06 June 2005

Satellite reveals secrets of Bermuda's deep-diving dolphins in groundbreaking study

Three wild dolphins living in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Bermuda are surprising scientists in San Diego and a worldwide audience following the dolphins' daily swims and dives via the Internet.

Named JD, Chip and Bermudiana by field biologists, the three wild dolphins were briefly caught, fitted with satellite tags and released two weeks ago by researchers studying the offshore dolphin group. Their travels are tracked by global geographic satellite relay technology and posted daily on the research Web site at http://www.dolphinquest.org. Time-depth recorders measure and report the dolphins' diving behavior.

Preliminary data shows Bermudiana, the only female of the three, diving to depths exceeding 600 meters (1,950 feet), by far the deepest dives recorded for the species. And while much of the dolphins' daily movements appear to be meanderings around the island, Chip and Bermudiana have recently raised eyebrows and questions by taking off on a week-long journey to nearly 200 kilometers (124 miles) northeast of Bermuda.

"There is so much that we don't know about the lives of wild dolphins. We're amazed every day," said Leigh Klatsky, research associate for Dolphin Quest and field leader for the Bermuda Wild Dolphin Tracking Project. "Previous studies of wild dolphins focused on shallow water, near-shore populations. The Bermuda dolphin study is showing us that at least some groups of dolphins are, indeed, extraordinarily deep divers."

The dolphins may be making regular dives more than one-third mile below the ocean surface to feast on lantern fish, squid and the myriad of creatures that converge in what scientists call the "deep scattering layer" of ocean life, according to Klatsky, whose San Diego State University masters thesis chronicled the first-ever field work involving Bermuda's offshore dolphins in 2003. The deep dolphin dives last for duration of 10 minutes and more.

Another question puzzling researchers is whether the dolphins, observed sporadically by Bermuda fishermen, are a stable, resident population living in proximity to the island year round. While scientists initially thought this to be the case, the more distant travels of two of the recently tagged dolphins may reveal a wider home range and more frequent ocean ramblings.

Klatsky and the Bermuda Wild Dolphin Tracking team will continue to monitor the comings and goings, and the ups and downs, of JD, Chip and Bermudiana, and expect to learn even more about the sleek marine mammal species. The satellite tracking tags are attached to the dolphins' dorsal fins and engineered to detach after three to four months of delivering location and depth data.

Bermuda schoolchildren are following the dolphins' progress on the Internet and incorporating the real time research reports into lessons in math and local marine life. The Bermuda Wild Dolphin Tracking Project is a collaboration between Dolphin Quest Bermuda and the Bermuda Zoological Society.


You can follow the daily movements of the three dolphins of the Bermuda Wild Dolphin Tracking Project online at http://www.dolphinquest.org.

Source: www.forbes.com


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