Probably one of the most admired animals on the planet, dolphins always make us smile.
These highly intelligent animals belong to a group of marine mammals made up of whales, dolphins and porpoises. All together, they are known as cetaceans. They all have warm blood, breath air and produce live young who rely on milk to feed, just like humans. The dolphins listed below are part of the family Delphinidae and are the species you are likely to see in Palm Beach and the Bahamas.
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Bottlenose dolphins give birth about once every three years, sometimes longer. The gestation period lasts about one year. Calves, as the young are referred to, are not fully weaned until about 18-20 months and can stay with their mother for many more years. Their lifespan is between 40 and 50 years of age.
These dolphins are mostly gray and can vary in size depending on whether or not they live mostly offshore or stay inshore, in rivers, canals, bays and estuaries. Offshore they can be found in groups of hundreds while inshore, they form much smaller groups like 2 - 20. In the Palm Beaches we see them in the intracoastal waterways, estuaries, canals and the open ocean. We commonly see them in small groups near shore feeding on fish in the sand and on small reef patches.
In the Bahamas we have seen them alone and in groups, riding the bow waves and “crater feeding” in the sand. Bottlenose dolphins are curious and friendly, but not as well known for being as playful with people as the Atlantic Spotted dolphin. This however, seems to be changing in the Bahamas as more and more we find them mixed in with groups of Atlantic spotted dolphins. We find that they are becoming more and more playful with humans due possibly to their exposure of the spotted dolphins playing with people.
Boaters and divers on the Little Bahama Bank have known the Atlantic Spotted dolphin since the early 1970’s. They are always willing bow riders and have become accustomed to playing with divers in the warm, shallow, gin-clear waters of White Sand Ridge, an area they call home. There are over a hundred dolphins that stay in this area, although they can travel up to fifty miles in a day to other areas, they have been documented as living primarily in this area. There are however several other “pods” in the Bahamas, from Walkers Cay in the northern Abacos to Grand Bahama island and Bimini in the south. These dolphins are found only in tropical and warm temperate Atlantic waters.
They get their name from the spots on their body. At birth they have no spots, but as they age and become weaned after about 3-5 years, they start to get dark spots on their white bellies and light spots on their darker upper body. The older they get, the more spots they get. They also have a white-tipped beak.
They spend much of their day feeding on razor wrasse and small flounder in the sand to flying fish and squid in deep water at night. They are very acrobatic and enjoy putting on a show for us as they approach our boats and in the water as they swim circles around us.
They are highly social animals that spend little time alone. Mostly they are seen touching and rubbing each other with their pectoral fins, keeping their family and social bonds strong. They enjoy playing together with games like “pass the seaweed”. Sometimes they even let us join in.
Learn what you can do to help protect these endearing and intelligent creatures, visit Sea Shepherd