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The Gap Year Blog

Stenella Frontalis, or: the Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

10 Feb 2020 09:25 AM

From the very first time I saw Atlantic spotted dolphins I immediately felt that we had a kind of special connection; and after that, I have been rarely been on a boat without having at least one encounter with them.

I remember I was on Eden, the catamaran, and we were sailing on the lookout for the pilot whales when suddenly I saw a lot of splashes in a distance that could be around 700-800 meters. When we approached them, I got completely overwhelmed by emotions. There were probably around a hundred spotted dolphins surrounding the boat, breaching and approaching us, not scared at all by the catamaran or the tourists. On the contrary, many of them just came close and swum alongside the boat for a while, clearly enjoying the speed and the waves made by our movement. Interestingly, this behaviour is thought to be a positive interaction between dolphins and humans, and they probably do it as they attempt to conserve energy by exploiting the speed of the boat by swimming with it.

I thought that I had already seen the best these dolphins could offer me, but after that boat trip they blessed me with many more mind-blowing encounters. I heard the echolocation clicks they use to communicate with each other; I watched them feeding on schools of fishes in cooperation with huge tunas and seagulls; I saw them swimming at high speed alongside the coast in a pod of more than 200 individuals, each of them breaching at least four or five times with their whole body out of the water. In my whole life, I do not think I have ever seen something so beautiful and graceful as these animals. They resemble bottlenose dolphins in appearance, but they are smaller and way more agile and active. Moreover, they do show dark spots in the ventral part of their body at the onset of weaning and dorsal light spots as growing into adulthood, from which the name “spotted” comes from. These spots make them so adorable!

Atlantic spotted dolphins have been reported to be seen year-round in Tenerife, but they are not a resident species as bottlenose dolphins or short-finned pilot whales, as they are considered to undertake long migrations throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Normally they prefer quite pelagic waters, but in Tenerife we have often seen them quite close the coast, probably attracted by the abundance of food they can find in these waters. In every encounter I had with spotted dolphins I saw quite a few really small calves; they were so cute and tiny! Seeing them swimming alongside their mothers and trying to imitate them to learn how to move in their new environment was fascinating and hypnotizing at the same time. Also, this high encounter rate of calves makes me think that probably these dolphins find the waters around Tenerife quite safe and maybe use them as a breeding area before undertaking long migrations. Obviously, we can only understand this with more data collected over time, which makes our long-term project here so important.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I have been given to work here and make a difference for these amazing animals, which in turn have made a huge difference for me by incredibly impacting and improving my life here.

By Chiara Bresciani - Assistant Research Officer, Frontier Tenerife

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservationcommunityteaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!