Three marine experts from the United States will arrive in Grand Cayman this week to study the behaviour of the aggressive lone dolphin in local waters.
The Cayman Islands Department of Environment is appealing to anyone who spots the dolphin, nicknamed Stinky, on Wednesday or Thursday to contact its staff immediately so the visiting experts and DoE staff can go to the site where the dolphin is located and observe his behaviour.
Laura Engleby and Trevor Spradlin from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Chris Dold, vice president of veterinary services at Sea World Parks and Entertainment will spend two days this week watching the dolphin, which has been harassing divers and swimmers and reportedly attacking other marine wildlife.
Director of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie said the trio of experts are expected to arrive on Tuesday “and basically make observations of the animal and the interaction he is having with swimmers and divers and people in the water to try to give us some short-term guidance on what we can do.”
Because the dolphin moves around and has been spotted in many different areas off Grand Cayman, Janice Blumenthal, a research officer at the Department of Environment, is asking members of the public, boat operators and anyone out in the water who spots the dolphin to contact the department.
Ms Blumenthal also urged members of the public and tourists who have filmed or photographed the dolphin to send the videos or images to the Department of Environment, so the experts may view them.
Anyone who spots the dolphin or has images or videos of it should call 949-8469 or e-mail [email protected]
The marine experts will observe the dolphin and then brief the DoE on their findings on Friday.
Stinky gained international notoriety early this month when underwater videographer Michael Maes filmed the sexually aggressive dolphin as it pinned him to the sea bed during a dive. Since the video was posted on YouTube, it has received more than 480,000 hits.
Ms Ebanks-Petrie said there had been no other similar reports of the dolphin harassing divers as aggressively as he did Mr. Maes and his buddy divers at Hepps Wall, off West Bay, in early September.
The DoE has been receiving at least one call a day regarding sightings of the dolphin, Ms Blumenthal said.
The advice from the Department of Environment is that anyone who is in the water and sees the dolphin should not interact with the animal and should get out of the sea as soon as possible.
Ms Ebanks-Petrie said marine experts had told the DoE that this advice is “absolutely the correct approach”.
Reports of the dolphin’s aggressive behaviour started pouring in to the DoE back in June, but it is believe this may be the same solitary dolphin that has been spotted in local waters since 2009.
DoE staff would also like to see any photographs of a lone dolphin taken in Cayman since 2009 because each dolphin’s dorsal fin is unique and examining photos of the dorsal fin can determine if Stinky is the same dolphin that was first spotted four years ago.
The dolphin has mostly been sighted in the North Sound and along the north coast of the island, but has also been seen in East End and South Sound.
Marine experts warn humans against interacting with dolphins because this can change the animals’ behaviour and they can become dependent on being fed by humans and put themselves in danger by approaching boats.
One solitary dolphin’s interactions with humans ended tragically earlier this month in Florida. Beggar, the bottlenose dolphin was a well-known figure in the Albee Road Bridge area of Sarasota and was frequently fed and petted by boaters, some of whom even fed him beer.
He had been subject to several scientific papers and education campaigns aimed at getting humans to learn that feeding and petting wild dolphins is bad for the animals, as well as illegal in the US.
A necropsy, or animal autopsy, of the dolphin could not pinpoint a specific cause of death, but it showed he had several healed wounds from boats all over his body, had multiple broken ribs and vertebrae and fishing hooks and line were found in one stomach, squid beaks in another stomach – squid is not a prey item for dolphins in that area – and his third stomach had several ulcers.
He also had internal injuries from two stingray barbs.
Gretchen Lovewell, manager of Mote Marine Laboratory’s Stranding Investigations Programme, who performed the necropsy, or animal autopsy, said: “We can’t say which of these many injuries was the ultimate cause of death for Beggar, but all our findings indicate that he was in poor health for a long time and that his interactions with humans played a role.
“Boat strike wounds, fishing hooks and line in his stomach – even the squid beaks we found – all of these things indicate that he was spending more time attempting to get food from humans than foraging on his own.”
A study of the dolphin taken during 100 hours between March and June 2011, showed that there were 3,600 interactions between Beggar and humans, up to 70 per hour; that there were 169 attempts to feed him 520 different types of food, including hot dogs, beer and fruit; and 121 attempts to touch him, resulting in nine bites to the humans doing the petting.
Beggar’s death highlighted why feeding and petting dolphins is not advisable, said Randy Wells, director of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Programme.
“By feeding Beggar, people reinforced the bad behaviour that eventually played a role in his death. Ultimately, it’s human behaviour we need to change. We need to make sure that this pattern does not repeat itself with another dolphin,” he said.