Back to Nature (Published on TBNWeekly.com - July 14, 2004)
The amazing and mezmerizing dolphins
Looking for a little adventure on a stormy Florida Saturday, visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of injured marine wildlife.

The aquarium has a full schedule of educational classes and field adventures but for this Saturday we chose just to wander around and visit the resident animals.

It’s impossible not to burst into laughter while viewing the North American River Otters frolicking in play, rolling and teasing each other in their river habitat. You’ll also be amazed at the sharks and underwater creatures displayed in huge tanks on the first floor but one of the highlights of the day is attending the dolphin presentation upstairs.

The Dolphin Pool is a safe house for dolphins unable to survive in the wild. Our volunteer taught us many things about dolphins and then introduced us to several resident dolphins that have been rescued by the CMA Stranding Team. Dolphin antics are delightful and entertaining, as well as educational.

One of the dolphins was more than willing to swim on his back to show off his cute little belly button. All the children and adults cheered loudly.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is almost entirely staffed by volunteers. They’re always in need of qualified assistance, so you might want to check them out if you’re searching for rewarding volunteer hours.

Many people want to know what the differences between the dolphin and the porpoise are. These differences include the shape of their skulls, beaks (rostrum), and their dorsal fins. (CMA has replica skulls on display so you can see the difference.)

Dolphins and porpoises also belong to different families. Dolphins, dolphin-delphinidae are larger than porpoises, have distinct beaks and bulbous foreheads (melons), conical teeth and are usually quite social and playful. Dolphins are toothed whales belonging to the sub-order odontocetes, of the order cetacea. They are often referred to as small cetaceans, but some of them are very large. This family is represented by about 30 species, including common Dolphins, pilot whales, killer whales, and false killer whales. Porpoises, porpoise-phocoenidae usually lack melons, have little or no beaks, and are found in small solitary groups.

The common dolphin has a black back and flippers, sides are yellowish blending into white. They also have a white patch over their snout and a black patch around their eyes. Their snouts are beaked. The bottle-nosed dolphin is gray above and creamy white below. They have a short protruding snout.

Dolphins prefer warm coastal waters, inlets and bays, like the attractive environment of John’s Pass where one can observe dolphins playing most any evening. They’re especially active as the fishing boats return and begin to clean their day’s catch. This is also a perfect time to observe some of our coastal sea birds including, the great blue heron, snowy egret, great white heron, brown and white pelicans, little green heron and the great egret.

Dolphins, known for their high intelligence, are noted caregivers of their young, as well as for having highly skilled fishing abilities. When feeding, the dolphin will move up to speeds of 12 to 15 mph. When cruising, this speed increases to 16 to 17 mph.

Bottlenose dolphins are the most common dolphins that inhabit our region around the Gulf of Mexico. Estimated figures put this population at about 67,000. Bottlenose dolphins measured off Sarasota averaged 8.2 to 8.9 feet and weighed between 419 to 573 pounds. The size of dolphins varies widely from place to place but they average between 9 to 12 feet and between 400 to 1,430 pounds.

In the wild, the bottlenose dolphins feed on squid, shrimp and a diversity of fish, breathing through their blowholes. As well, dolphins emit a variety of squeals, chirps and whistles through these blowholes. A very handy device.

Dolphins are awesome, interesting creatures and somehow conjure up a special affection within us, like we know them from somewhere, like they are somehow more like relatives than unrelated mammals of the deep, blue sea. They hold the mystery of stories untold, of a secret they aren’t quite ready to share.

Need a little adventure? Why not take a trip to back to nature and visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, commune with dolphins, caress a stingray or observe a lumbering Loggerhead sea turtle. The Clearwater Marine Museum is located at 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater, or you can give them a call at 441-1790 or how about logging on to their Web site at www.cmaquarium.org.

Karen can be reached at MyMuddyPawsStudio@gmail.com.

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