Fins Up – A Look At Wild Dolphins in Palm Beach County
Most people love dolphins. They think of them as intelligent creatures. They have heard stories of dolphins coming to the aid of stranded sailors, guiding swimmers back to shore, and engaging in cooperative hunting with local fishermen. They feel dolphins are important. And they are right.
There are two dolphin species found in the Palm Beach area: the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), a cosmopolitan species found throughout temperate and tropical waters, including estuaries and enclosed bays, and the Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis), which is widely observed in the western end of the Gulf Stream between Florida and Bermuda. Over the past two decades, scientists of the Taras Oceanographic Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization, headquartered in West Palm Beach, have been conducting regular field surveys, following dolphins for countless hours, and using photographs and video to identify and track the members of the Palm Beach dolphin community.
Their work has already revealed some very interesting details about these ambassadors of the oceans. As it turns out, there are at least about 600 dolphins utilizing our coastal waters. Some are year-round residents, while others pass through or visit the area from time to time. Newborns can be seen every year, and their mothers sometimes surprise even the experienced observer. Dolphins teach their young a lot during those early years, but even the best strategies and the most prepared youngster will not grow to be an adult unless there continues to be the abundance and variety of fish to eat.
And there are always more questions:
Why do dolphins hear sounds up to 150kHz while we hear only to 15? What is there to listen to anyway? Do dolphins ‘see’ an image in their brain from echolocation signals that is similar to what we see with our eyes? Does a dolphin think, and if he does, what does he think about? Do dolphins dream? Why do dolphins have pointy rostrums? But most importantly why does anyone care about the answers to these questions? The main point is that people do care, and this is why scientists have committed themselves to learn everything they can about these marvelous marine mammals. In addition to learning about dolphin behavior and social organization, scientists can shed light on how the health of these top predators, and the conditions of the natural resources they depend upon, may directly and indirectly impact our own health and well-being. For instance, we have all seen the news about disease outbreaks (epizootics) among bottlenose dolphin populations in southeast Florida that were associated with brevetoxins, produced by a dinoflagellate called Karenia brevis. That is the same species causing the so-called red tides. Brevetoxins are known to kill and/or contaminate fish and shellfish, and if dolphins ingest those, kill dolphins, too. Similarly, if we consume those, or simply inhale toxic aerosols, we will fall ill as well.
More than valuable intellectual exercises, these studies help us to understand phenomena such as population decline, recovery, and extinction and teach us to care about the world. Generally, understanding begets caring.
Meet Palm Beach Jupiter Dolphin Tours, a sister organization to the Foundation, created to generate revenues for dolphin conservation research and education. Authentic, fun, engaging and educational, these personalized wind-in-your-hair style adventures create memorable and transformative experiences and facilitate the collection of important scientific information about our local dolphin populations. Dolphin scientists interpret dolphin and wildlife sightings, answer questions and share what they know, including some personal stories. The 3-hour dolphin tours depart from Sailfish Marina on Singer Island and uses a 33-ft open deck rigid inflatable boat, featuring saddle and bench seats.
Best of all, these tours allow people of all walks of life to experience what dolphin conservation work is all about. Most of them leave the tour with a new sense of individual responsibility to preserve our marine environment, not just for the sake of dolphins and other marine life, but for the survival of our civilization.
Palm Beach Jupiter Dolphin Tours also lives up to its responsibility by offsetting the carbon footprint of the tours, ensuring that they do not have a negative impact on the very species and environment they seek to protect. these dolphin tours are carbon neutral, and all net revenues go to support the dolphin conservation work of the Taras Oceanographic Foundation.
For more information go to www.taras.org or www.palmbeachdolphintours.com. You can also reach out to Dr. Stefan Harzen at [email protected] or call/text him at 561.762.6473.
*A huge thank you to Dr. Stefan Harzen for his love of dolphins and taking the time to write this fascinating article for this issue.