Posted by: orcaweb | May 18, 2010

Dolphin and porpoise news

Common dolphin by K Driscoll

Harbour porpoise by K Driscoll

We have already had some exciting dolphin and porpoise  sightings from the King of Scandanavia since ORCA got on board in April.

We have regular sightings of the harbour porpoise in and out of both ports.  To note is one on the Imjuiden side that regularly breaches beside the ferry.  This is an unusual behaviour for these shy, usually hidden animals.  Of course, we cannot say it’s the same individual for sure!   Porpoises being small and allusive are particularly hard to track and ID so us passing by every other day does not allow for a serious study of this creature, ….but a passenger has named (it) him Peter!  Apparently there is  a song too!  A scientific survey of porpoises was recently carried out by a Dutch team that sailed from Ijmuiden to Newcastle.  They counted 128 porpoises on that trip.  And when the water is lovely and flat we see many of them from The King.

A solitary dolphin was spotted by the ORCA scientific survey team onboard the King on the 26th April leaving Newcastle.  In fact I think the Captain saw it first!  As it was a solitary it may well have been a bottlenose dolphin.  Most cetaceans are live and travell in family or social groups.  But coastal bottlenose dolphins are sometimes solitary and why this is we do not yet fully understand.  It may be a result of their numbers being so low that males do not find a new pod to join.  What we do know is they seek human company usually leading to their deaths from boat propeller injuries.  Anyone who has watched the recent insightful documentary “Luna” will be well aware of this.

Bottlenose dolphins are one of the most intelligently social animals.  I guess this is why we have sought to use them not only for military objectives but also in captivity for our own entertainment.  In a recent study their intelligence has been put on a par with humans with chimps being slightly lower.  Dolphins use tools like sponges on their beaks to fish for spiny sea urchins, they also learn and teach other dolphins’ new behaviours, and they have a form of language.  It has been shown they even recognise each other by a “sound name”. 

Another highlight was on the 29th April a bottlenose dolphin breached approx 5 nautical miles off the Netherlands coast.  It was spotted and reported to us by a passenger who saw it just as the light was fading that evening.  It must have been a wonderful sight.  Breaching is when the animal projects itself fully out of the water probably for fun and a bit of showing off….wouldn’t you if you could?  

Then on May the 7th we got our first Common dolphins of the season when 5 were seen logging 3 nm from the coast off Newcastle.  Logging is when animals just lie still on the waters surface maybe at rest.  Martin from Northern Experience tours emailed that he saw porpoises logging off the coast there recently, which I have never seen them do! 

That is the thing with animal behaviour you can rarely say you have seen it all or that an animal will not do something.  Like us these animals are individuals and you never know a Dutch porpoise called Peter may simply enjoy breaching out of the water as the King of Scandinavia passes by.

Kathryn Driscoll

Senior Wildlife Education Officer for ORCA Organisation Cetacea

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