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Entries in dolphins (3)

Friday
Feb112011

Love is in the air...er...water...

As we go into the season of that most manufactured of holidays - Valentine’s Day - I want to share with you a simple but powerful message.  For every crazy sexual fantasy you have ever had, some creature in the oceans is already doing it.  Whether it’s a solo effort, or a one on two, or a two on one, a three on six or a “countless hordes on untold numbers”, and whether it involves a he, a she, a male, a female, a shemale, or a whatthehellsisthat?, there’s already a species in the oceans to whom it’s old hat.  And however kinky and twisted and perverted you can imagine, nature has already devised and instituted (often to ruthlessly efficient ends, I might add), something even more risque and alarming.

How do I know this?  Well, a couple of years ago Georgia Aquarium asked my wife (who also works there) and I to come up with a talk we could give publically about love in the oceans.  Sure! we said, No problem! It’ll be fun!  Little did we guess the depths of smut and depravity to which the research of our newfound assignment would take us.  But like good company minions, we answered the call, and now, three years later, the talk has become something of a regular thing.  As an aside, I can tell you that our Googling efforts in support of the project attracted the attention of the IT department; I guess we typed in a few too many of the trigger words in the company internet filter - oops!  We had to get special exceptions on my IP address so we could keep working (and I swear I have never used it since….ever).

OK, I’m talking a lot of smack.  How about some concrete examples?  Fair enough.  How about this tiny snippet? Fairly self-explanatory; it’s exactly what it looks like.  Needless to say, a warning that it’s NSFW.

That clear enough for you?

One of our favourite parts of the talk is an homage to George Carlin where Trish and I fire off ever-more suggestive fish names in rapid succession.  There’s so many wonderful names to choose from, but some  of my personal favourites are the cavernous assfish (this is actually the closely related abyssal assfish, I guess the cavernous assfish was just too embarrassed to have his photo taken):

 Three related and almost identifical fish: the rode harder, the keep harder and the diklip harder (and yes, they are a type of mullet):

and how could I not include the hairy hotlips?

There’s dozens more, but to hear them (and see the rest of the walrus video) you’ll have to come to the talk

In my final example, I want to claim some primacy over Ricky Gervais.  You see, we were talking about blowhole sex in boto dolphins long before he put it into his act.  That’s right, lonely male botos will, from time to time, penetrate each other in the blowhole, which is really a nostril.  Nasal: its the new anal…

 And thats just the beginning.  Cross-dressing, orgies, role playing, dom-sub BDSM, genital mutilation, piquerism, even post-coital cannibalism, its all going on every day in the oceans (and you’re swimming in it!).  So, next time you’re blushing at the thought of some new saucy idea that sneaks into your mind sideways when you should really be working on TPS reports, just relax, we humans are actually kind of vanilla.

Sunday
Oct172010

One of the best things about marine biology

To me, the best bit about working in marine biology is the terrific moment of surprise when you discover a new expression of natural diversity.  Little kids know this - you can see it on their faces every time they turn over a rock in a stream or rock pool.   I think one of the reasons I enjoy it so much is that it almost takes you back to a state of childish wonder, and you get to appreciate something with truly fresh eyes, even if only for a moment.   In my early career in taxonomy, I became completely addicted to the idea of seeing a species that no-one else has seen before (of course, then you have to describe it, and some of the gloss wears off by the time you submit!).  These days, I get the same buzz just from learning about a species I didn’t know existed, and so it was when I recently read a story about an hourglass dolphin (Lagenorhynchus cruciger) that had washed up on a beach in New Zealand for the first time in a century.  Now, I’m not much of an expert on marine mammals, but I had never heard of or seen this animal before, and it was surprising to me because I usually expect the unknowns to come from among the other 95% (invertebrates), and not the more familiar mammals.  It was all the more surprising to me because of the stunning and bold markings of the animal, which are so distinctive, you’d think it would be more well-known (hey, maybe its just me).  Anyway, on the off chance that perhaps you, too, have never met this beautiful creature, I give you the hourglass dolphin, Lagenorhynchus cruciger:

Hourglass dolphins in the Great Southern Ocean. Image: South Georgia Heritage Trust (click for more)

Beautiful, aren’t they?  Have you ever had the feeling I’m talking about?  If so, what was the animal?

Friday
Oct012010

Look who's talkin'

Interesting news in a study thats in pre-publication in Ethology about mixed species schools of dolphins and the communication patterns that take place within them.  The author, Laura May-Collado of the University of Puerto Rico, hypothesised that when bottlenosed dolphins and Guyana dolphins school together, differences between their respective songs ought to be exaggerated in order to avoid confusion and enhance communication within species.  [Whales have been shown to alter their song to meet surrounding conditions, most recently in papers that describe long-term increases in song volume to offset the increasing background of human-made noise in the oceans.]  What she found was the exact opposite: calls became more homogeneous (with less variation between species), with the signal stucture (the waveform of the whistle as seen, for example, on an oscilloscope) converging on a form intermediate between the bottlenosed and Guyana whistles. Her first conclusion is that this represents a change on the part of the smaller Guyana dolphin to reduce social stress (placation, if you will) but its also possible that the dolphins might be using a common language.  If so, that would be one of the first examples of interspecies communication and it would be quite different from how humans do it, wherein one participant nearly always tries to change to the other participants language, not that boh participants find an intermediate language (I guess this is because human languages are too complex to easily invent intermediate forms).  Dr. May-Collado was unable to determine which explanation was the correct one because her equipment couldn’t distinguish which individuals were making the sounds, but its certainly a tantalizing view into the chatter that goes on between species in the ocean.

Guyana dolphin in front, bottlenosed behind. Click pic for original story