Dolphin and Whale Magazine :  January issue 2011
 
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Antarctic Humpbacks Befriend
Humans
   by Randall L. Eaton, Ph.D.
 


Imagine being out in the Antarctic sea, and a humpback whale is rubbing its back against the bottom of your zodiac boat. You know that if it is capsized you might survive 3-5 minutes in the freezing water. What would you do?

These were the thoughts of Megan Bailiff who was conducting research at one of the two US research stations in the Antarctic.

She and her companions were in their zodiac when they received a distress call from another zodiac boat.  The garbled message was a plea for help so her boat sped towards the other boat which was about five minutes away. As they came around an iceberg they saw a humpback whale spyhopping half-way out of the water alongside the zodiac. The people in the boat seemed alright but they were concerned that the whale might tip over their boat.

By the time her boat arrived the people in the second boat had become aware that the whale had friendly intentions. It was passing under the boat rubbing its back against it then poking its head up to look at the people inside who felt that the humpback was asking to be touched so they obliged.

Another humpback was nearby, and when it heard Megan’s boat arrive it approached it for playful contact. The encounter lasted five hours during which time the zodiacs shuttled new boatloads of people from the research station who were greeted by the whales.
 
The waves of visitors petted the whales and looked them in the eyes as the whales looked back..

At one point, a whale swam underneath Megan’s boat and in an upside down position raised both his long, pectoral fins out of the water on both sides of the boat as though to hug it. The fifteen feet long fins towered over them slightly waving. Then the whale gently raised the boat with six passengers out of the water with his belly, before submerging.

The people were sure the humpbacks intended them no harm, and simply wanted to socialize. The behavior of the humpbacks suggested they were aware that if they played too rough they would tip over the boats.

Back in Hawaii, Megan learned that humpbacks rarely solicit the kind of encounters she had experienced in the Antarctic all of which were initiated by the whales.

That Day of the Whales became famous at the Palmer Station.

For more information see Peter Fromm’s Whale Tales.

More than 200 Dolphins Saved from
Mass Stranding in Manila

by Guido Trombetta  
 
About 200 stranded dolphins rescued in Manila Bay

At least 200 (but maybe up to 300) melon-head dolphins (Peponocephala electra), also known as melon-headed whale, many-toothed blackfish and electra dolphin flocked to shallow waters of Manila Bay, prompting a massive rescue by hundreds of volunteers and fishermen who used their boats and hands to drive them back to deep seas.  There are two possible causes according to the scientists: a sea quake that could have damaged the dolphins' eardrums and disoriented them, or the pod could have been following a sick or injured leader. Fishermen and villagers trooped to the beach and waded into the chest-deep water, clapping their hands and hitting the surface to drive the dolphins away. More than 20 boats with their engines shut off guided the animals to the open sea. Three dead dolphins were found beached farther up north in Abucay township including two adult females, one of which was pregnant, and an infant male. The two adults had damaged eardrums. Another beached dolphin was rescued.  Dolphins with injured eardrums become disoriented, cannot dive for food and are too weak to swim and just flow with the current. If it's a sick leader, the animal needs to be identified and taken out of sight of the rest of the pod so the healthy dolphins could be prodded back to sea. Fisheries officials were coordinating with private groups and fishermen to stop the dolphins from being beached and prevent more deaths. Wardens were positioned around the area and fishermen warned not to harm the dolphins. Melon-head dolphins are considered threatened species.
Did the Wild Orca Read Their Minds?
By Randall L. Eaton, Ph.D.
 

On Thanksgiving weekend, Tom Faue and his three companions were returning from Mayne Island aboard his 39-foot catamaran on a beautiful day when they sighted a solitary orca ahead. As they got closer they also sighted a seal that the orca apparently was pursuing. When they got about 100 feet away they saw the orca coming underneath the seal and nudging it. Then the seal would dive and the orca disappeared. When the seal surfaced the orca was still in pursuit.

For an hour the seal would dive, but when it surfaced the orca’s fin returned. At times the orca breached out of the water and came down on top of the seal. Eventually the boat drifted alongside the seal and orca. After a while they realized that the orca was playing with the seal the same way a cat does with a mouse.

Once the orca came from underneath the seal with such force that both it and the seal went flying. After a couple of hours the seal seemed stunned and wasn’t moving much.  The orca proceeded to eat the seal slowly, mostly underwater. Though it was exciting the people were scared that if the boat got between the seal and orca the orca might smash the boat.

After the orca finished eating the seal it put on quite a show for about ninety minutes. Over and over the orca swam fast away from the boat 100 yards then turned and swam straight at it as if he were going to ram it. But just before striking the boat the orca would dive underneath and come up on the other side breaching out of the sea.

Finally he changed the pattern by coming up between the hulls and looked up at the people eye to eye. The orca was so friendly they began to wonder if it had escaped from captivity.
 


Tom got out his flute and began playing it to which the orca became even more excited and resumed charging the boat, breaching and splashing the boat with his pectoral fin.

The orca had a small dorsal fin so everyone on board agreed that it must be a female.  But as soon as they said that the orca must be female it turned on its side and exposed his long penis. They all laughed and wondered if the orca heard their words or read their minds.

As I read the story in Peter Fromm’s Whale Tales book I not only thought that the orca had read their minds about his sexual identity, but also their fear of him ramming the boat which he charged over and over until, apparently, they were no longer afraid at which time he popped up to look them in the eyes as if to assure them they had nothing to fear.

Many people including myself and British Columbia orca guru, Dr. Paul Spong, have had similar experiences with wild and captive orcas as well as dolphins.  A single incident does not prove the existence of telepathy. On the other hand, a foremost animal behaviorist, Marc Bekoff, reminds us that a series of anecdotes constitutes data.  We’ll continue covering this fascinating subject in the magazine.


 
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