Archive | August 2011

Dolphins in Danger: The Maui’s Dolphin

A pod of Maui Dolphins

A pod of Maui Dolphins (Also known as the "Northern Hector's Dolphin) off the coast of New Zealand

The Maui’s Dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) is one of the world’s rarest and smallest cetaceans on Earth. It can only be found exclusively in the shallow coastal waters of New Zealand. One full grown animal may measure in at about 1.4 meters and weight in at around 50 kilograms. In fact, these animals are no bigger than a small human child. Maui Dolphins are easily distinguished by their black facial markings, short stocky bodies, and their mouse ear-shaped dorsal fins.

Maui's Dolphins tend to swim closer to shore unlike the Hector's Dolphin, which lives usually 9 to 27 kilometers from shore.

Identified as a subspecies of the Hector’s dolphin in 2002, Maui’s Dolphins are found in shallow coastal waters off New Zealand’s North Island along it’s western shores. The majority of the sightings of these animals have mainly been between Manuka Harbor and Raglan Harbor, North Island, NZ. Maui’s tend to swim close to the shore line, making them more at risk of becoming entangled in fishing nets. During the Southern Winter months (June-September), the dolphins are distributed between the shoreline and 7.5 kilometers offshore while in the summer months (December-March), they are usually seen much closer to the shore.

Maui's Dolphins live in small pods that range in size from two to eight animals.

Maui’s Dolphins live in small pods that range in size from two to eight animals. Pod membership is usually fluid because pod mates mix freely from other pods.These animals are well known for their playful and acrobatic behaviors such as blowing bubbles, playing with seaweed, or surfing the waves. However, they do spend most of their time foraging for food underwater. They have been known for taking short dives for up to 90 seconds. During that time, the animals may be finding or catching fish and squid by using echolocation in mid-water.  However, they have been sighted feeding near the surface of the water.

Maui's Dolphin Mother and Calf

Females do not breed until they are at least 7-9 years of age. Although the gestation period for these animals in not known, calves are said to be born around the southern spring and early southern summer, from November to mid-February. Calves will stay with their mother for up to two years and begin to feed on fish for the first time when they are at least six months old. Over the course of her 20-year lifespan, a mother Maui dolphin may give birth to only four calves, but that is not enough to keep a dangerously low population of only 100 dolphins growing beyond %2 due to the ever increasing deaths by human impact.

This Maui's Dolphin is one of many dolphins that die due to entanglement.

Because they live close to shore, Maui’s dolphins are at great risk of dying by entanglement and boat strikes. Deaths by entanglement in both recreational and commercial gill and trawl nets have been recognized by both New Zealand’s Ministry of Fisheries and the New Zealand Department of Conservation as the biggest threat the animals face. What happens is the dolphins would be detecting their prey using echolocation when the fish passes the nets, the dolphins simply, just get to close to them because these fishing nets are not picked up by the echolocation and thus, the dolphin may try to swim through it as a way to find prey before getting themselves entangled. Once entangled, they cannot release themselves from the nets, and thus, they drown within a matter of minutes.

There area a number of efforts being done to protect Maui's and other dolphin species in New Zealand.

There area a number of efforts being done to protect Maui's and other dolphin species in New Zealand.

What is being done to protect both the Hector’s and Maui’s Dolphins?…….

  1. Long term radio tag surveys are helping researchers understand their daily migration patterns and harbor uses
  2. Researchers have conducted the relationship between boats, human swimmers, and dolphins to determine the long term impact it has on animals.
  3. New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has encouraged the public to call their dolphin sighting hotline if they site either a dead or live dolphin.
  4. Educating the public about the plight of these endangered dolphins
Let’s hope with all the efforts being made to help protect New Zealand’s Maui’s dolphins, the population will make a comeback and be around for generations to come. Till then, all we can do is hope and do our part in saving them.

CMA Dolphin Story: Hope (A.K.A., Winter’s Sister)


Hope is the most curious of the four dolphins at Clearwater Marine Aquarium

On December 11th, 2010 (about five years and one day after Winter’s rescue), Hope, who was estimated to be two to three months old, was found attempting to nurse from the carcass of her dead mother in Indian River Lagoon, FL. Due to being parentless, Hope was transfered to Clearwater Marine Aquarium under orders of the US National Marine Services for rehabilitation purposes. She has suffered from trauma and at the time of her rescue, her condition was believed to be fragile. Not only was she found in the same region in Florida where Winter was found, she was also rescued by the same two organizations that found Winter too. During her first few weeks at CMA, Hope was given 24 hour care by both the staff and volunteers and she was fed every two hours. Since she’s a young calf, Hope  is fed by bottle. The formula in the bottle is made with a combination of fish, powdered milk substitute, and water that is all blended together to created a “fish milkshake”. Today, Hope, who lives at the Dolphin Deck Exhibit, is almost one year old and weights in at 150 pounds (she’s is continuing to grow constantly!).  Hope was declared “non-releasable” in early 2011 due to her young age at the time of  rescue. This is because Hope was never taught to neither hunt or defend herself from her mother, who she would have stayed with for up to six years in the wild. Although people can teach a dolphin how to hunt, they can’t teach them how to identify which animals are  predators, how to avoid boats, and use sonar to navigate through murky waters. So, instead, she will continue to reside at Clearwater Marine Aquarium as permanent resident. Hope has been fully trained to do various behaviors for medical, mental, and developmental purposes. She is also being taught how to swallow fish on her own. The ultimate goal is to introduce Hope to Winter and eventually pair them up as sisters once she has been weaned off the bottle completely.

An Orca Named Luna

Luna (L-98) was a southern resident killer whale who was known to fostering friendships with people.

Luna (L-98) was a southern resident killer whale who was born in September 1999 to mother Splash (L-67) as a member of the Southern Resident orca community. When he was first sighted by a whale watch boat, it appeared that both mother and son had some sort of disassociation from each other. Normally when killer whales give birth, other members of their pod swim by them to assist the mother in caring for newborn calves. However, in Luna’s case, there were no other whales that were nearby to help Splash care for her son. Soon afterward, Luna left his mother’s side and started following and connecting with several members of K-pod for three days. In the spring of 2000, Luna and Splash were sighted together and it appeared that they were now having a normal mother-and-calf relationship after speculation of weather of not Splash was Luna’s mother due to their multiple separations. In September of that year, Luna was sighted traveling with his birth pod for an annual migration. But in the winter of 2000/2001, Luna was not sighted with his pod and was declared “dead”. But in the fall of 2001, Luna re-appeared alone in Nootka Sound, British Colombia on the northern west coast of Vancouver Island, hundreds of kilometers away from other Southern resident orcas. At that time, members of the Mowachaht nation began to call Luna “Tsux’iit, after a deceased chief who wanted to return in the form of either an orca or a wolf after he died. To his people, Luna’s appearance, which happened four days after his death, was considered to be so symbolic that the tribe believed that the animal was his living reincarnation.

A family interacts with Luna from a small boat.

At first, Luna, like most wild orcas, avoided contact with boaters and kept his distance away from people. But, by the summer of 2002, word began to spread about a lone killer whale in Nootka Sound. At the same time, Luna was beginning to interact  boaters by nudging their boats around and spinning them around like bath-tub toys before bouncing them up-and-down by pushing on the hull. As the summer went by, Luna began to interact with people more and the interaction with boats and people were beginning serve as the companionship and physical contact he would have normally received from his mother and the rest of his pod. By September 2002, reports of boaters feeding Luna beer and potato chips. As a result,  some people who were caught in such acts were fine by the Canadian government. This was because in both the United States and Canada, it is illegal to disturb marine mammals in any shape or form. Meanwhile, Luna was beginning to show sign of minor injuries from likely collisions with small boats.  Cetaceans who lose their dear of boats are more likely to get hit by boats, which can lead to either injury or even death. Playful whales themselves, can severely damage boats and accidentally but human passengers in danger. Wildlife officials have made efforts to post signs that would educate the public to keep their boats away from Luna, but still, Luna continued to approach both boats and boaters.

There had been a huge number of efforts to relocate Luna to his Southern Resident pod, but efforts failed because of Native American opposition.

In 2004, scientists called for the beginning to start efforts to relocate him back to his birth pod. The first plan was to attempt to use a small boat and lead the animal out of Nootka Sound and into the Southern Resident pods as they were heading up to the mouth of Nootka in the early summer months. If the plan did not work out, then the second plan was to recapture Luna and have him transferred to a sea pen in Pedder Bay where he would be released back into L-pod. However, both plans were opposed by Native American tribes due to Luna’s “sacred” status. These plans were proposed by both the Canadian government and scientists at the Vancouver Aquarium. This was not the first time scientists has attempted to relocate an orphaned killer whale back to it’s pod. It has been done before and unlike Luna’s, the efforts were successful.

Springer (A-73) is currently the only known killer whale whose reintroduction into a wild pod was documented as successful.

In 2002, the Vancouver Aquarium rescued an orphan killer whale named Springer, who was left motherless after her mother died. When she was first rescued, she was in poor condition and was relocated to a sea pen for rehabilitation after months of heated debate. Like Luna, Springer had developed the habit of approaching boats and rubbing against them. Many feared that she would be at risk of getting hit by a vessel in Puget Sound, the area where she was sighted after her mother’s death. After being relocated to a sea pen, Springer was given treatment for health problems and received extra food. The following July, she was transferred to a second sea pen on Hanson Island, British Colombia. The next morning, Springer was released near her close relatives and by the following October, she was back with her birth pod. Currently, the release of Springer is currently the only known release of a killer whale to be documented as successful.

Luna's interaction with boats costed him his life.

On March 10th, 2006, Luna was hit and killed by a boat that he had grown familiar with. It’s believed that Luna went up to a tugboat to engage in playful activity before he got pulled into the blades and died. His death brought a lot of anger to people who blamed the Canadian government for not doing enough to enforce national law that would have restricted public access to him. One scientist even criticized the Canadian government for failure to take action to rescue and relocate him to his family pod. Meanwhile, Luna’s family experienced two huge losses back in the San Juan Islands. His mother Splash and younger brother Aurora (L-101) both went missing in 2008 and both animals are presumed dead. Since his death, Luna’s story has become the subject of an award winning documentary called The Whale.


The Winter Dolphin Chronicles (WDC) is Now on Facebook

You can now like "The Winter Dolphin Chronicles on facebook.

Here is some good news to all of you WDC fans out there. The Winter Dolphin Chronicles is now of facebook. The facebook page has links to blog archives, links on various marine life and CMA-related articles, photos from CMA, and of course, updates on the site itself. So come visit WDC at: and hope to see you there.


CMA Dolphin Story: Winter

Winter just relaxing in the "Winter Zone". She is an inspiration to millions of people worldwide.


Winter is an almost 6-year old sub-adult female bottlenose dolphin who was born around September 2005 off the coast of Florida. One day on December 9th, 2005, Winter found herself entangled in a blue crab trap in Mosquito Lagoon nearCape Canaveral, FL while playing with a buoy on the surface of the water. She would remain trapped for the next 36 hours. Then, the next day, Winter was saved by the rescue staff from the Harbor-Branch Oceanographic Institute and the Hubbs-SeaWorld Institute the next day on December 10th, that same year. The rescuers arrived after receiving a distress call from a local fishermen who found Winter entangled in the fishing gear. When she was freed, Winter was in serious condition that she was not expected to survive. She was then sent to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, FL four hours later. There, her rehabilitation began. With blood cut off as a result of being in the trap for so long, Winter lost both her entire tail and two vertebrae a few days later. Most dolphins who get entangled in fishing traps often die either during the process or shortly after getting trapped. Winter on the other hand, despite the prediction that she would not survive her ordeal, her condition later began to improve. But, this was only the beginning of an amazing story of survival from the dangers that many dolphins face as a result of human activity.

How Winter Got Her Prosthetic Tail…..

In the Wild, dolphins having no tail can lead to either serious injury or even death. Winter on the other hand, was now in human care but still had to learn how to swim in a very different pattern that is similar to that of fish and snakes. She had now adapted to this swim pattern as well as eating on her own for the first few days of her arrival, she was hand fed by the vets and volunteers who rescued her. They used a tube to feed her. In 2006, CMA announced plans to create a bionic tail for Winter. So for several months, people everywhere collected money for the project. In August 2007, Winter was fitted in her first artificial tail that was created by Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, Inc. Winter would only become the second captive dolphin to ever receive an artificial tail. Over the course of a number of months, Winter had to learn how to use the correct body position to be fitted for the stretchy plastic sleeve. This is the one that is mainly used for human prosthetics. Her trainers have also created one that is more form-fitted version of this sleeve. The sleeve will probably have to be adjusted as Winter gets older. So far, Winter has had 16 tails over the course of her lifetime. The tail fluke acts as a dolphin’s power house. The dolphin uses it to swim at the fastest of speeds, and to sometimes defend themselves predators such as sharks and killer whales.





I shake hands with Winter Dolphin at Clearwater Marine Aquarium during my day off from work.

Today, Winter continues to thrive as a “bionic” but tailless dolphin at one of  Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s three dolphin exhibits. Over the years since her rescue and arrival at CMA in 2005, She has inspired people from around the world to know, love, and care about the plight of dolphins in the wild. She has even inspired those who suffer from disabilities to overcome their limits. In fact, Winter’s amazing story has appeared on NBC, The Bonnie Hunt Show, CNN, BBC, and a number of newspapers worldwide. She has even become the subject of a 2009 direct-to-DVD documentary called Winter, the Dolphin That Could. Winter currently weights in at around 230 pounds and has completely healed from her injury from the crab trap. Winter is very calm, and studious. However, she can sometimes be very playful and interactive towards guests when she has her moments. She has even been adopted by an old female dolphin name Panama shortly after being paired with her in the main tank. Winter does both public training sessions and guests interactions like all the other CMA dolphins. As of 2006, Winter has been declared as unreleasable by NOAA Fisheries due to serve injuries from the entanglement at Mosquito Lagoon. You can currently see Winter and Panama at the “Winter Zone” exhibit at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.


When “The Cove” Lies

Nami, is a nearly forty-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin who lives at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. This facility is one of fourty-four marine life facilities in the United States and Mainland Europe that does NOT take any dolphins out of drive fisheries.

In March 2010, the documentary The Cove won an Oscar for “Best Documentary”. This film focuses on the slaughter of dolphins off the coast of Taiji, Japan.  While the killing of dolphins in Japan is pretty much real, the reasons behind it is completely deceptive. This is because, the filmmakers of the movie claim that most marine life facilities get their dolphins from Japan when truthfully, they do NOT! Below is a two part commentary that focuses on the inaccuracy statements made by dolphin extremist Ric O’Barry  film producer Fisher Stevens, and director, Louie Psihoyos.

  • Since the making of these videos, it has been alleged by activist groups that 15 dolphins were imported into Turkey from Japan, and several more into two former Soviet ruled countries in eastern Europe.
  • Sea Shepherd’s “Cove Guardians” have cited that NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has granted SeaWorld San Diego a permit to import a young male pilot whale named Argo.  Keep in mind that Argo stranded as a neonate and alone in Moriya Seashore of Katsuura City, Japan on January 10th, 2004. He was NOT collected from any drive fishery or otherwise the permit would have been denied.
  • In 2010, Ocean World, a dolphin facility in the Dominican Republic, filed a lawsuit against Ric O’Barry after being defamed during a CNN interview.
  • As of 2011 only one drive-fishery animal resides in the US. It’s a female false killer whale named Kina. She was originally imported by the US Marine Mammal Navy Program from Ocean Park in Hong Kong in 1987. She was later sent to the Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology  in 2000.
  • An attempt by one US aquarium to acquire false killer whales from a 1993 drive fishery was blocked by the US National Marine Fisheries as they considered such operations to be inhumane. This eventually led to an effective ban on imports of drive fishery animals into the US.
However, there are several facts that remain………….
  • Asia and the Middle East are the two active markets for Japanese dolphins. However, the main markets are in Japan, China, Korea, and Taiwan.
  • The Japanese drive fisheries pre-date aquariums by almost 350 years. It began in the year 1606 for the purposes of pest control and human consumption. However, archaeological records show that the drive fisheries go back as early as 8-9,000 years ago during prehistoric times.
  • Even if eastern marine life facilities stop acquiring dolphins from drive fisheries, Japanese fishermen would still kill dolphins for the purposes of both pest-control and human consumption.
  • Less than 8% of all dolphins caught in drive fisheries are sold to aquariums. The rest are killed in the hands of Japanese fishermen.
  • Ric O’Barry was not the first person to expose Japan’s drive fishery practices. It was first revealed by National Geographic in 1979 and three years later by filmmaker and dolphin conservation advocate Hardy Jones and the Cousteau family in a 1982 TV documentary.
  • No wild dolphin has been collected from the wild for a US facility since 1989 . It’s been three decades sine any dolphin has been imported from a drive fishery to a facility in Western Europe. The reason why many western marine life facilities have not obtain collection permits since the 1980’s is due to the success of captive breeding programs.
  • Both the Alliance for Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) and the Association for Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) prohibit any of their accredited facilities from taking  any animal from drive fisheries. Accredited  marine zoological facilities in the western hemisphere from Alaska to Argentina do not support, fund, nor acquire dolphins from the Japanese drive fisheries.
  • Much like the evolution of marine wildlife conservation awareness in the United States, only education and a changing values towards cetaceans, including dolphins, will bring an end to a three-century-old inhumane cultural hunt.

Floating Bed Wars: Starring Winter and Panama

Oh, Winter and her beloved floating bed

Panama relaxing on the bed Winter tries to steal from her all the time.

Winter always tries to steal the floating bed from Panama whenever it’s in the water and Panama’s using it. As a result, the two dolphins will “fight” over the bed although they might be actually playing around with each other. In most cases, Winter ends up winning the floating bed; but, on some occasions, Panama will give in to get back her beloved bed and will continue to rest on it. It is such the funniest moment at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

In your opinion, who did you think won the battle? Was it Winter or Panama?