By Terri Estes
Nothing puts a smile on the face of beachgoers like the sighting of bottlenose dolphins frolicking offshore. It truly is a treat to see them, and it seems like there were more sightings than ever this past summer. The population and presence of bottlenose dolphins off our shores can vary year to year due to factors such as environmental conditions, food availability and other ecological factors. This year, there were bunker in abundance, so the dolphins were active off our shores.
There are 49 different species of dolphins and many of them swim in our local waters, but the bottlenose tends to swim closer to shore than other types of dolphins, so this is the kind we most often see. The bottlenose dolphin can live for more than 50 years in the wild. Dolphins in captivity tend to have a much shorter lifespan due to stress and other factors. All dolphins are mammals, which means that they do not have gills like fish, but have to breathe air, which they do through the blowhole on the top of their head.
The bottlenose is widely regarded as one of the most highly intelligent animals on earth. They live in complex social groups called pods, and their interactions within these groups involve cooperation and coordination. They have been observed solving various problems, such as using tools and coordinating group hunting strategies, and even playing with objects in creative ways. In some cases, they have been observed using sponges to protect their snouts while foraging on the seafloor. Bottlenose dolphins have also been seen to play with jellyfish and throw them about like beachballs.
Dolphins stay with their families for life. They form matriarchal societies and will stay within their family groups for their entire lives. Males may separate and form smaller bachelor groups for a few years but will come back and meet up with their pods at some point. Each member of the pod has a unique sound, or whistle that they are born with. Dolphins will remain recognizable for life as an individual by their specific whistle. Pregnant mothers will begin working with the unborn baby dolphin in utero to develop their unique whistle so that they are recognizable to the pod immediately after birth. While dolphins share a common set of vocalizations and signals within their species, their signature whistles are highly individualized, allowing them to distinguish and call each other by name, so to speak. This individual recognition is an important aspect of their social and communicative behavior.
The bottlenose dolphin is truly a fascinating animal. There is so much more about them that I haven’t even touched on yet. Perhaps there will be another follow-up article on them in the future. It is no wonder that the sight of them is cherished by beachgoers, old and young alike.
American Princess tours out of Sheepshead Bay does whale watching and dolphin cruises until early November.