Science News

Down Under Dolphins spit for their dinner

Sun, 26th Apr 2009

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Spitting at the dinner table may be the height of bad manners for us humans, but in the dolphin world it is quite acceptable.

Australian Snubfin Dolphin (Orcaella heinsohni).Researchers from the World Wide Fund for Nature, (WWF) have recently discovered that rare snubfin dolphins from down under get together in groups and spit for their dinner.

The snubfin is a strange-looking dolphin, at around 6 feet long, with a melon-shaped head and short stubby fins. Very little is known about this rare species, the only endemic dolphin species in Australia, which was discovered in 2005; until then the Australian populations were thought to belong to another species, the Irrawaddy dolphin, which lives in rivers of southeast Asia.

Now scientists have begun to unpick some of the secrets of these mysterious dolphins, and have seen them hunting in groups of 6 or more. Working together, some dolphins will chase fish towards the sea surface and then herd them towards other dolphins by spitting out jets of water from their mouths. Sometimes they shoot out plumes of water high into the air and other times will spit straight ahead just above the sea surface.

Sadly just as scientists are beginning to uncover more about their bizarre lives, the snubfin dolphins are coming under increasing pressure and are extremely threatened by coastal development and pollution. WWF are especially worried about plans to extend the port in Townsville on Australia’s northeast coast, an important part of the snubfins’ range. As well as the construction of dams and dredging of estuaries, the dolphins also face wider issues of climate change and sea levels rise.

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