This blue marble

– and yet it spins

How to unfriend dolphins (with good intentions)

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heaviside-3

Photos are of Heaviside’s dolphins – obviously, as the bottlenoses did not feel like hanging around

It has been an eventful day. Those on the research boat were planning to biopsy bottlenose dolphins. One of our principal investigators was demo-ing the Hawaiian sling for Heaviside’s dolphin biopsy (why, I have no clue, as the target were bottlenoses), when he dropped it and it sank to the bottom of the ocean.

The team attempted to use the crossbow to biopsy bottlenoses, by shooting off a skin sample smaller than the scratches dolphins make on each other when they love or hate. This means much preparatory work: agreeing on one single animal as it surfaces for air, cross-referencing their dorsal fin ID with the database of identified dolphins, and then obtaining a new fin shot with the camera (not easy as the dolphin surfaces only for a moment). Only after all this is somehow completed, either methodically or in total chaos on the research boat, does one get ready for a biopsy shot with the crossbow. The tip of the arrow sinks into the skin and blubber layer of the dolphin, and as it is pulled back out it removes a little button of tissue.heaviside-2The team tried – and missed. A few times. Soon the dolphins removed themselves from an understandably unpleasant situation. It was impossible to work with them anymore, neither by shooting arrows at them nor shooting cameras at them. The team obviously got what they deserved. I heard most of that day was spent playing with the cape fur seals and a GoPro and a SoundTrap, both submerged underwater for the seals to have fun with.

I was on bird survey duty with another team mate. We had barely begun when we saw dolphins in the lagoon. As per new protocol, we abandoned the bird count and assembled the kayak, the hydrophone with recording equipment, and the data sheets. We then spent nearly 2 hours floating among a pod of dolphins, recording their underwater communication and above-water behavior.heaviside-1After a good hour and a half we, too, got the feeling that the dolphins did not want us around anymore. Like an unpopular kid at school, we noticed that they always moved a little distance away from us and resumed their behavior. It was pretty clear we had fallen from their graces, so we paddled home.

As a result, both teams managed to unfriend a pod of dolphins each. At least for the day. I guess we humans would unfriend any one anthropologist who would attempt to shoot at us with a crossbow or hang around observing our every move for hours. Dolphins are socially intelligent and bottlenoses have larger brains than humans. Why they should suffer fools gladly is beyond me, but they seem to do that most of the time. Just not today.
kayak-2(Walvis Bay, Namibia; July 2017)

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