Entries in #species (5)


Meet the striped  dolphins

Last week our team was lucky enough to add another cetacean to the list of observed species – the striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) and, as always, we would like to introduce it to everyone.

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Are We Not Sufficiently Dolphin Aware?

Usually, pilot whales are at the centre of our work here in Tenerife, but lately, we are focussing a little more on the dolphins. Why? For one, bottlenose dolphins are one of the resident species around the island, but more importantly, it is March, and March is Dolphin Awareness Month, so we will do our best to do just that: Raise awareness!

Why do we even need to celebrate them for an entire month though? Aren’t we all aware of dolphins? Ever since Flipper, surely every child knows about dolphins and if asked, many people will say they are fond of them and would never want to harm them. And yet, the number of wild dolphins (and other marine mammals) are declining.

We love dolphins. They seem so similar to us because they are playful, they seem to be smiling (more on that, later) and we know they are intelligent. We like them because they are social; isn’t it great to watch them play together, see a mother with a calf or juvenile, see them leaping out of the water? For short, they are charismatic.

Out on the whale-watching boats, tourists ask us if we will be seeing dolphins more than whales (ironically, short-finned pilot whales are part of the dolphin family and just larger than the average dolphin, so they are certain to see dolphins in one way or another).

You would think all this love for dolphins is a good sign and proof that Dolphin Awareness Month is superfluous. So let’s look at the other side: We like to compare them to humans because their smiles and character seem similar when they are, in fact, animals. Comparing the two this easily isn’t possible and the smile we see is in no way a sign of happiness, it is simply the way they head is built. Dolphins are misunderstood: They like to play, it doesn’t mean they like being trained to “play” over and over for an audience in a park.

Since Blackfish and other recent media, some people are aware of what a happy dolphin life really looks like. And yet, many people have no idea – we know, we are in Tenerife, where Loro Parque and its Whale and Dolphin Show is one of the main attractions.

So for the next few weeks, each of our staff on the project has chosen a topic to write about so we can actually raise awareness of the issues facing dolphins and hopefully teach you a little more about these animals, so keep your eyes peeled on our blog!

By Claire Herbaux - Field Communications Officer

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


The Species You Can Experience On The Project

I came to Tenerife as part of my work experience for college and on my boat trips I saw five different types of cetaceans! Here is a little more about the species found around Tenerife:

The most common cetaceans in the Canary Islands are the sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins, short-finned pilot whales and Risso’s dolphin.

Short-finned pilot whales are the most common species found around Tenerife. They are around 4.7-7.3m in length and 1-3 tonnes in weight, their diet consists of giant squid and a variety of fish (they will chase the giant squid up to depths of 1000m at high speeds), the females can live for up to 60+ years whereas the males only live for around 45. The best ways to tell that it is a pilot whale is by their bulbous head and because their dorsal fin is positioned far forward on the back, curved towards the tail.

Sperm whales are the resident species of Santa Cruz. The males are around 17-18m long and the females are around 15m long, they weigh around 20-57 tonnes and they feed on deep water squid, octopus and large fish. The most interesting thing is they can dive deeper and longer than any other mammal.

Bottlenose dolphins are much smaller, around 3-4.2m in length and weigh 0.5 tonnes. Their diet consists of fish, squid and octopus. The best way to recognise a bottlenose dolphin is by their short beak with their sloping forehead and a high dorsal fin (the fin at the top). They also rear their calves up to the age of 3-4 years old; then the males will leave in pairs. The dolphins live in female groups of 20-30 animals.

Risso’s dolphins are resident on the west coast and are around 2.6-3m long and weigh 300-500kg. They live off squid, octopus, fish and crustaceans. They start off in life as a dark grey colour and their whiteness colour develops due to the build-up of scars over their lifetime through fights with each other and they are also known to be aggressive towards other cetacean species.

A few of the behaviours shown by the whales when we were on the boats is the ‘spy hop’, when the whale rises vertically towards the surface with its head out of the water. The ‘tail slap’ this is when they raise their tail flukes and slap them forcefully on the surface of the water. And finally ‘breach’ this is an acrobatic display where the whales use their tails to launch themselves out of the water and then land back on the surface with a splash!

By Jodie Croft - Whale & Dolphin Conservation Project

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


Menopause in Cetaceans 

Let’s talk about sex, baby. Well, sort of, reproduction really but hopefully I caught your attention. Menopause. Probably something most people don’t want to think a lot about, but biologically it is actually really interesting… at least I think so.

Let’s think about it a bit, what is menopause? Well essentially it is just a female living on for many years after losing her ability to reproduce. It doesn’t sound like much, but from a biological perspective the entire purpose of any organism is to pass its genetic material on to the next generation, so once an individual loses its ability to do that, their existence becomes unnecessary. If a female can’t produce and raise offspring is survival really worth it? So it isn’t really surprising that very few species have long female survival periods after stopping reproduction, yet a few species do. Humans, of course, is the obvious one, but it also occurs in killer whales, possibly in elephants, and… you guessed it – short-finned pilot whales, the star of the Tenerife show!

Since I’ve told you menopause is actually biologically unusual, you may wonder why it happens at all. It may help you to know that both killer whales and short-finned pilot whales exist in what are known as matrilines, or matriarchal societies. Here, female offspring will stay with their mother throughout their life, with in turn their female offspring remaining, forming a group of closely related females. Males tend to leave the group, at least partly, in order to reproduce with females they aren’t related to. Female short-finned pilot whales will not reproduce after the age of 40, yet they can live to around 65 years old, so there must be a good reason for sticking around for another quarter of a century!

Granny, Grandma, Nanny, whatever you call her, everyone loves their Grandmother right? But think about how much knowledge she has, how many years of life experience she can pass on to her children and her children’s children. I’m sure if you think about it you’ve learned something from your Grandmother, even if it’s just the secret family recipe for the world’s best apple pie! Just as in humans, older female short-finned pilot whales hold a wealth of information which can help their offspring to survive and reproduce successfully. So even though she may no longer be producing more of her own offspring, her years of knowledge are ensuring that her genetic material that’s already out there is getting the best possible chance of surviving in to another generation. Let’s hear it for Granny pilot whale!

By Bryony Manley - Assistant Research Officer

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


My Memories Of Tenerife 

I am Qi Wang and I come from China.I am an exchange student in Germany now. I went on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Tenerife Project from 6.Sep 2015 to 13.Sep.

On the day before I came to Tenerife I got a heavy fever and cold, very uncomfortable. And that was the time I really missed my family in China and wanted to go back as soon as possible even if I had planned well two-week travel to Italy and Spain after the project. I did not know what I should do.

On 6th.Sep, the day I took part in the project I disliked Europe when I knew no medicine store was open because it was Sunday. I thought I was so stupid to torment myself as my ears ached seriously and could not hear anything. But at the moment when I saw the unimaginable scene through the window of plane and the man sitting on my left smiled to me friendly with his thumb up and the grandma sitting on my right was so warm-hearted she asked for some medicine for me, I loved Europe again and told myself; please try two days first and then decide:-) Hold on! You will never know what would happen in the next minute and you will miss many nice things if you do not try. I think it was one of the best decisions I have made:)

I ate a very delicious muffin at airport. Xiana picked me up and took me to the home. With three levels, there are four rooms in the house. After Tracy guided me, showed me the house and introduced me to the other volunteers, the only thing I wanted to do was to sleep. 

At 8pm the dinner began. Simple home-made food by volunteers, which was very tasty. Two girls (Tracy and Elli) were always talking and laughing, others were listening and chatting. The atmosphere was very good, however, I did not understand British English and Spanish English very well. I was just sitting there with few words. I regretted I did not study English well enough:( But I began to like the place and these interesting people who were all friendly and always smiled at me. After the dinner, Xiana told us something more about the project and then let us play games and introduce ourselves. To be honest, I could only understand 1/3 what she said and always guessed and guessed, totally like a fool. And I could not understand others either but only knew they were happy :) That's enough maybe.

The next day was Monday. Tracy taught us something about Frontier and the marine animals. It was the first time I thought I was a bad student, the worst one. I could not integrate with them well and I sometimes could not help crying :( I told my friends how unhappy I was although it was really unique experience which I wanted to cherish. However, at the same time I indeed enjoyed it. It was a quite strange feeling. On that afternoon we went to beach.

We went on boat three times a week and I saw pilot whales and a dolphin.

I enjoyed the time people chatting at the table although I did not take part in it well due to my poor English. But it was true that I was willing to watch them laughing:) I like the atmosphere that each volunteer was so nice, active and positive. It maybe usual for European people to hear others say "Are you ok" "morning!" and something else polite and warm. But to me, it happens not so often. Thus, every time these nice friends sent their regards to me I was moved. I like here and these people increasingly. My favorite period was the fielding part after the dinner. I like the questions Xiana or Tracy asked us: Something about the interactions; Did you help; Did you talk to visitors. Then we shared our experiences. It seems we are a family:)

On 9.Sep I went on boat with Tracy and Elli. Pilot whales appeared but several minutes later they dived and did not swam up any longer. I was taking pictures at that time and did not know what happened, just feeling it was a pity that they left in such short time. When we went back home, Tracy and Elli told others the thing and then I knew it was because several illegal ships were hitting against the whales. I felt shamed about my foolish thought. Xiana was very angry with these ships' behavior. She was so boiled to express her anger with the non-behavior of Spanish government and then asked for suggestion from the volunteers. They talked ardently and I really hoped to understand them totally but I failed. However the situation shocked me heavily. People in my country lack environmental consciousness seriously and we need true education about our earth. We also lack and need environmentalists and volunteers to raise our sense and work for our environment .I really admired Xiana and these volunteers. That night, I was insomnic and thought about many things.

Volunteers made dinner in turn and I enjoyed the food. I appreciate getting the chance to taste home-made English food :)

We were asked to do something for the project. I translated the introduction about six kinds of whales and dolphins into Chinese. I was happy to know that Xiana likes it.

On the other two days, we went to Siam park and national park. It was also good experience:)

Now I was in the plane leaving Tenerife with so many valuable and nice memory. Thank you all for everything.

Qi Wang – Whale and Dolphin Conservation Volunteer

Find out more about Frontier's Whale & Dolphin Conservation Project in Tenerife.

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