Hurricane Irma paid the island a visit on September 10, stirring the usually calm waters and causing much concern about our local dolphin population. You may have seen videos on national TV about two dolphins that were swept ashore by the storm surge and stranded as the waters receded on the south end of Marco. The survey team on board the Dolphin Explorer experienced similar anxiety about our regularly viewed friends on the north side.A checklist of all known dolphins was made and, still today, we mark as “seen” any one that we are familiar with. Fortunately, about 95% of our locals are back where they should be.
Another major concern was that Irma struck right at the start of the area birthing season. In this section of the world we have noted over the years that new calves are typically seen in September, October and November, raising questions regarding the ability of the youngsters’ survival. We began seeing new calves as early as one week after Irma. As of this writing, all seem to be answering the challenges of early life quite well. Let’s meet them!
Squiggly and Albion: Adult female Squiggly is an occasional visitor to our area, but has been seen several times since her new calf was born. The guests on our boat get to name the new calves when they are first seen and a couple from the UK named this one Albion, which is one of the oldest names known for what we now call Great Britain. Not much more is known about the genealogy of these two.
Sparky and Porkchop: Mom Sparky has had several offspring that have been identified over the past 12 years. Two of them, Orange and Keegan, are approaching full maturity and could soon be parents themselves. Porkchop was first sighted in the area the same day that a pig was seen on a nearby island, hence the given name. This newborn displayed some injuries on the back near the tailfin in the first month, possibly a scrape with a shark, but is healing well.
Patches Twin and Petoskey: Named after a city in Michigan, this little one has a strong, successful mother. This is Patches Twin’s fifth known calf, so she apparently is a good teacher. We look to see Petoskey around for a long, long time.
Destiny and Irma: Destiny was born in 2008 and this is her first calf. The gestation period/pregnancy period for a dolphin is about one year, so Destiny became pregnant in the fall of 2016 when she was eight years old. Irma, affectionately known as Destiny’s Child, was named after the hurricane that passed over Marco Island just prior to its birth. It’s always fun to watch a new mom and her first calf as they both learn about a new life together.
Jing Jing and Jordan: As a sub-adult, Jing Jing was extremely playful and constantly seen in the presence of many other dolphins. It was as if every one of them was a close friend of hers. Jing Jing was born in January of 2010 and became pregnant when she was only six years and eight months old. Female dolphins mature on average at eight to 10 years old, so this young lady was on the front end of that curve. Jordan appears to be taking after mom with a seemingly curious and playful nature.
The Dolphin Explorer was conducting survey info when Jing Jing was born, so it is known that her mother is Sydney. This girl is still around so we have one of our first known grandmothers in the area.
It is so great to watch these little ones grow, develop and learn life’s lessons over time. You are welcome to learn more on February 26th at the Marco Island Historical Society at 7 PM. Some great pictures of these moms and their offspring will be presented, as well as new information regarding the population status in general. Come see!
Bob is the owner of Stepping Stone Ecotours conducting educational walks in the western Everglades. He is also a Naturalist on board the Dolphin Explorer and author of the recent pictorial book “Beneath The Emerald Waves,” which can be found at several local outlets. Bob loves his wife very much!