Friday, May 7, 2021

A Dolphin with A Passion: Halfway

Stepping Stones

Photos by Bob McConville | Siblings Skipper, our rescued dolphin in the background, shares some playtime with younger brother Wyatt in January 2017 when Wyatt was just four months old. They are both on their own and doing well today.


 

As a member of a dolphin study team here on Marco Island, collecting data regarding our bottlenose dolphin population serves as an important service. Noting the abundance, social behaviors, travel range, feeding habits and genealogy of these magnificent mammals gives a sense of accomplishment to all of our staff, especially when our data is shared with other researchers around the world.  

That’s my professional standing. On a personal note, observing these dolphins is like watching family grow up. The team comes to know certain patterns and then observes a surprise or two along the way. One of my favorite dolphins is an adult female named Halfway and I will share her story with you today, from my personal point of view. 

Adult female Halfway can be identified by the two markings in the center of her dorsal fin. She is the mother of at least seven calves over the years.

The 10,000 Island Dolphin Study program began in February of 2006. When Halfway was first sighted back then and named (she had one nick in the center of her fin, halfway down from the top, halfway up from the bottom  pretty scientific how we do this) she had a calf by her side estimated to be about oneandahalf years old. That youngster was named Seymour, in hopes that the team would “see more” of that calf.  

In the Fall of 2007 Halfway gave birth to a new baby and it was named Simon. 

By that time Seymour had learned everything it could from mom and went out on its own. Halfway now had new responsibilities which would last for three years. Right on schedule, in the Fall of 2010, this very productive female gave birth to Kaya. Simon was taught well by Halfway and just like Seymour was ready for the world on its own, thanks to mom’s excellent tutoring.  

In March of 2012 a crisis arose regarding one of Halfway’s offspring. Seymour somehow got fishing line tangled around his tailfin, known as a “fluke”, and the line was cutting into the skin. Because of continued photographing of all of the area dolphins, the team realized that Seymour needed help. Pictures of the entanglement was sent to several major agencies and a rescue team was formed. Authorities from NOAA, Mote Marine Laboratory and several other agencies came down to assist in helping this eightyearold. Seymour was captured and the line was removed. He was given antibiotics and a tracking device was placed on his dorsal fin (that fin you see on a dolphin’s back when it comes up to breathe). The tracker would ping via a transmitter to a satellite and Seymour’s location could be regularly noted. This rescue received national attention through the media.  

Meanwhile, Halfway continued to raise Kaya just as well as she had Seymour and Simon. Right on schedule, again, mom gave birth in the Fall of 2013 to Skipper, with Kaya going out on her own. Just about eight months later the team noticed Skipper had some white flesh showing on her side. A few more photos revealed that she was the victim of a shark bite. She seemed to be moving well and a vigilant watch was kept on this calf. Skipper seemed to be swimming and acting normal over the next few weeks. However, just a few months later, it was noticed that Skipper had fishing line wrapped around her tailfin, similar to the problem that plagued Seymour. 

 


Mom Halfway enjoys some fun with her five-month-old calf Wyatt in February of 2017. Wyatt is now over four years old.


 

Once again, photos were sent out and NOAA, Mote Marine, Rookery Bay and even Sea World responded to help correct this life-threatening problem. Skipper and Halfway were captured in a large net and a veterinarian removed the line, gave some antibiotics to the youngster, and both mom and calf were released into the wild in a matter of minutes. 

Skipper continued to thrive under mom’s care until 2016 when Halfway gave birth to Wyatt. This youngster thrived by mom’s side without incident for the next three years, taking advantage of mom’s teachings. In 2019 Halfway gave birth to Ben in September and Wyatt was ready to be on his own full time. 

Ben, unfortunately, was only seen for a short while and Halfway was without a calf by her side for the first time in thirteen years. Ben may not have been as fortunate as Skipper, possibly being attacked by a shark but not surviving. Almost immediately after Ben was no longer seen, Halfway was being followed by two adult males, Hatchet and Capri. It made sense that she might be open to mating immediately. 

The pregnancy period for a dolphin is about 12 months. Sure enough, in mid December of 2020, Halfway gave birth to Cubbie. During the previous fifteen years Halfway was consistently seen raising her young in the waters by the Isle of Capri. When Ben went missing, she was not sighted there again. She was first seen with Cubbie in the shallows across from Rose Marina and shortly thereafter, she moved her calf behind Keewaydin Island near the Intracoastal waterway. They have been sighted in that region several times. 

To summarize, Halfway has given birth to seven calves since we first met her in 2006. Her offspring are Seymour, Simon, Kaya, Skipper, Wyatt, Ben and Cubbie. 

The only time in the last fifteen years that she has been seen without a calf by her side is when Ben disappeared. She became pregnant within a few months after that; we do not know how many young she had produced prior to Seymour since we were not in business at that time.  

Her daughter, Kaya, gave birth to a boy in 2018 making Halfway a grandmother. Skipper is just over seven years old, the same age that Kaya became pregnant. There is a possibility that Skipper may have her first calf this Fall…. we’ll watch closely. This will make Halfway a two-time grandma! 

It’s important collecting this data, in my “professional” opinion. On a personal note, monitoring these dolphins is like watching family grow up. Seeing a baby by mom’s side and then coming of age to have its own calves is an emotional event, even for the most serious of scientists. I hope you can understand my passion and hopefully will share it when you see these magnificent creatures swimming in our area waters. Be careful, though!!! You might cry for joy! 

Bob is a Naturalist on board the dolphin study vessel Dolphin Explorer. He is the author of two books and a regular speaker at area venues. He is also an owner of Wild Florida Ecotours offering tours to see gators, manatees, birding and shelling from Port of the Islands. Bob loves his wife very much!!!  

 


 

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