The Agile residents of San Pedro: The Bottlenose Dolphins

One of the most graceful and beautiful displays of nature one can witness from the shores of San Pedro is a pod of Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) swimming by. It's not an altogether common sight, at least when compared to years past when these marine mammals were much more prevalent in this area. The population of these dolphins in Belize is unknown, but along the eastern coast of the U.S. and down through the Gulf of Mexico the population is estimated at 67,000.

Around the world, Bottlenose dolphins can be found in temperate/tropical waters, inhabiting harbors, lagoons, bays, gulfs, and estuaries. Females become sexually mature at five-twelve years and bear one calf every 2nd or 3rd year. After a gestation period of 12 months, the female gives birth to a calf that will suckle for up to two years and stay with its mother for three-six years learning feeding techniques and social interaction. Dolphins can live up to 48 years of age and they tend to spend the majority of their life in an area called their home range. Charlie, a dolphin that has been a long-time resident of the waters of San Pedro, has chosen an area just north of the Boca Del Rio cut as his home range where he has been seen swimming for years.

One look at the streamlined body of a dolphin and one would think they were made specifically for fast swimming and leaping through the air. But, these agile creatures do not jump through the air simply for fun, sometimes they are avoiding predators or trying to impress potential mates. Dolphins are also skillful divers, reaching depths of 1,640 feet in search of food (dolphins consume six-eight kilograms of fish each day). To breathe, dolphins use the blowhole located at the top of the head to empty and refill their lungs with air. Because these mammals are often very active at night feeding, they sometimes take short naps during the day by floating below the surface and rising slowly to occasionally breathe.

Reef Brief is a weekly column published in the San Pedro Sun
These highly intelligent and communicative animals are most often seen in pods (a group of dolphins), usually comprised of family members. To communicate, they often whistle to each other, with each dolphin having a signature whistle. A technique called echolocation (sonar) is used to locate prey, in which pulses and clicks are sent out from the dolphin and bounced off an object. Captive dolphins that live in aquariums often experience significant psychological damage using their sonar. Imagine instinctively sending out pulses with the goal of finding food only to constantly reflect the side of a concrete tank; many dolphins go crazy. Occasionally it is proposed that in Belize a confined tank be built for dolphin viewing. In fact, only a few years back, there was a project proposed at Cayo Cangrejo to create a confined environment for humans to swim with dolphins. Fortunately, concerned citizens of San Pedro, led by Omar Arceo, petitioned against the project.

In their natural environment, dolphins also face some threats, such as shark attacks. There are reports, however, of two or more dolphins teaming up and killing a shark by ramming their snouts into its gills. Humans also pose a threat to dolphins by using fishing nets, polluting the World's oceans, and creating captive environments for dolphins. Fortunately, there are several laws that exist to protect the Bottlenose dolphin, such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, in which several projects are devoted to Bottlenose dolphin conservation. In Belize, we must continue to protect these creatures and allow them to thrive in the clean and plentiful waters that this country is famous for.

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