Tuesday, July 21, 2020

"The Oddball Dolphin of Dingle" plus Flashback: "Will Dolphins Become Neo-Luddites? Robots force Navy dolphins onto unemployment line"

First up, the story that started this train(wreck) of thought, from Hakai Magazine:

Living solo for decades in an Irish harbor, a dolphin named Fungie has taught us something about solitary cetaceans—maybe they prefer to be alone.
Back when Ireland still had lighthouse keepers, the town of Dingle had a watchful one. Paddy Ferriter was a man who preferred the company of his dogs to that of most people. Through the autumn and winter of 1983, Ferriter had spotted a fellow loner in the water: a dolphin, following the fishing boats. Swimmers say they began cavorting with the dolphin in 1984.
Today, Fungie the dolphin still favors Dingle Harbor, a nick in Ireland’s westernmost peninsula. In a typical summer—one not ravaged by a global pandemic, as the summer of 2020 will be—thousands of tourists take boat trips to see him leap alongside their vessels. When the tourist traffic dwindles in winter, a small group of swimmers regularly heads out into the icy water to play with him. Floating just ahead of me on a gloomy day in October is one of them, Abi Dillon, keeping a sharp eye out for the dolphin.
I roll onto my back and spin around slowly to take in the town, the sea, the green buoy where the dolphin tends to linger. The old lighthouse stands atop the cliffs above. Beyond the harbor, the ocean surges and heaves, turquoise where it crashes on the rocks, gray beyond. Sea foam blows high onto the cliffs, where the prevailing winds have flattened the unearthly green grass. But inside the harbor, the rage dissipates. I rock on the gentle waves while Dillon slaps her bodyboard on the water, trying to attract Fungie’s attention.

Fungie is not the only dolphin to break away from his kind and interact frequently with humans. Solitary-sociable cetaceans—including dolphins, belugas, and killer whales—have been reported all over the world. But Fungie is an outlier: after a world record–breaking 36 years in the company of humans, he’s still alive. Many solitary sociables meet early, grisly ends at the hands of our species.
Sometimes, people harm these animals on purpose. Sometimes, harm is the unintended consequence of an overwhelming human desire to be close to something mysterious. A wild creature’s attention can create a sense of connection that is difficult for some people to resist, even when it endangers the animal. As a veteran of human contact, Fungie may offer lessons about how we can do a better job of protecting the solitary cetaceans we love so fiercely, and so badly.

A bronze statue of Fungie, tail held jauntily in the air and grinning mouth agape, stands prominently on Dingle’s harbor front. The wind hums through the rigging of the yachts in the marina, mingling with tinny uillean pipe music blasting from a speaker near a gift shop stocked with dolphin T-shirts, jewelry, and toys. Signs advertising Fungie boat tours offer guaranteed sightings or your money back.
The guarantee is safe because, in some ways, Fungie is predictable. If boats are out in the harbor, he usually joins them. Like many other dolphins, he seems to enjoy riding their bow waves. But despite his routine, he’s an enigma even to the people who know him best.

It’s unclear why a highly sociable animal like a dolphin would live alone. While it may be normal for dolphins to do so while shifting from one socially bonded group—called a pod—or partner to the next, an extended period of solitude is unusual. Researchers believe solitaries may be young dolphins whose pod was killed, or that left their birth pod but found no new group to join. Perhaps they are disabled or are dolphin outcasts. Or maybe, like Ferriter, the lighthouse keeper, they are loners that don’t care much for the company of their own kind.

Each case has unique factors, says dolphin conservationist Mike Bossley, research fellow emeritus at Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Bossley has worked with solitary dolphins since the mid-1980s. While we speak over a video call, the soft-spoken Australian cracks open his evening beer and apologizes for his dog slurping water in the background. In his experience, he says, solitaries’ unusual state is “first and foremost an affiliation with place.” Like Fungie, many attach to a small territory. Bossley spent a few years working with a solitary dolphin he named Jock, who didn’t leave his home range in a warm, polluted inlet, even though other dolphins seemed to avoid it....

Skipping back in time to January 2012:
"The Navy Is Depending on Dolphins to Keep the Strait of Hormuz Open"
If Iran closes the Strait of Hormuz, the U.S. Navy has a backup plan to save one-fifth of the world's daily oil trade: send in the dolphins.

And then, sadly, automated out of a job:

Will Dolphins Become Neo-Luddites? "Robots force Navy dolphins onto unemployment line"
No. No they won't.
From the New York Post (Dec. 3, 2012):
Robots force Navy dolphins onto unemployment line
The US Navy's most adorable employees are about to get the heave-ho because robots can do their job for less.

The submariners in question are some of the Navy's mine-detecting dolphins which will be phased out in the next five years, according to UT Sand Diego....

And what of the belugas?
"Satellite Images Reveal Russian Navy's Secret Arctic Marine Mammal Facility"
I think Norway is planning to deport back to Russia the harness-wearing Beluga mentioned in this story and which we noted in April's WTH: "Whale with harness could be Russian weapon, say Norwegian experts"....
Seen here returning a woman's phone, dropped in her excitement:

Hvaldimir? What kind of name is Hvaldimir?
Whaley McWhaleface should have been a lock.

There is some question whether this Beluga returning a woman's dropped phone is Hvaldimar or just some rando phone retrieving cetacean:


Here's the story and video of the retrieval.
Incredible Footage Shows Whale Retrieve Phone Woman Dropped In The Ocean