21 Aug 2014
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Animal House: The Common Dolphin

Has beaching become a common problem for the common dolphin?

Animal House: The Common Dolphin

Thoughts of dolphins generally conjure up images of warm tropical beaches, clear blue water, the flipper theme, and usually a performance in an aquarium. 

None of which makes one think of New England in January.

The most popular dolphin is the bottlenose dolphin, but here in New England we have quite a population of the common dolphin.  The common dolphins are what caused a stir this weekend on Cape beaches when a pod of thirty beached themselves. 

The Cape is one of the world’s hot spots for animal beaching behavior. This is largely thought to be because of the topography. 

The International Federation of Animal Welfare deployed a group of trained volunteers to help get the dolphins back into the water.  Unfortunately at least ten died before they could be helped back into the water. 

The common dolphin is called common as it has abundant numbers and is the most frequently seen dolphin in the wild.

The common dolphin actually refers to two different types of dolphins, the short beaked and long beaked dolphin.  The dolphins that beached themselves were the short beaked.  This dolphin can grow to six and a half to eight feet and will weigh around three hundred pounds. 

These dolphins live in large groups or pods which can number in the hundreds.  The common dolphin will work together with the group to herd fish into a schooling ball in order to make feeding easier. 

Like bats, these dolphins use echolocation a form of sonar to see in the water and what is around them.  Dolphins actually have very good eye sight both in and out of the water as well.  Dolphins have long been thought to be highly intelligent animals, as they have been shown to learn complex languages and commands. 

The common dolphin is also well known for riding the waves created by the bow of a moving boat, or bow riding.  Common dolphins have learned to use the waves of boats to help propel them for long distances. 

The common dolphin is a fast and agile swimmer that allows it to travel great distances, evade predators and catch prey with ease.  This dolphin can swim at speeds reaching 40 miles per hour!

So what is with the beaching?

Dolphins have long been known to have a selfless attachment to either their calves or even mates of the opposite sex.  Dolphins have been seen helping wounded dolphins to the surface and will even follow a sick dolphin onto the beach. 

There was even a case in England where a male dolphin who was the mate of a female for years died three days after the female for no medical reason at all, and was ultimately accepted that his attachment to his mate led to his death as he just could not go on without her. 

This tight knit social bond of dolphins has long allowed them to survive as they do not exist as individuals but groups. 

Social bonding of this magnitude is not all that rare in the animal kingdom, but nonetheless impressive as it relates to the strength of the bond to the point that thirty or more dolphins will beach themselves to stay with one sick dolphin.

Some studies have suggested that the Cape has an electromagnetic field that disturbs the ability of nomadic mammals and can cause them to become confused or disoriented, and that this can be the cause of the mass strandings. 

Given that the Cape experiences a large number of animal strandings of multiple species, there is certainly something about the Cape that contributes to this behavior. 

It very well could be that the Cape has a rich and lush environment for animals to feed and mate as well. 

There is certainly a lot that goes on under the waves off our coast and we are very privileged to live in such a diverse and animal rich environment.

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