Our philosophy here at Lobosonda incorporates a careful and respectful approach towards cetaceans in their natural habitat in order to facilitate a passive encounter with them. This gives the animals being observed the opportunity to approach us, rather than us forcing them into anything. Cetaceans are intelligent, social creatures and giving them the choice for or against an encounter is both in their interest and in ours. The more patient we are in giving the animals this chance, the longer these pleasant sightings will last. We therefore observe and consider their behaviour before attempting an observation to provide our guests with a learning experience that involves authentic encounters with the animals.
These experiences in the field are also educational for us guides; we understand more about the different species and their behaviour every day. Meeting the animals underwater is a whole new endeavour altogether. Our company offers snorkelling tours with Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) and Short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) on our zodiac, the Stenella. During the summer months the spotted dolphins are very abundant and can be observed during several trips, which also was the case today. These pleasant creatures are just as wonderful to meet in the water as they are from our boats. The quality of these encounters, however, is to a greater part dictated by our behaviour in the water. Generally a calm and relaxed demeanour is recommended when in the ocean; the animals are then more likely to approach us and our participants can make the most of this unique experience.
This morning the feeling of curiosity seemed to be mutual amongst the spotted dolphins and our lovely snorkelling guests. The participants were fantastic in the water; they maintained their grip on the snorkeling rope, remained hydrodynamic and waited calmly and patiently for the animals to approach them. Eventually we were surrounded by very vocal dolphins, playfully encircling the snorkellers and occasionally swimming alongside us. Research on the behaviour and bioacoustics of dolphins has reached great lengths through the research of Dr. Denise Herzing with spotted dolphins in the Bahamas. Here, the dolphins participate in different behavioral experiments during which they voluntarily enter a sheltered lagoon and actively interact with biologists. Among her many contributions, Herzing and her team have recorded „teaching behavior“ amongst the animals using underwater hydrophone/camera systems and have made attempts at two-way communication using a computer emitting synthesized dolphin vocalizations. The computer should allow the animals to make acoustic associations with objects or games presented by the team and recordings of these experiments have shown dolphins imitating the sounds to request an object from the scientists. Some individuals have even imitated the sounds in order to request an object, which shows that Herzing and her team have created the first foundation for communication with dolphins in the wild.
Despite such fascinating research, we can only make assumptions that are inevitably subjective about cetacean behaviour and why they occasionally decide to approach us. Understanding the language of other creatures is one of THE Rosetta stones of science so, until cetacean vocalizations are deciphered, the humble assumption that they might also be curious about us is all we have. Either way, both an encounter from the boat as well as one in the water allows us to quietly and happily reflect on these mysteries of nature.
The Atlantic spotted dolphins approached our vessels during all trips today and the guests on the afternoon trips also enjoyed sightings involving Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and Blainville’s beaked whales (Mesoplodon densirostris).
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
09:00 Atlantic spotted dolphins
09:00 Atlantic spotted dolphins (Snorkelling)
12:00 Atlantic spotted dolphins, Bottlenose dolphins
18:00 Atlantic spotted dolphins, Blainville’s beaked whales