Saturday 13 February 2010

While out yesterday on a fairly average misty, windy day, we encountered a Heaviside’s dolphin with clear propeller wounds down the length of its body. As you can see from the photos below, it was quite a horrific looking injury. However, the animal was remarkably unafraid of the boat and would still occasionally bow ride our boat and we hope it will make a full recovery over time.

Why dolphins bow ride is not fully understood, but simple ‘play’ behaviour is the most likely reason. It's occurrence is clearly affected by the behavioural state (or mood) of the animal, as well fed or socializing animals bow ride far more keenly than those which are busy hunting or resting. Dolphins ride swell in the open ocean and surf near beaches and they will even ride the bow wave of large whales. The behaviour may be related to the practice of swimming in their mothers slipstream as calves. Heaviside’s dolphins, when in the mood, are particularly avid bowriders. Heaviside’s dolphins will even ride a boat going in reverse, when they swim very, very close to the engines. The keenness with which some species and individuals bow ride can be likened to dogs chasing cars. And it is the role of the boat skipper to bear in mind that just because an animal will react in a certain way to a boat, it is not necessarily a good practice to do it (would you throw stones at elephants to make them charge you?).

The high amount of boat traffic at Pelican Point has always been a concern to local conservation organizations and understanding the potential impact of this traffic was one of the motivating factors behind the development of the Namibian Dolphin Project. Sightings like this re-enforce the need for protocol compliance and the application of common sense and environmental responsibility while interacting with these fantastic animals.

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