Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Happy 2020 to everyone!

2019 has arrived to an end. But it was a truly wonderful year. Thank you for being with us all the time, we are committed to improve every single day and the daily blogs will continue so you know what's going on in the sea and which species visit us. Now let's dream about the wonderful encounters and photos 2020 will bring :)

Monday, December 30, 2019

Sperm whales to say goodbye to 2019

Today we had the chance to go out on a whale watching trip, first one of wintertime. As soon as our boats left the harbour, the lookouts told our skipper that a big family of sperm whales were Southeast from Ponta Delgada! 

Our zodiac arrived first than the catamaran and saw three sperm whales, calm at first with a juvenile showing the tail but soon started to get shy. Once the catamaran arrived we got to see at the beginning two whales performing shallow dives and next time they surfaced there were 4. Third time the whales surfaced we counted 5 animals resting, swimming together and having their own family time before the New Year arrives! 

As they dived again, left us for good but our guests also had plenty of sea, salt and the Winter Sun so we started to approach the Island in hopes to see some more animals and different species! 

Unfortunately no dolphins but our last trip of 2019 was filled with Sperm Whales, giving us the impression that the year to come is gonna be even more amazing!

Friday, December 27, 2019

Everything you need to know about dolphins - Part 2

How long do dolphins live?

In the wild most dolphins can live for a long time. Orcas may live for 70 years or more. Bottlenose dolphins can live for at least 40 years. In contrast, dolphins that are kept in captivity die much earlier than those living in the wild. For example bottlenose dolphins in average live until 20 years old in captivity. 

For calculating dolphins’ age we have to pay attention to their teeth. Unlike humans, who lose their baby teeth, a dolphin will keep the full set of teeth it was born with for its entire life.

And also unlike human teeth, dolphin teeth grow larger by producing growth layers in the root. These layers are visible and distinct for each year of a dolphin’s life. Scientists are then able to determine how old a dolphin is by cutting the tooth in half and counting the growth layers that they see,   just as the rings of a tree. So, these layers are a very reliable way of  telling the age of most dolphin species. 

A good section of a bottlenose dolphin tooth. 
This tooth is from a male known to be 3.2-3.8 years old  (Hohn A. et al, 1989).
A dolphin trying to bite another dolphin’s tail.
 This picture was taken from one of our catamarans (by Carine Zimmerman) and we can observe in detail the teeth.

How much do dolphins weight and measure?

Dolphins vary greatly in size, with their length ranging from 1,2 to 9 meters (4 to 30 feet) and their weight ranging from 39 kg to 10 ton (88 lbs. up to 22000 pounds).

The largest member of the dolphin families are usually referred to as whales such as orcas, false killer whales and pilot whales. The world’s smallest dolphins, commonly called Hector’s dolphins, include a subspecies called Maui’s dolphin.

Size comparison among some species of dolphins ( National Geographic)
Some smaller species of dolphin can be found traveling in and around coastal waters where they are less likely to face threats from potential predators, while larger dolphins may venture out further into the offshore ocean far from coastal waters (Srinivasan & Markowitz, 2010). But size does not always have a direct influence on where dolphins can be found living throughout the world, for example striped dolphins here in the Azores can be found offshore, and they are around 2m in length.

In addition to staying near coastal environments, small dolphins are also known to travel in large groups in order to protect themselves from predators. Predators for the dolphin species may include orcas and sharks (Srinivasan & Markowitz, 2010). 

Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis)
1,7–2,4 m
70–110 kg
Striped Dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)
1,8–2,5 m
90–150 kg
Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
1,9–3,9 m
150–650 kg
Long-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala melas)
3,8–6 m
1,8–3,5 t
Orca, Killer Whale (Orcinus orca)
5,5–9,8 m
2,6–9 t
Some sizes and weights examples of dolphins. (Wikipedia)

In the Azores sometimes in the same trip we can see two species of dolphins at the same time, for example we can be with a huge group of Atlantic spotted dolphins and suddenly a few bottlenose appear interacting within the pod. Then we realise the incredible difference between this two species! 

What do Dolphins eat?  

All dolphins are carnivores, eating fish and squid. Some dolphins eat crustaceans such as lobsters, shrimp, and crabs while some eat octopus and cuttlefish.
Different species of dolphins focus on different foods and they have a variety of hunting styles. Sometimes we see  schools of fish from our boats and we can see “in situ” the typical images of a documentary, the feeding moment! 

Dolphins drive small schooling fish, like mackerel, close to the surface in tight bait-balls.
 (Ida Eriksson, Futurismo)

A dolphin has a three chambered stomach, similar to an ungulate (cow or deer). The mastication of their meal is taken care of in their first or also referred to as the fore stomach. Then, the majority of digestion is processed in the main stomach, or second chamber. And finally, the last section of their stomach, the pyloric stomach, takes care of the remainder of their digestion prior to the contents emptying into the intestinal region.  

Sagittal section of a dolphins stomach ( Perkopf,  1937)

And how they find the prey?

Dolphins use echolocation, which is a process that permits dolphins to send out sound waves that when they hit an object or a prey, they bounce back, allowing them to identify the location, shape, speed and size of such an object. Even they can tell the texture!! 

The amount of time it takes for the sound waves to come back helps them to determine the distance, as it takes longer the sound waves to return when there is more distance between the dolphin and that given prey. 

Echolocation of male indo-pacific bottlenose dolphin (Zainuddin, 2016)
Discover more amazing facts on our first dolphins facts post

Written by María Huamán Benítez

Azevedo, Alexandre & Flach, Leonardo & Bisi, Tatiana & Andrade, Luciana & Dorneles, Paulo & Lailson Brito, Jose. (2010). Whistles emitted by Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) in Southeastern Brazil. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 127. 2646-51.

Bruno Cozzi, Stefan Huggenberger, Helmut Oelschläger (2017). Diving: Breathing, Respiration, and the Circulatory System. Anatomy of Dolphins, 91-131.

Cotten PB, Piscitelli MA, McLellan WA, Rommel SA, Dearolf JL, Pabst DA. (2008) The gross morphology and histochemistry of respiratory muscles in bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus. J Morphol. 269(12):1520–1538.

D. Weihs (2002) Dynamics of Dolphin Porpoising Revisited, Integrative and Comparative Biology, Volume 42, Issue 5,Pages 1071–1078.

Hastie, G. D., Wilson, B. , Tufft, L. H. and Thompson, P. M. (2003), Bottlenose Dolphins increase breathing synchrony in response to boat traffic. marine mammal science, 19: 74-084.

Hohn, A. A., Scott, M. D., Wells, R. S., Sweeney, J. C. and Irvine, A. B. (1989), Growth layers in teeth from knownage, freeranging bottlenose dolphins. Marine Mammal Science, 5: 315-342.

Klinowska, M. 1991. Dolphins, Porpoises and Whales of the World: The IUCN Red Data Book. IUCN - The World Conservation Union, Gland, Switzerland. 429 pp.

Mukhametov LM, Oleksenko AI, Polyakova (1988) IG. Quantification of ECoG stages of sleep in the bottlenose dolphin. Neurophysiology.20:398–403.

Oleksenko AI, Mukhametov LM, Polyakova IG, Supin AY, Kovalzon VM.(1992) Unihemispheric sleep deprivation in bottlenose dolphins. J Sleep Res.1:40–4.

Orbach, Dara & Rattan, Shruti & Hogan, M. & Crosby, Alfred & Brennan, Patricia. (2019). Biomechanical Properties of Female Dolphin Reproductive Tissue. Acta Biomaterialia. 86.

Ponganis, P. J., Kooyman, G. L. and Ridgway, S. H. (2003). Comparative diving physiology. In Bennett and Elliott’s Physiology and Medicine of Diving (ed. A. Brubakk and T. S. Neuman), pp. 211-226. Edinburgh: Saunders Ltd.

Ridgway SH, Carlin KP, Van Alstyne KR, Hanson AC, Tarpley RJ. Comparison of Dolphins' body and brain measurements with four other groups of cetaceans reveals great diversity [published correction appears in Brain Behav Evol. 2017;90(3):264]. Brain Behav Evol. 2016;88(3-4):235–257.

Scott, Erin & Mann, Janet & Watson-Capps, Jana & Sargeant, Brooke & Connor, Richard. (2005). Aggression in bottlenose dolphins: Evidence for sexual coercion, male-male competition, and female tolerance through analysis of tooth-rake marks and behaviour. Behaviour. 142. 21-44.

Srinivasan, Mridula & Markowitz, Tim. (2010). Dusky Dolphins: Master Acrobats off Different Shores Predator Threats and Dusky Dolphin Survival Strategies.
Weihs, Daniel. (2002). Dynamics of Dolphin Porpoising Revisited. Integrative and comparative biology. 42. 1071-8.

Wells, R. 2000. Reproduction in wild bottlenose dolphins: Overview of patterns observed during a long-term study. Pages 57-74 in Bottlenose dolphins reproduction workshop.Silver Springs, AZ

Wells, R. S., M. D. Scott and A. B. Irvine. (1987). The social structure of free-ranging bottlenose dolphins. Pages 247-305 in H. Genoways, ed. Current Mammalogy. Plenum Press, New York, NY.

Wells, R. S., and M. D. Scott. (1999). Bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus (Montagu, 1821). Pages 137 -182 in S. H. Ridgway and R. J. Harrison, eds. Handbook of marine mammals: The second book of dolphins and porpoises. Academic Press, New York Academic Press, New York, NY.

West KL, Oftedal OT, Carpenter JR, Krames BJ, Campbell M, Sweeney JC. (1987)Effect of lactation stage and concurrent pregnancy on milk composition in the bottlenose dolphin. J Zool 273(2).

Zainuddin Lubis, Muhammad. (2016). Behaviour and echolocation of male indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins. 10.13140/RG.2.1.4603.7520.


Friday, December 13, 2019

Lots of dolphins along with sea birds in a windy and wavy day!

Today we enjoyed a windy and wavy day, with hundreds of dolphins surfing the waves and enjoying their time in the always surprising Atlantic Ocean. 

The first species this morning was the bottlenose dolphin, we found a big group of at least 150 individuals. They were foraging when we got to the area. 
Lots of birds, mainly yellow-legged seagulls, were also in the area with the same purpose. 

After some time they got more curious with our boat and we could see some impressive bowriding and jumping behaviors. 

We then headed to an area with another species of dolphins. The first ones we found were common dolphins, but just for a minute, after that a big group of Atlantic spotted dolphins appeared and we didn't see the common dolphins again. 

The spotted dolphins were everywhere, spread out in a big area, with some calves in the group. We stayed in the area for some time and we even used our hydrophone because the lookout had seen a blow some time before in that same area. 

A hydrophone allows us to listen to our surroundings underwater in order to find whales. We had no luck so we continued enjoying the dolphins for some time before heading back to Ponta Delgada. 

On our way back, part of the same group of bottlenose dolphins accompanied us for a while. The rain gave us some time before what it seems it's going to be a rough week. Beautiful trip today!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Sperm whale and 3 species of dolphins in the morning

This morning the sea was very calm, there weren't any waves and just a light breeze.

We started our trip with a calm group of common dolphin, one of the resident species of the Azores. It was a small group travelling slowly very close to the boat.

Then, we moved to another area, where there was a bigger group of another species of dolphin: the Atlantic spotted dolphin, a migratory species. They were jumping and approaching the boat. We also could see some babies in the group!
Suddenly, very close to the area our lookouts spotted a bigger animal, a sperm whale that we know very well, Mister Liable. After looking for him for a while, we could see a giant dorsal hump followed by his blow. Earlier we tried listening for him with the help of the hydrophone but we couldn't manage to hear any echolocation sounds. However, he went on a feeding dive, showing us his beautiful tail! 


In our trip back to Ponta Delgada, another group of dolphins was waiting for us, Bottlenose dolphins which were hunting, socializing and jumping next to us. What a complete day!

Monday, December 9, 2019

World Whale Conference, Hervey Bay 2019

Futurismo has been represented at the World Whale Conference in Hervey Bay, Australia! The conference took place between 8-11 October 2019 and was organized by the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) and Fraser coast Tourism & Events.

The WCA strives, together with its partners, to keep the cetaceans in their natural habitat and not in captivity, to protect them and their habitats, and run sustainable whale watching activities. The global community of the WCA consists of partners that study, protect, and respect cetaceans in the wild.

We, Futurismo, are members of the WCA, and attended the conference because we believe in responsible whale watching. This conference is very insightful and inspires us to continuously evolve our techniques and approaches during the whale watching trips, whilst respecting the whales and dolphins.

If you have missed our last article about the beginning of the conference, refer to the link here.

During the conference, lectures were given by different stakeholders, which gave us a large variety of lectures to listen to, and they were all very inspirational. This fit very well with the theme of this conference “journeys that inspire change”. Some of the highlights of the conference’s lectures were as follows:

Whale watching and Akrasia – an uneasy relationship?

Michael Lück, a Professor at Auckland University, presented a controversial topic that is present in whale watching activities. Akrasia is defined as “A deficient capacity to contain or restrain one’s desire based on the perceived pleasure of an activity overriding better judgement.” So, the example used, that is often found in whale watching, is feeding wildlife. We know that feeding wildlife is harming the animals, but our “guilty pleasure” comes out because we want to see the animals close, so it becomes an ethical dilemma. Do we satisfy our pleasure, even though we know it is wrong? There are many other tourist activities that can be considered controversial and bad for cetaceans, yet tourists buy tickets to do the activity anyway. Why is this? The first reason that Lück came up with was the lack of knowledge. Often tourists are unaware that certain activities are harmful to the animal, and often the tourist only finds out after the activity has been done. So, what can be done to prevent tourists to pay for harmful akratic activities? Awareness needs to be created about the activity, so that the knowledge is there. Then, the knowledge should be spread prior to the activity, to understand consequences of the ticket that they bought and the activity that they are supporting. This way the tourist can fully understand what they are paying for, without regrets after realizing they were supporting a harmful activity. 

Swimming with humpback whales in Tonga and in Reunion island.

Swimming with whales has been the centre of attention at this conference and two speakers, Lorenzo Fiori and Ludovic Hoarau, had two separate presentations on a similar topic, both looking at the behavioural responses of mother and calf pairs to the swimming-with-humpback-whale activities. In two different places of the world, both studies showed negative impacts of swimming with humpback whale activities. Imagery during the presentation of Ludovic had shown that the humpback whales displayed agonistic behaviour when the tourists were swimming with the humpback whales. Agonistic behaviour is defined as a social behaviour related to fighting. Lorenzo Fiori for example also showed that the mother humpback whales spent more time resting underneath the surface. But since calves cannot hold their breath for as long as their mom, this resulted in the calf resting at the surface for prolonged periods without the mom. Ludovic has seen similar behaviour in Reunion, and even showed that a female humpback whale was literally moving tourists away with its pectoral fin. Lorenzo showed footage where the calf was showing agonistic behaviour directly to tourists. One of the main problems with swimming with whales in general is that often regulations are not followed, and too many tour-operators in the area of single mother and calf pairs. So, if tourists want to swim with humpback whales, or with any other marine mammal species, it is important to check if the tourist operators are following the regulations, and if they are in an area where they are protected.
One suggestion to improve the activity is to have a set up as the image below. 

© Blabla prod. – La Reunion – Octobre 2018

The dolphin captivity problem and possible solutions

The lecture by Christina Rose, a representative of the World Animal Protection was focusing on solutions to captivity. She was saying that captivity of marine mammals is not the future activity of these days. She said: “Captivity is no life for any marine mammal and can never fulfil a wildlife animal’s needs”. The animals are sexually manipulated to reproduce, they cannot search for food, travel, travel to the depths, and cannot socialize in captivity. All this is just for human entertainment.
In her talk she mentions that captivity is not necessary for tourists to get close to animals. Particularly in Australia, you can see the animals from the beach. Yet, tourists still decide to buy tickets to see these animals imprisoned in captivity. But if we want to stop captivity, what can we do with the marine mammals that are already in captivity? Releasing them back to the wild is also not possible, although it would be the right thing to do. What happens to the marine mammals in captivity is that they get institutionalized. They get fed, are trained to do tricks, and they become dependent of human care. As they get so used to life in captivity (and many have never seen the real ocean) they cannot survive in the wild straight away. So, this is a part of what the World Animal Protection is working on. They are trying to find a way to transition a way out of captivity. The aim is to make this the last generation of dolphins in captivity. Then, the idea is to transition the current marine mammals in captivity into a wildlife sanctuary, in order to introduce them back into the wild. They are investigating the feasibility of a dolphin sanctuary, because the dolphins will continue to need provisioning, and feasibility is currently unknown. In addition to this, there is a need to educate tourist what are appropriate wildlife encounters, so that people stop going to see the animals in captivity. Lastly, there is a need to equip the industry of captivity, so that they can cooperate.

To conclude

Akrasia is an interesting concept that not everybody may be aware of. Literally it is defined as "the state of mind in which someone acts against their better judgement through weakness of will". This is important in order to maintain sustainability in whale watching.  Some activities may be unsustainable and harmful towards cetaceans, even though people may secretly like it, such as dolphins in captivity. Cetaceans in captivity is something that Futurismo highly disagrees with, so it is great to see that this point of view is shared at the conference. The swimming with humpback whales can be quite controversial as well, and in certain parts of the world is also considered unsustainable. It is important for us to hear why these activities have become unsustainable, to learn from others in order to do things in the right way: in a respectful way. Therefore, we attend these conferences and enjoy hearing and understanding scientists, locals, guides, citizens and governments’ perspectives; and each perspective is equally important for the entire picture of whale watching activities.

Written by Fadia Al Abbar

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