all social creatures, they have their squabbles, as indicated by the direction from which they approach each other. A friendly approach comes from behind or from an oblique angle. An aggressive approach would be displayed by either a direct or perpendicular approach.

Ever curious, dolphins may approach a boat and can be observed swimming at great speeds alongside cruise ships or yachts. They may approach smaller fishing boats, too, coming within just a few feet, surfacing, taking a look, submerging, and resurfacing several times as though checking out the boat and its occupants. A boater in this situation must remember not to feed, touch, or in any other way interact with them. The best advice is to wait until the dolphins satisfy their curiosity and depart. Otherwise, the boater must very slowly and carefully motor away from the pod, thereby adhering to the 150-foot distance requirement.

The 2010 BP oil spill, which spewed two hundred million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, caused great concern over the future of the local Atlantic bottlenose dolphin population. After studying dolphins living in Barataria Bay, researchers found many underweight and anemic dolphins, with some showing signs of liver and lung disease as well as other health issues. According to a 2016 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there are still higher-than-average strandings of dolphins and whales along the Gulf Coast (which happens when they are sick or dying) each month than before the spill.

If dolphins of the Louisiana coast are as resilient as their human counterparts, they will make a full comeback; and these intelligent, playful marine mammals will grace our Gulf coast for many years to come.


If you enjoyed this piece, which originally appeared in Country Roads Magazine, please leave a comment below to be entered in a random drawing for a wonderful gift basket provided by Ay Yi Yie Cajun Seasoning. Created by Thibodaux, LA native, Mike Legendre, you can read the story of how his creation came about. Mike is this month’s sponsor, and he’s giving away a basket with cans of both types of seasoning, a koozie, AND a t-shirt.  Win the basket, use the seasoning and “TASTE WHAT YOUR FOOD’S BEEN MISSING!”  Who wouldn’t want dat?  (Contest runs all week.)

 

Sprung into spring!  

BW

You may also like...

Comments

Dolphins and a Contest! — 48 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this piece! I also believe dolphins of the Louisiana coast are as resilient as their human counterparts and will make a full comeback!

  2. Great, informative article! I remember well, Sunday mornings, watching Flipper on TV, as well as later sharing the movie and videos with my daughter. We were lucky to be able to swim with them at the Dolphin Research Institute in Florida and also see them in their natural habitats in Louisiana, both at Grand Isle and at Pointe aux Chenes. They are such playful, graceful and intelligent animals! Thanks for sharing the article.
    I would also love to receive the gift basket!! Love me some good Cajun seasonings (even here up north in Michigan!)

    • Michigan, Laurie? My mother was from Ludington! I still have lots of cousins in the state. Welcome to the bayou, and good luck on the drawing!

  3. I hope this goes thru to you. I liked the piece above. Great info on the dolphins. I’ve always wanted to see them in their natural habitat. And I do remember Flipper. We loved that show. wish there were more family oriented TV shows now instead of some of the ones that are on.

    • Yes, it did go through. Don’t know why you were having trouble before. Webmaster checked it all out, too! Great to hear from you, and I agree about the need for more family-oriented TV. We’ve been watching “When Calls the Heart” on Netflix. And it’s SO refreshing!

      • We like that series too. So far we have only missed the last one that came out recently. I am hooked on Hallmark.
        I noticed someone else had problems on the last item too. I was beginning to think it was all my system.

        • We finished the series last week and were sad to see it end. I certainly hope it continues . . . and we’ll catch it after the fact on Netflix.

  4. I enjoyed the article and always enjoy watching dolpins play in the Gulf. I have meant to tell you I tried your crawfish bisque recipe and got rave reviews. I also used the same recipe with the left over corn and potatoes and made potato soup just without the crawfish.

    Thanks again for making my dinner party such a success.

    Judy

    • Oh, and this is what I LOVE to hear!! Your dinner party was a success, meaning they must have enjoyed your crawfish bisque! Makes it all worthwhile, doesn’t it? I bet the potato soup was good, too!

      • We had a bit of crawfish left from our boil that I peeled and put in the freezer for later. Not much since there was about 3 to 4 lbs of dead ones. The store I purchase them from is giving me a very decent credit for those. We are going to another boil next month on the 20th at husbands company picnic. I brought home about 5 lbs last year from it.

  5. Good morning, my far-away friend,
    What a lovely way to start a Monday morning reading and dreaming about these wonderful creatures. The Northwest has its share of great spectacles, but I do miss the warm waters of the Gulf. It’s such a nice thing to open up my Yahoo mail and see an email from you because I know I’m in for a treat and a reminder of home.

    I hope the dolphins do come back like the residents. There’s something about Cajuns and their heritage. We never lose it no matter where we go.

    I hope you have a wonderful week. Thanks for the reminder of home.

    Jeri

    • Hi Jeri, and I really do appreciate the words of encouragement. I’m hoping the dolphins are as tenacious as the residents of south La, also impacted by the oil spill. Glad you picked up on the parallels!! Good luck!

  6. Enjoyed the information on Dolphins. Love to see them. Even if I don’t win the spices, I’ll look for them at my supermarket.

    • That’s what I like to hear . . . that you will look for their products. My goal is to promote local, cultural items, especially food items. I enjoy seeing entrepreneurs succeed!

  7. Great article! As a fisherwoman, it’s always a little daunting to see dolphins when you’re on a hot bite— but I can’t help but enjoy watching them work together.

    • Hi Jenny! Have we met? One fisherwoman to another, how did you find this blog? Dolphins coming along to fish for their meal always kills the bite . . . those fish aren’t stupid! They just swim away!!! Where do you fish?

  8. I had a dolphin circle and brush up against my leg once while surf fishing. I saw it,coming, but it still scared the ca-ca out of me. VERY unnerving!
    I hope this goes through! I finally gave up on your previous post after numerous tries. Got me craving some biscuits and Mayhaw jelly!
    A New seasoning sounds great! Hope you have my address. Lol

    • Steffi, sorry to hear you had trouble. What was the error message? Seems you and Cammy, who have been here longer than anyone, are the two having trouble. Yes, having ANYTHING brush my legs while surf fishing would be unnerving! You’d see my running! If I don’t have it, I know you can email it to me!

    • Hi Bonita. I can always see a pod just a short boat ride from the launch. Of course, I keep my distance, but sometimes they are just so curious about the boat. I love it when they come alongside, surface, and turn an eye toward the boat to see if we’re watching! Checking us out, while we check them out! It’s a unique sort of connection.

  9. One of the best places to see them here is where the Houston Ship Channel and the ICW cross. Anyone riding the Bolivar ferry is likely to see them. The most fun is watching them surf the bow waves of the big tankers. I never get tired of that.

    Don’t enter me in the drawing — I just wanted to visit, and leave a comment. Life is just getting too crazy for words. I’m hoping to get myself into some sort of organized chaos soon. Happy Easter to you and your family! I hardly can believe it’s here.

    • It’s great hearing from you again, Shoreacres! I don’t think I’ve seen them surf the bow waves but would love to! Okay, I won’t enter you. Organized? What’s that? 🙂

    • Welcome, Bevin! Grand Isle is a great place to watch dolphins. I’ve spent some time there myself, and I’m always entertained by them. Thanks for stopping by.

  10. You are such an informative and interesting scribe. I always learn so much from you. We don’t see dolphins in the lake but hoping to see manatees after they get the sludge pipe fixed. Maybe next year.

  11. I really enjoyed this article. There were many things in it about dolphins that I did not know. I have never been to Grand Isle yet but plan to especially to see the dolphins now. Keep up the great work Captain Wendy. I love reading your “adventures”. Have a great day.

    • Hi Ann, and I hope you make it to Grand Isle. There are couple little places along the highway to stay for less than the bigger hotels. You could make a weekend of it. There’s no one doing boat tours at the eastern end of the island, past the state campground, but we’ve seen plenty out there by boat. But if you spend any time sitting on the beach, you will see them!(A few locals have encouraged me to do boat tours down that way, but unless I move there, it’s just not feasible. Although, I have always wanted to live on the island, even if just for a few months! Maybe next year?)

  12. Happy Sunday morning, everyone, and thank you for leaving comments. It’s time for the random drawing using Random.org and parameters of 1-18 original comments for the drawing. Counting from the top down, the winner is number 15! Congratulations, Bevin! Please email me your mailing address, and I hope you enjoy the gift basket!
    True Random Number Generator
    Min:
    1
    Max:
    18
    Generate
    Result:
    15

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *