Dolphins Around Pawleys Island
Grey bottlenose dolphins populate the waters around Pawleys Island. They look just like "Flipper" and you can see them all around the beach, the river, and the ocean. Dolphins and porpoises are of the same scientific group, cetacia. The differences are in the teeth and the noise they make. Dolphins have a larger dorsal fin and a distinct snout. The porpoise dorsal fin is smaller, triangular and blunt. Their heads are smaller, rounded and have a very short beak. Dolphins make a noise that can be heard by humans. Porpoises make noises above the range of human hearing. The final major difference is in personality. Porpoises are afraid of humans and spend their time hunting and eating. Dolphins, on the other hand are friendly and playful. On a calm day, when the water is glassy, you can watch dolphins jumping around and playing for hours. Sometimes you'll even see a dolphin ride the bow wave in front of a boat, like a surfer
Saltwater dolphins and porpoises live all over the world—a few are even found in polar waters. Dolphins do not migrate great distances like large whales, but some do travel hundreds of miles in search of food. Freshwater dolphins are found in only a few large rivers in Asia and South America. One of these, the Ganges River dolphin, is nearly blind and uses its long snout to probe for food along the river bottom.
Using their sonar, dolphins can tell the size, shape, speed, and direction of their prey very quickly. What they look for most often is fish and squid, but they will eat other foods as well. And while they are excellent hunters, they are not above following after fishing boats to wait for trash fish to be dumped overboard.
At birth, baby dolphins are 35 to 50 inches long and weigh 30 to 50 pounds. Their mothers are very devoted and protective. Because young dolphins can quickly swim away and get lost or attacked by sharks, their mothers keep a close eye on them all the time. If a baby strays too often, its mother will trap it between her flippers, or she may even hold it underwater for some seconds. Other female dolphins serve as "aunties" to help protect the babies from danger. They will work together to form "playpens" around their young by swimming in a circle. This lets the babies play together in safety
Dolphins often work as a team to catch fish. They first herd a school of fish into a tight group, then they circle the fish to keep them corralled. Each dolphin takes a turn swimming into the middle to feed. Sometimes, when swimming near the surface, bottlenose dolphins will whack fish with their tails to send them soaring through the air. When the fish lands in the water again, it is so stunned that it is easy to catch. Their sharp teeth are used only for grabbing—dolphins almost always turn the fish around and swallow it headfirst and whole!
In 1973, 144,000 dolphins died in fishing nets. By 1993, that number was down to 3,605. The Marine Mammal Protection Act and other laws forced the commercial fisheries to change their fishing techniques to reduce dolphin deaths. The indigenous peoples of China, India, and the Amazon believe it is important to protect the river dolphins in their areas. With so many people admiring and caring about dolphins, there is reason to hope they will be with us for a long time to come.