Monday, December 3, 2012

Same Behavior, Different Dolphin

Each boy dives differently.

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to see an In Tune session with the big boys, you know how amazingly athletic they are. Talon, Pax, Rainbow, Sandy, and Kibby fly through the air into the sky like it’s the easiest thing in the world. As they defy gravity for a few seconds, you can see their unique dolphinalities come out in their behaviors.

People are often caught off guard when trainers and staff members look at a beautiful shot of a dolphin, flying midair, and know exactly which one it is in the photograph. Generally, we can tell who they are up close by their distinct physical characteristics. Kibby has freckles and is smaller than the rest of the big boys. Sandy has a ragged dorsal fin. Pax has two, dark grey vertical lines on his forehead.  Talon looks a lot like his younger brother, Pax, but has intense, eager eyes.  Rainbow is known for his older gentleman white snout.  To an untrained eye, each dolphin may look almost exactly the same. However as we’ve gotten to know each dolphin we can tell them apart. When you see a shadow of a dolphin in flight, those physical anomalies are gone and you have to rely on knowing their unique behaviors and individual movements.

One of the best ways to initially see this is when all or most of the boys are asked to do something at the same time. For example, their front dives. When they dive in unison, you can see how they’ve tailored each behavior to be uniquely their own. Kibby doesn’t dive as high as the other boys, while Pax and Talon soar. Some of the dolphins flick their tails once they hit their peak height. It really is astounding to pick apart the individual actions in a certain behavior to see how each dolphin does it differently from the others.

When not diving together, the dolphins establish their own pattern as well. It’s always fun to walk the causeway and tell guests to point their cameras in a certain direction for a behavior to get the optimum chance for a photo. It’s something that you pick up on after spending a significant amount of time watching sessions. Every once in a while, the dolphins deviate from their norm but usually they stick to a similar sequence. Again, you have to know the dolphin individually to anticipate where he or she is likely to pop up. Certain dolphins love to keep us on our toes. They build the anticipation while we excitedly wait to see their phenomenal action.

Every single time we see a dolphin session, it’s so mesmerizing that it feels like the first time. You can’t help but be astounded by their grace, beauty, and athletic abilities. There’s no such thing as a boring day and you can never take the amazement for granted. Time spent with dolphins, is not time spent wasted.