The star of our second post in the Sea Mammals Series is the Bottlenose Dolphin. There is rarely a day when we are out sailing that we don’t see dolphins joining us at our bows. These are gregarious, social, fun, intelligent, agile animals. Invariably as soon as we see them coming towards us, we rush to the front of the boat to get a better look at them!
Bottlenose Dolphins are graceful animals with a streamlined body, dark grey on the back fading to white on the undersides. The flippers are long and pointed at the tip and the dorsal fin is high and hooked back towards the tail fluke. The name “bottlenose” refers to their short stout beak.
Typically we see them in small groups of 2 to 15 inshore, but the pods can be huge (20 to 100) offshore. The pod hunts using cooperative echo-locating clicks and squeals to herd prey before taking turns to feed. They eat schooling fish as well as squid and rays.
Often in a pod there will be a youngster, shadowing his mum, like the one on the right in this photo. We have seen babies, no more than 50 cm long, eagerly following their mother.
We have also noticed that dolphins seem to like it best and stay with the boat the longest when we are sailing at a steady pace. They are really fast swimmers, clocking over 30km/h! If we are too slow, they appear briefly, then suddenly they are gone.
It is always a thrill to watch them escort us at the bows, weave between our hulls, speed ahead, jumping right out of the water in front, then swim back in a huge circle to the side of the boat. They respond to our calls of delight when we stand at the front of the boat. It is as if it encourages them to put on a show. We have seen them swim belly up just to check us out, then make spectacular jumps and somersaults. They really are very endearing.
Here is a gallery of photos taken both in the Southern part of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, in Tasmania and Bass Strait.