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Searching for whales

Monday, August 8 2011

Earlier last week, the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago’s (ZSTT) marine coordinator, Richard Joseph took a research team led by the ZSTT’s President, Gupte Lutchmedial out in the waters off the Northwest peninsula in search of whales.

Although surveys to monitor whales and dolphins have been a regular undertaking for two years now by the ZSTT as part of a joint project with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Manatee Conservation Trust, this particular trip was prompted by the recent exclusive report in the Newsday of whale sightings in that area.

The team was able to deploy hydrophones into the water at separate locations in the vicinity of Chacachacare and Patos in search of the “whales”.

Although the team did not record any whale sounds or see any whales themselves, four distinct pods of bottlenose dolphins, each comprising between 20-30 individuals, were observed in the waters. The pods were mainly adults which swam alongside the boats for hours.

When asked whether they could be mistaken for whales, Lutchmedial stated, “From the pods, there were over a dozen which appeared to be approximately 10-12 feet in length. I would estimate that they can weigh over 1200 lbs, and come close to the size of some of the smaller toothed whales.” He did point out however that notwithstanding the sightings of only dolphins on this trip, the previous sightings as reported should not be dismissed, as short-finned pilot whales and false killer whales are found in our waters.

Bottlenose dolphins, the genus Tursiops, are the most common and well-known members of the family Delphinidae, the family of oceanic dolphins. They inhabit warm and temperate seas worldwide.

Bottlenose dolphins live in groups typically of 10–30 members, called pods, but group size varies from single individuals up to more than 1,000. Their diet consists mainly of forage fish.

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