CIYC draws crowd for educational dolphin lecture
The Captiva Island Yacht Club’s Environmental Awareness Committee hosted an open house on Wednesday that featured Kim Bassos-Hull presenting an educational talk entitled “Dolphin Research Along the West Coast of Florida: 40 Years of Study.”
Bassos-Hull is a senior biologist and research associate for the marine mammal program at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., and has been studying dolphin populations along the west coast of Florida since 1990.
Mote’s Dr. Randall Wells began the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program 40 years ago and – according to Bassos-Hull – it’s the longest running dolphin study in the world.
Bassos-Hull began her presentation with some basics about dolphins, including a little known fact: dolphins are born with hair on their nose, which they lose as they mature.
She also talked about the diet and various behaviors of dolphins, explaining some of the fascinating ways they hunt for food.
“How many of you guys have seen a big swirl of water and a fish flying into the air from next to a dolphin?” Bassos-Hull asked the crowd. A few hands rose into the air, and Bassos-Hull explained that this practice is called “fishwhacking,” a method by which dolphins use their flukes – or tail fins – to kick the fish up into the air to stun it so that they can catch and eat it easily.
And if you’ve ever been out on the water and noticed dolphins splashing in the wake of your boat, Bassos-Hull said that this is typical dolphin play behavior and, the bigger the wake, the more likely it becomes that dolphins will be attracted to the waves.
After four decades of studying dolphins, the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program has cataloged close to 4,000 dolphins and traced as many five generations of dolphins – from a dolphin born in the early 1960s, all the way down to her great-great-granddaughter born in 2007. The oldest dolphin in the Sarasota bay population, named Nicklo, is 60-years-old and has been sighted 658 times.
Bassos-Hull also discussed the method of photo identification for tracking dolphins, a process that involves identifying distinct markings, scars and injuries on the dorsal fin of the dolphin.
The primary goals of the research program, which spans from Tampa Bay all the way down into Pine Island Sound, include:
Collecting biological, behavioral, ecological, and health data of importance to the conservation of dolphins
Disseminating information generated by the program to scientific and general audiences for the purpose of enhancing dolphin conservation efforts
Testing new research tools and methodologies of potential benefit to conservation efforts
Training conservation workers and students
Dolphin rescue operations and post-release follow-up monitoring (Many dolphins require medical attention because of improperly disposed-of fishing line.)
During the meeting, Bassos-Hull distributed “personal-sized recycle bins” for boaters, fishermen and kayakers to take with them should they need to store broken or used monofilament line until they can recycle it. The bins are stocked with educational materials and information about tips for recycling fishing line and interacting with dolphins.
“This is a project that has been taken over by high school kids, 4-H kids, Boy Scouts. It makes them feel really good to help get the information out there. We go to racquet clubs and get the tennis ball containers that they’re usually throwing into the trash, and put some stickers on them and stuff them with informational pamphlets,” Bassos-Hull said.
One of the informational pamphlets contains a list of tips for boaters and fishermen, including recycling your fishing line, never feeding dolphins and maintaining a distance of at least 50 yards from wild dolphins.
“When you see wild dolphins, it’s good to stay back about 50 yards. You’ll see a lot more cool things if you back off a little bit,” Bassos-Hull said.
At the end of the presentation, Bassos-Hull encouraged members of the audience to visit Mote and mentioned various ways for people to support the organization, including volunteering, membership, the “Protect Our Reefs” license plate and making donations.
For more information about the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, visit www.SarasotaDolphin.org.