Dolphin calf washes ashore

Dolphin believed to have been stillborn

A dead baby dolphin was found washed up on the shore of South Sound between the Red Bay dock and the flip-flop tree last week.

Local Kelly Irmen was walking her dog on the beach when she spotted the animal.

“I called the DoE and they were there within five or 10 minutes,” she said.

The dolphin was most likely a Pantropical Spotted dolphin, a species known to frequent Cayman waters, according to Oliver Dubock.

Mr. Dubock, a shark, whale and dolphin researcher with Marine Conservation International, has been working with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment for several weeks.

“When the animal is so small and so young it is quite hard to get an exact ID on the species, as many species pups can look very similar,” he said. “We have taken tissue samples to analyse which will tell us the exact species, but the results will take a long time coming.”

Mr. Dubock and the DoE research team have taken measurements and teeth to add to the department database on this animal. The teeth can determine the age of the dolphin. This calf was 81 centimetres long, the average size of a newborn of the species.

“We believe the cause of death is likely a still birth, mainly due to the unformed blow-hole and eyes that haven’t fully opened,” he said. “The umbilical scar from the placental cord is still open and unhealed, meaning the dolphin was no more than a few days old if it was not a still birth. It is known that dolphins will occasionally give birth to dead pups, or give birth prematurely resulting in death of the pup.”

A large pod of approximately 100 mixed juvenile and adult dolphins was spotted on Thursday of the north coast of Grand Cayman. The pup is likely to have come from this group.

Not endangered

The International Union for Conservation of Nature rate the Pantropical Spotted dolphin as “least concern,” meaning the species has been evaluated and does not qualify for the vulnerable or endangered status, according to Mr. Dubock.

“They are known to travel in pods of several thousand offshore, however coastally they travel in groups of around one hundred or less,” he said. “Their behaviour at the surface can be quite playful and acrobatic, with large aerial leaps – they are also known to bow-ride at the front of boats.”

This species is also known to travel in mixed species groups, often with Bottlenose and Atlantic Spotted dolphins.

They are small animals, never reaching more than 2.6 metres for males and 2.4 metres for females.

Individuals are normally lightly spotted with a pale grey cape behind the dorsal fin, although some will have very few or no spots making them hard to identify.

“A key identification of the species are white lips, however Atlantic Spotted dolphins are also grey with spots and white lips, although they tend not to have the lighter grey cape,” he said. “In fact, one of the hardest things we deal with during our project is the correct identification of dolphin species by observers who report sightings to us. In truth, it is incredibly had to tell the difference between many dolphin species, especially when most sightings are quick and brief and the whole animal is rarely in sight.”

He said photographs and videos are extremely helpful, and can be 
emailed to the DoE at 
[email protected] or people can call Janice Blumenthal at 949-8469.

Local Story

A dead dolphin calf washed ashore near the Red Bay dock. – Photo: Kelly Irmen
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