Our Bottlenose Dolphins...
Dolphins are everywhere in the St Pete Beach area, and we always come across dolphins on the way to Egmont Key and back. Our captains carry Coast Guard Captains licenses, and are trained on how to observe dolphins without imposing on their natural habits. Our training comes from the folks at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, the largest dolphin research institution in the world.
We do not try attracting dolphins with a large wake on a big boat. This practice is actually frowned upon by the dolphin researchers in our area. Our boats are smaller, quieter, and less intrusive on the dolphins. They come right up to the boat every day. And because we can go into the 2 foot shallows with our boats, you get a really special look at the dolphins as they mate or hunt fish.
Dolphins, like other mammals such as dogs or cats, are very curious, and always looking for mischief! They come up to our boat very often to say hello, and even to show off.
The St Pete Beach region of Florida, has a population of more than 700 dolphins, many of which have been tagged by the researchers at Mote Marine Labs. The dolphins love this area because it offers much of what dolphins need to live comfortably. This includes very moderate water temperatures all year round, a large variety of fish to feed on, and vast areas of shallows and sandbars.
These areas of shallow waters are important, because dolphin moms need the shallows when giving birth to the newborn calf. As mammals, dolphins must come up for air just as humans do. When the calf is first born, mom must nudge the calf up to the waters surface so that it can take its first breath. The dolphin mother does not want to do this from a depth of 30 feet, as it would take too long. So dolphins want to give birth in 3 feet of water, so that its much quicker to get the calf to the surface. As mammals, Bottlenose Dolphins mating season begins on January 1st, and lasts a full 365 days. Yes, 365 days of mating. :)
Dolphins live in social groups called pods, typically 7 to 10 dolphins, and not necessarily all blood relatives. Often we come upon a single dolphin, or a pair of dolphin. The rest of their group could be up to a mile away, and they are still able to communicate at that distance as being just a few feet away. Dolphins see and hear everything, and they also have a sonar ability, for tracking fish. Very often, if we spend enough time watching the lone dolphins, the rest of the group suddenly appears, and we are surrounded by dolphins.
Bottlenose Dolphins grow to hundreds of pounds, with the males getting to 600 to 700 lbs as full adults. Females only grow to about half of that size, 300 to 400 pounds. But... female dolphins live longer, typically living into their 60s. Males only live into their 40s. Beside their size, we can also distinguish males from females by their dorsal fins. During the mating ritual, males often compete for the female and tear at each others dorsal fins. So males always have scars, tears, and gashes in their dorsal fins, while females always have a perfectly formed dorsal. Some of the males have very distinguished scars that makes them very recognizable, and there are a number of males we see on a regular basis.
Our visitors love seeing dolphins jumping out of the water, and we see this almost every day on our tours. Typically, the adult males leap out of the water as part of the mating ritual, and they do this to impress the females. We also see the calfs jump out of the water, and this is more about the calf showing off for mom. We have also observed adult males leaping out of the water as if to teach the calf how to perform the same trick.
The bottlenose dolphin calf stays close to its mom for 3 to 5 years. During this time, the dolphin mom is out of season, and will not mate until the calf is fully independent. Sometimes, the males might become persistent, and the female will respond by slapping her tail against the waters surface, or by blowing very hard from her spout hole. This demonstration of unhappiness is her way of telling the dolphin males to go away.
The bottlenose dolphin's tail is known to be one of the most powerful muscles in marine biology. Two wags of this tail gets the dolphin to a speed of 20mph. The dolphin can easily cruise at 25mph. Like its whale cousin, the dolphins tail is flat and horizontal, unlike the shark's tail, which is vertical and sticks high out of the water.