Posts Tagged 'Dolphins'



A Blue View: Dolphin Earthquake Study

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

June 19, 2013: Dolphin Earthquake Study

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to Dr. Mark Turner discuss how
our dolphins reacted to last year’s earthquake.

On August 23, 2011, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake occurred with its epicenter approximately 118 miles from the National Aquarium, Baltimore. A short time before the dolphin pavilion started shaking from the earthquake, an Aquarium volunteer logging the activities of four dolphins noticed that they all started to swim very quickly in close formation, something she could not recall ever having seen before. She had enough time to note this behavior in her handwritten log before the building suddenly started shaking. At the same time all this was happening, the underwater sounds in the dolphin pools were being recorded using a pair of hydrophones (i.e., underwater microphones). The combination of the in-person observation and the hydrophone recordings provides valuable insight into dolphin behavior.

When an earthquake occurs, seismic waves radiate out from the focus of the earthquake at different velocities. The fastest of these, called the primary wave or P-wave, can travel at speeds of 15,000 miles per hour. However, although very fast, P-waves often are unnoticed by humans. The S-wave and surface waves, the ones that shake everything and cause the worst destruction, travel at much slower speeds.

Although no humans at the Aquarium that day reported feeling the P-wave, its trace did show up in our hydrophone recordings almost 22 seconds before the arrival of the S and surface waves. In view of the P-wave’s appearance in the recordings and the dolphins’ behavior, marine mammal researcher Mark Turner believes the dolphins felt the P-wave, and the volunteer observed their reaction to it. Listen to the hydrophone’s recording: 

This is a clip of the underwater sounds in the dolphin pools when the August 23, 2011, Virginia earthquake occurred. Two hydrophones were recording at the time. The left stereo channel is the recording from the hydrophone in the front pool where a dolphin presentation was in progress. The right channel is from the back holding pool where fast swimming in an unusual configuration was observed. In the video that accompanies the sound clip, the top two panels show the raw signal picked up by each hydrophone. The top panel is from the front pool and the bottom one is from the holding pool.

The bottom two panels are spectrograms. A spectrogram is a visual representation of sounds in which the x-axis is time and the y-axis is frequency. In a spectrogram a dolphin whistle will appear as a dark, wavy line, and a squawk can sometimes appear as a stack of parallel wavy lines.

The sound clip begins at almost exactly the time the earthquake started in VA. The various seismic waves traveled from the earthquake’s focus to Baltimore at different velocities, with the P-wave arriving first, 27 seconds into the clip. Although the very low frequency vibrations induced by the P-wave are visible in the upper panels, they are inaudible, although you might hear some water splashing. The S and surface waves (the ones that are very loud and shook everything) did not arrive until almost 22 seconds later, 49 seconds after the beginning of the clip.

You may hear some of the presentation music, a bit louder in the left channel. If you listen carefully you will also hear (and see in the spectrograms) dolphin clicks, squawks and whistles. And, of course, you will hear the loud noises made by the earthquake surface waves as they sounded underwater.

An excellent overview of the different seismic waves with animations can be found by clicking here.

All signal displays were generated using Raven Pro, Interactive Sound Analysis Software, Bioacoustic Research Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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So You Want To Be a Marine Mammal Specialist…

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The most common question our team is asked is how to become a dolphin trainer. For me, being a dolphin trainer was a childhood dream, so I geared my education and experience toward achieving this goal at a young age. Growing up in Chicago, I attended many lectures and visited both the Shedd Aquarium and Brookfield Zoo as often as I could. After high school, I participated in a volunteer program for a summer at a research facility in Hawaii, which only solidified my dreams and allowed me to understand further the path I needed to take.

The most important advice I can give someone who has the desire to join our incredible team is to understand that this is not a 9-to-5 job; it is a lifestyle. I can turn my computer off when I leave for the day, but of course cannot do the same with the animals. Any applicant must be willing to work weekends, various shifts and even holidays as animals do not take holidays and snow days off!

national aquarium dolphins

We spend a lot of time with our dolphins every day of the week, bonding with them, training new behaviors and doing presentations for our visitors!

First, the basics: It is recommended to have a degree in psychology (we work with the animals using operant condition), biology (so there is a basic understanding of anatomy and physiology) or zoology (the study of animals). Also, participating in internships provides hands-on experience (like the ones we have here at the National Aquarium) and are great ways to get a glimpse into the field, make connections and gain practical skills. One must also be a comfortable swimmer and typically be scuba certified.

With the basics covered, moving into the field can be a challenge. The field is very competitive, and there are not as many opportunities due to the number of facilities in the country. Being willing to move around and to keep options open will definitely help to broaden the field opportunities.

Each facility is structured differently. In general, however, the amount of experience will directly correlate to the level of responsibility and opportunity (as with any career choice). Here at the National Aquarium, we have aides, assistant trainers, trainers, and senior trainers. Moving from one level to the next takes dedication, experience and time. A typical day begins at 6:30 am, when we sort through hundreds of pounds a fish in order to make up the animals diets.

national aquarium dolphin staff sorting fish

Throughout the day, we participate in public presentations, various training and play sessions as well as research and enrichment studies. Sounds glamorous and fun, right? Unfortunately, that is just half the day. The rest is filled with cleaning, making and washing fish buckets, diving to clean the habitat and a lot of record-keeping.

Being in the animal field is incredible and extremely rewarding, but it is not without sacrifices, hard work and dedication. Got a question about my job? Ask me in the comments section! 

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A Blue View: Studying Dolphin Behaviors

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

May 22, 2013: Studying Dolphin Behaviors

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to marine mammal researcher
Cynthia Turner describe using enrichment as a research tool

 

Dolphins are highly intelligent, social, playful animals. As we work to understand these amazing creatures, research is an essential part of  our mission at the Aquarium. Our Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are participating in a study consisting of enrichment trials in an effort to understand more about dolphin behaviors, namely, emitting large bubble spheres from their blowholes.

Enrichment provides opportunities to animals to become engaged in something that will hopefully be fulfilling for them. In the bubble sphere enrichment study, staff put together 10 different types of novel enrichment that the dolphins had not previously experienced. Each enrichment is presented to the dolphins in front of the glass four days in a row, and a video records the dolphins and the bubble spheres that are generated. Independent reviewers will look at the tapes and count the bubbles to see if there is a correlation to the number of bubble spheres and exposure to the enrichment.

The Chimp Parade has been one of the favorites so far. The hamster, chimp, and duck are robotic, and they all move when activated. The stars on the chimp’s springy headband have flashing LEDs, and there is a similar star on the back of the duck’s wagon. The vertical object behind the chimp with the silver pipe cleaners on the end and purple, green, and red ribbons is actually a large spring that sways when the skateboard moves.

dolphin enrichment

Another enrichment exercise involves bubble wrap being popped against the glass of our exhibit. Watch Beau and Foster respond to the bubble wrap by emitting bubble spheres: 

Celebrating Moms of ALL Species!

In celebration of Mother’s Day weekend, we’d like you to meet some spectacular animal moms!

Dolphins
Dolphin moms & calves immediately form a strong bond. They’ll synchronize their breathing and swim patterns for the baby’s first few weeks of life – to keep as close as possible. These dedicated moms will nurse their young for up to 10 years!

dolphin mom and calf

Veteran dolphin moms will also mentor less-experienced females in their colony by allowing them to babysit their young and practice for when they have their own babies.

Giant Pacific Octopuses
Female giant Pacific octopuses have one primary goal: to have one successful brood of eggs in her lifetime.

giant pacific octopus

Females will lay about 200,000 eggs in their lair and defend them at any cost. During the seven months of caring for her eggs, the female octopus is often almost starved to death – she’d ingest a limb before leaving her post for food.

Strawberry Poison Arrow Frogs
After laying her eggs and watching them hatch, strawberry poison arrow frog moms will carry their tadpoles (one by one) from the rain forest floor up trees as high as 100 feet!

strawberry poison frog

Then, she’ll find individual pools of water in the tree leaves for each of her tadpoles to grow, keeping them safe from predators.

Alligators
Alligator moms will go to great lengths to protect their young, including carrying alligator babies in their jaws for protection!

baby alligators

Juvenile American alligators at National Aquarium, Washington, DC

Alligator babies will typically stay close to mom for their first year of life.

Celebrating Ivy’s first Mother’s Day!
This past year, our Linne’s two-toed sloth, Ivy, became a first-time mom to baby, Camden! Making this Mother’s Day a special one for our Aquarium family!

baby sloth

Ivy with her baby Camden!

Practicing Routine Dolphin Exams

Today’s post comes from our Senior Marine Mammal Trainer, Kerry Martens! 

At the National Aquarium we believe in and practice excellence in animal care. As trainers, we work with the animals every day, practicing medical behaviors that allow us to take the best possible care of them.

Each morning the dolphins get a visual check. They have been trained to present to us different parts of their bodies so we can check their skin and get a good look at their overall body condition.

dolphin body check

Next, we ask the animals to present their fluke. This is where the Veterinarians take a blood sample from. Routine blood samples are taken from our dolphins just like people get blood taken during check-ups with their doctors.

dolphin fluke

Besides looking at the overall body of the animal, there are a few other items we check out as well.

We check the dolphin’s teeth daily to make sure they are in good condition. Dolphins only have one set of pointy cone-shaped teeth for their entire lives!

dolphin teeth check

We also check their breath, or blow. All of the animals are trained to forcefully exhale on cue. Lastly, once a week, the animals get weighed. They are trained to haul up and out of the water onto a flat scale. Most of our dolphins weigh between 300-400 pounds, but Nani is over 500!

Nani on the scale!

Nani on the scale!

Once we finish their daily visual check we want to make sure to reward the dolphins for their good behavior. As trainers it is extremely important that we have strong positive relationships with each of the animals. Play time is a great way to build that relationship!

Chesapeake is ready for to play!

Chesapeake is ready for to play!

The information gathered from the visual checks not only allows us to take the best care of our dolphins, but share information with other aquariums and researchers as well. For information on the National Aquarium’s many ongoing research projects, visit our Research page!


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