How to Help Darling Dolphins of Florida Thrive.
Updated: Jul 30, 2021
If you are going to be fishing and boating in Florida, there is a chance you will encounter dolphins. This post gives you some information on dolphins and how you can help them survive and thrive in their waters.
While the dolphin and the porpoise (and whales) are cetaceans (members of the order Cetacea), which are an entirely aquatic group of air-breathing, warm-blooded mammals, dolphins are a completely different species than porpoises.
Research has shown that both dolphins and porpoises are highly intelligent and navigate their underwater world using sonar, the two mammals differ in several ways. These differences are most easily observed in their bodies, faces and fins. Dolphins also have leaner bodies and have longer 'beaks,' while porpoises are more portly and their 'mouths' are less pronounced or shorter. Dolphins, basically have a noticeable 'grin'. Also, while the dolphin has a hooked or rounded fin, porpoises have a triangular one. As an aside, shark fins tend to be vertical (you can find out more in an upcoming blog "Dolphin or Shark?)"
Randall Wells, Vice President for Marine Mammal Conservation at Chicago Zoological Society and Director of CZS Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, was the guest speaker at a recent meeting hosted by The Greater Pine Island Civic Association (GPICA). Wells shared information about the world's longest running study of a wild dolphin population, and their discoveries.
Initiated in 1970, this collaborative examines the behavior, social structure and life history, ecology, health and population biology of the community of 170 bottlenose dolphins that reside year-round in the waters from the southern edge of Tampa Bay, southward to Venice Inlet, along the central west coast of Florida.
Wells's talk shed light on dolphin behavior, their ecosystems and how human activity and interaction are key factors in the conservation of these beautiful creatures.
Dolphins are often found in three kinds of pods: 1 - nursery mothers with recent calves; 2 - juveniles; 3 - adult males.
Dolphins are carnivores. Their diet includes sheepshead, toadfish and shrimp. They often eat fish that produce sound, which helps them zero in on their prey.
The average male bottlenose dolphin weighs approximately 571 lbs/260 kg, while a female weighs about 410 lbs/190 kgs.
The median lifespan of a dolphin in the studied communities is 17 years.
The red tide bloom that prevailed around 2017-2019 devastated the numbers of sea creatures, including dolphins, manatees and sea turtles, with one study showing that the manta rays disappeared and the number of shark attacks on dolphins rose.
While half of the mortalities are natural, and there is little we can do about that, half are related to injuries sustained from recreational fishing gear (such as entanglements in fishing lines, nets, crab traps), and vessels. Man=made hazards include noise pollution from construction that interferes with their sonar, as well as oil spills (like the one in Barataria Bay, Louisiana in 2010) that affect the health, fertility and mortality of the dolphins.
So, what can you do to ensure the safety and survival of the dolphins?
Here are three major actions you can take.
1 - Don't feed wildlife. You are encouraging them to get close to the boats that injure them, and altering their natural feeding instincts.
2 - Practice responsible boating and fishing. Check out the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program's links for tips on dolphin-safe fishing and dolphin-safe boating. You can also sign up for their newsletter.
3 - Store the number of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation into your phone in case you need to report a dead or injured dolphin, turtle, manatee or other wildlife. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation at 1-888-404-3922. Remember to stay 50 yards away and observe from distance if you see an injured dolphin or manatee.
What other steps can you take to help set up dolphins and other Florida wildlife for success?
If you have other tips or resources, please let me know so I can share them in a future post.
Check out my upcoming blog on Florida reads for titles on Florida wildlife. Here are a couple of titles that are available on Amazon.com to get you started.
The Bottlenose Dolphin: Biology and Conservation by John E. Reynolds III, Randall Wells, (the source for much of the information in this post) and Samantha D. Eide.
Dolphins, Whales and Manatees of Florida by John E. Reynolds, III and Randall Wells.