Have you ever imagined being able to witness the birth of a cetacean during whale and dolphin watching tour in the Azores? And did you think it would be possible? Yes, it is possible, and although it is a rare moment, the Futurismo staff and everyone on board that day were able to see the turbulence in the waters that turned out to be a wonder of nature – the birth of a dolphin!
It was an Atlantic spotted dolphin. Generally, this species is found in the Azores in the months when the sea temperature begins to warm up, and they stay in the Azorean waters until the end of summer, sometimes until early fall. With global warming, the waters are getting warmer for longer, influencing the stay of these animals in the Azores. In recent years, we have spotted this dolphin species until January.
Luckily, on a typical foggy day in the Azores, on November 4, we had the opportunity to witness one of the most magical and unique moments one can experience aboard a whale watching boat.
Marine biologist Dinis Jacob’s testimony about the birth of a dolphin in real time
“The sky was rather gray, but moods were on the rise, for we had just seen a wonderful pod of common dolphins. What came next, however, no one could have imagined.
With the goal of finding a whale in mind, we decided to probe the water with our hydrophone, searching for any sonorous signs of life. Although unable to pick up on any whale sounds, something else managed to reach our ears. The intense whistling was unmistakable proof of the presence of another dolphin pod. And, indeed, we were correct!
Arriving at the area, the first thing we identified was the species: Atlantic spotted dolphins. The pod was not very large, and something was extremely unusual because the animals were all bunched up as if plotting a mischievous scheme…
Naturally, that was not the case, and what was going on was much more special: we were witnessing a new birth! We got there just in time to see how a newborn dolphin is brought up to the surface of the water by its mother, in order to take its first breath.
Crew and customers alike were in absolute awe, for we all knew that such an event is something you witness once in a lifetime. Just as impressive was the way the entire pod was gathering around the newborn calf, ensuring its safety and success.
Being in the presence of an animal that was just born into this world makes you realize how fragile and tiny these marine mammals can be, and how important it is for us to be mindful of our responsibility to protect their ocean!”
How it was possible to realize that it was the birth of a dolphin
We witnessed was precisely a gathering of very active dolphins at the surface and a few seconds later that baby dolphin appeared full of small wrinkles on its body and a still deformed head – one of the characteristics of newborns and then always close to its mother!
It is possible to get a rough idea of the age of a baby dolphin has by the position of its dorsal fin and tail. In fact, it is believed that the dorsal fin stiffens within a few hours and the tails seem to take a little longer. Also, when babies are born, they have a kind of small folds along their body generated in the mother’s womb, they are called fetal bands.
The way the dolphin swims also indicates that it is a newborn
A baby dolphin swims in a position next to its mother called the staggered position. The baby takes advantage of the movements of the mother and other females, thus allowing it to swim less to keep up with the mother. As evidenced in this video.
Unlike humans, baby dolphins are usually born tail first and the umbilical cord falls off during birth.
Nature’s wonders of dolphin reproduction
Depending on the dolphin species, the gestation of female dolphins can last anywhere from 9 to 17 months.
When it comes time to give birth, the females tend to band together to help the mother. Interestingly, in other cetacean species, the mother tends to isolate herself to give birth in a calmer, more relaxed environment.
Typically, females give birth to only one baby every 3 – 5 years.
Dolphins nurse for an average of one to two years, but dolphins have been observed nursing up to four and a half years. (source: Wells 1999)
Generally, baby dolphins are totally dependent on females for at least the first two years of their lives (depending on the species).
Births of other cetaceans during whale and dolphin watching tours
Fortunately, in the Azores, Futurismo has had the good fortune and pleasure to witness events as magical as they are unique! This month we saw the birth of this baby dolphin and last year, for example, in August we witnessed the birth of a sperm whale!
Already in July 2019, we were lucky enough to witness the birth of two sperm whale calves south of the island of São Miguel.