Galveston Bay Dolphin Research Program Activities
April – June 2022
Galveston Bay Foundation and the Environmental Institute of Houston (University of Houston at Clear Lake) are pleased to share the latest Galveston Bay Dolphin Research Program (GDRP) quarterly newsletter. Thank you for your interest in our research!
A Splashy Overview
It was a productive quarter for the field crew with good coverage of both upper and lower Galveston Bay. The crew was most busy mid-May to early June when the weather cooperated (at least a bit!). With nearly 35hrs of survey work (412 linear km), our researchers sighted approximately 400 dolphins in 46 groups. The highlight of the quarter was meeting numerous new calves!
We are thrilled to be working on a new interactive map experience for our citizen reported sightings! Soon, when you report a sighting to the GDRP, you will be able to choose the dolphin location from a live map within the reporting form. Then, after you submit your sighting, it will appear on a map of all citizen reported sightings that can be explored in detail. Take a sneak peek at the map now to see all citizen sightings reported to us since 2013 and get a preview of what the new dolphin reporting experience will be like!
The second quarter of the year is when we expect to meet the most new calves, and this year was no exception! So far, we have documented over a dozen young-of-the-year (YOYs) that belong to moms in our catalog. By May each year, we typically start seeing large mother/calf groups in upper Galveston Bay. Studies in other estuaries have shown that dolphin mothers congregate in groups as a defense mechanism (to help keep predators and male aggressors away) and for social benefits, including calf care and social learning.
One of the most interesting aspects of observing mother/calf pairs is seeing them copy and learn behaviors from their mothers and conspecifics (other dolphins). In June, GDRP researchers observed a group of dolphins that were initially behind a shrimp trawler. When the trawler pulled in its nets, the group moved to “bow-ride” a very small moving barge. There was barely any wake to ride, so it looked a bit silly! But, it seemed like that perfect opportunity for the small calves in the group to learn and practice their bow riding skills with their mothers. It was a short lesson though! As soon as the trawler set its net back in the water, the dolphins left the barge and went back to the trawler. Foraging behind trawlers is another behavior that calves may learn from their mothers.
Meet “Monster Dog”! The dog you see on this trawler is a regular passenger and gets very excited when she spots dolphins. This photo was taken by our crew the same day that Monster Dog was temporarily lost in the Bay. She had quite the adventure when she fell off the trawler and had to swim miles to shore. Fortunately, she made it home safely five days later! You can read more about Monster Dog’s story here.
In May, GDRP co-principal investigator Kristi Fazioli participated in dolphin health assessments in Sarasota, FL, an effort coordinated by our partners at the Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP). During health assessments, a highly trained team encircles a small group of dolphins, and then individuals are brought aboard a veterinary exam vessel. Veterinarians and scientists take measurements and biological samples before the animals are released. This is a delicately coordinated effort, involving over 130 people and 13 vessels (and conducted under a NOAA fisheries’ permit). Read a full report in SDRP’s newsletter and learn about the important data gathered during this effort.
GDRP is being featured in a European documentary about Texas! In May, we spent two days on the water with the documentary crew for filming and interviews. The documentary is set to air on German and French public television in the fall. It may be translated into 4-5 languages and reach 10 million viewers. Our adopted dolphins Squirt(#1), Babe (#6), Mariner (#23), #34, and Pepsi (#285) may make an appearance in the film!
We had a lot of fun at Bay Day 2022! It’s always a pleasure to speak one-on-one with local citizens about our research and Galveston Bay dolphins. The most popular item in our booth was a fin matching game where folks can practice dorsal fin photo-identification (just like we do it!). Approximately 3,000 attended this year’s event, which was the first in-person Bay Day Festival since 2019.
The content of this section is available to current members of our Dolphin Society. To become a member and receive updates on our individual dolphins, please adopt or name one of our dolphins. Adoption kits are a fun and unique gift! All funds go directly to the Galveston Bay Dolphin Research Program.
What YOU want to Know…
“There are rumors that a pink dolphin lives in Galveston Bay. Is this true?”
In the past, there have been sightings of a “pink” dolphin in Galveston Bay. In fact, GDRP researcher Kristi Fazioli observed it once, about 10 years ago. This dolphin is either a true albino, or it is “leucistic” (partly lacks pigmentation). It is still a common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), the only cetacean species you will find throughout Galveston and other coastal areas of Texas. While it is actually white, it will often appear pink due to blood vessels underneath the skin. It has been several years since we have heard of a sighting of this individual here in Galveston Bay. However, an albino dolphin has been seen more often in Louisiana. It is unknown if this is the same individual, or another dolphin, but it is possible that this dolphin travels to different areas along the Gulf coast. Keep your eyes open and please let us know if you see it!
Although common bottlenose dolphins are not pink, there are species of cetaceans that do have pink coloration. The Amazon River Dolphin, or boto, inhabits the Amazon and Orinoco basins in South America. The males are pinker than females, and they typically become more pink as they age.
If you have a question regarding the GDRP, Galveston Bay dolphins, or dolphin biology, please submit your question using the button below. We select questions to answer from your submissions. We look forward to knowing what YOU want to know!
All activities are conducted under a NMFS Scientific Research Permit.
Galveston Bay Foundation
1725 Highway 146
Kemah, TX 77565
Environmental Institute of Houston
University of Houston at Clear Lake
2700 Bay Area Blvd.
Houston, TX, 77058