Move over Easter Bunny: Pacific Dolphins Means It’s Spring time
Tara A. Spears
As an avid boating enthusiast, I have always loved the Easter season because I used the holiday time off from school and work to hit the water and fish. My children – and now grandchildren-have their Easter egg hunt in beach sand and their basket of treats individually wrapped for enjoying on the water. It is through years of personal observation that I came to love and respect wild dolphins. The Easter bunny might be coming in colder climates, but for me it’s the dolphin bringing a pretty basket of candy.
While there are 38 distinct species of ocean dolphins, not all types can be seen along Mexico’s Pacific coast. The smaller species of dolphin, such as the Pantropical spotted and white-sided dolphin, range from 6-8 feet (2 meters) long and weigh 200-330 pounds (90-150 kg). Larger species, such as the bottlenose dolphin, generally are 8-12 feet (2-4 m) long and run between 250-1300 pounds (94-591 kg.) All species of dolphin have long lives ranging from 30 to 50 years. The gestation period for pantropic spotted dolphin calf is about 11 months. Typically, the type of dolphins in the Jaltemba Bay area is born this time of year, which is late spring-early summer at this latitude. The spotted calf nurses for a minimum of four months. Other types of dolphins will nurse up to two years. The calves remain close to the mother and will be protected and trained by the other members of the mother’s family pod. Males of most species are generally longer than females. It is impressive that spotted dolphins often mate for life.
Spotted dolphins form small groups of no more than 30 members. Yet some researchers have found groups of more than 1,000. It is believed that these mega groups are isolated incidents. Further study showed that the temporary mega group coincides with migration or mating rituals; it is this other behavior that brings many smaller groups together to form a larger group for a particular purpose and for a short period of time.
According to wildlife conservation organizations, there are quite a few risks at this time to Dolphin resulting from human interactions. One of the negative effects is the amount of pollution that continues to find its way into the ocean. Pollution can include chemicals and plastic; both have a huge impact on the negative health of dolphins. Efforts to help reduce pollution continue but still have a long way to go. With the Jaltemba Bay capacity visitor season just beginning, the volume of beach trash accumulated in two weeks is shocking! Multiply the Jaltemba Bay pile by thousands of coastal tourist towns and it’s amazing that any sea life can survive.
Since the early 1980’s there has been a significant amount of conservation efforts out there for this species of dolphin. They were becoming vulnerable due to the many commercial fishermen out there after tuna. With changes to the types of nets used for that process there is less of a risk to these dolphins than a couple of decades ago. It may surprise you though to find that more than three million of them exist. However, researchers felt that at the rate they were being killed in the 1970s that this species would have no chance of survival. Today the pantropical spotted dolphin thrive as the second highest population of dolphins with only the bottlenose having larger numbers.
Today, many people consider dolphins to be spiritual healers, and they believe that if they swim with the dolphins, they will be healed of any ailments or illnesses they have. Many cultures consider dolphins to be sacred, powerful creatures that should be revered and respected. In the last ten years many tourist designations offer swimming with the dolphins in the ocean, which for dolphin admirers it is a dream come true. People report that the experience is one of the most precious moments of their lives.
Reflecting over 60 plus years of interacting with dolphins, the most powerful experience of my life occurred when my father was dying of cancer. I had to transport him in a wheelchair to the boat dock and needed help lifting him into the copilot’s seat for his last spin on the ocean. Just dad and I cruised around to some of his favorite fishing spots but he was too weak to hold a rod. I turned off the engine, and I was fighting back tears to see my once strong father unable to fish. As we drifted along under a soothing blue tropic sky, a pod of dolphins approached the boat. “Look Dad! There’s another pod!” I said. Within a few minutes as I held my father’s hand, nearly a hundred dolphins gathered around us, clicking and vocalizing. I knew that the dolphins were singing a farewell song for my father, that being able to experience the beauty of nature would give my father the strength he needed to get past the pain. My father’s fingers were hanging over the boat’s side and various dolphins eased up and gently brushed his trembling fingers. It was such a profound moment to witness wild dolphins up close and personal, to witness dolphins reaching out to a human. The dolphins were not feeding, they simply came to share their strength and beauty with a couple of worn-out humans who were in need. The dolphins stayed with us for nearly an hour, singing, circling the boat and making eye contact. Then, just that quickly, the dozens and dozens of dolphins silently slipped away. This encounter gave me the courage to hospice my father who passed away a week later.
Today, few creatures in the animal kingdom command the breathless awe and respect a dolphin can. With its grace, intelligence, and seeming eagerness to entertain, the dolphin captures the imagination and affection of almost everyone. Dolphins enrich my life not just in spring but all year long. I cannot imagine a world without these magnificent sea mammals!