Dolphins are mammals that are known to be friendly, intelligent, and playful, making them one of the most popular animals in human culture. The Gulf Coast is home to a number of dolphin species, many of which can be seen from our shores. The bottlenose dolphin, Atlantic spotted dolphin, and spinner dolphin all are native to the area. Dolphins often work as a team to harvest fish schools, but they also hunt individually.
Dolphins search for prey primarily using echolocation, which is similar to sonar. They emit clicking sounds and listen for the return echoes to determine the location and shape of nearby items, including potential prey. Numerous dolphin tours and cruises offer the opportunity to view these beautiful creatures up close. It is currently illegal to harass, feed, or swim with the dolphins, however.
Types of Dolphins
Bottlenose dolphins live in groups called pods, typically consisting of 10–30 members. Bottlenose dolphins use sound for communication, including squeaks and whistles emitted from the blowhole, and sounds emitted through body language, such as leaping from the water and slapping their tails on the water surface.
There have been numerous investigations of bottlenose dolphin intelligence. Research on bottlenose dolphins has shown them to exhibit mimicry, use of artificial language, object categorization, and self-recognition. Their considerable intelligence has driven interaction with humans. They have also been trained by militaries to locate sea mines or detect and mark enemy divers. In some areas, they cooperate with local fishermen by driving fish into their nets and eating the fish that escape. Some encounters with humans are harmful to the dolphins: people hunt them for food, and dolphins are killed inadvertently as a bycatch of tuna fishing.
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
The coloration and appearance of Atlantic spotted dolphins varies greatly as they grow. They are born gray without spots, begin to develop dark spots on their bellies as juveniles, and become fully black with white spots at full maturation. Atlantic spotted dolphins in the Bahamas have been observed mating with bottlenose dolphins. Mixed-species schooling has also been observed.
The spinner dolphin is six to seven feet long and exhibits a three-part color pattern on its body. The pattern consists of a dark gray back, a pearl-gray side panel and a white belly. Males possess a hump on their backs and are generally larger than the females.
As their name suggests, spinner dolphins are known to spin laterally through the water and up into the air. The purpose of this energetic spinning behavior is not known. It has been suggested that the large cloud of bubbles created by the powerful spin and splash landing may act as an echolocation target to allow a widely dispersed school of dolphins to communicate. Another theory is that the spinning may dislodge hitchhiking remoras, or the spinning may, at times, simply be play.