St Augustine Eco Tours
The mission of St. Augustine Eco Tours is to educate and provide an opportunity for people to experience animals in their natural habitat. Dolphins (Tursiops truncates) are one of the animals we see on over 95% of our trips and are one of the reasons SAET came into existence. These unique dolphin sightings have given us the opportunity to study the individuals within each pod as well as their collective behavior. Owner, Zach McKenna, is currently conducting a dolphin identification study, where he is using photo i.d. to study the dolphins that continuously feed, breed and socialize in the waterways around St. Augustine.
The dolphins that are in the Matanzas River weigh between 300 and 600 pounds. They are usually seen chasing Mullet and other fish in through the inlet and into the salt marsh estuaries. Since dolphins lack the ability to smell (lack olfactory nerves) they cruise around using echolocation to communicate, navigate, and track down their prey. Lacking vocal cords, they produce high frequency sounds using air sacs near their blowhole that create distinctive clicking sounds that are transmitted out through an organ called a melon. These high frequency sounds bounce, or echo off objects and provide information about the object, such as size, distance and shape. The ability to echolocate is a huge advantage in environments that have limited visibility. Each animal has a uniquely identifying, signature whistle as well as dorsal fin. No two dorsal fins are alike. Dolphins are also voluntary breathers, who must surface and open their blowholes for air. They breathe 2 to 3 times per minute and can hold their breath for up to 10 minutes. The closest living relatives to dolphins are cows, hippos, and giraffes.
The most interesting part of viewing dolphins in the wild is the ability to see all of their different behaviors. Most of their behaviors are for survival purposes, but a few are for just plain fun. The four most common behaviors that we see on our trips are Breaching, Bowriding, Spyhopping and Strand feeding. Breaching is when dolphins leap out of the water; researchers believe this is often to rid themselves of parasites but we also think they do it just for fun. Bowriding is also done for fun and is when a dolphin rides the waves produced by boats and surf. When a dolphin slowly raises straight out of the water and pauses on the surface, this behavior is known as Spyhopping. And perhaps the most exciting behavior to watch is when dolphins Strand-feed. Strand-feeding occurs when a dolphin chases a fish onto dry land in the hopes of disorienting the fish and being able to scoop it up and slide back into the water. All of these behaviors are exciting to watch, but remember, follow the rules and stay 50 yards or more away to see them.
Source: American Cetacean Society www.ACSonline.org pg. 29
Source: St Augustine Eco Tours / Baret News Wire