DMWR monitors dolphins sighted in harbor
Staff members from the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) have been closely monitoring a pod of dolphins that have been spotted in the harbor area since last Tuesday.
(A group of dolphins is called a pod, which is usually made up of about twelve dolphins as their main social group. When a group of pods join together where there is an abundance of food, they can reach up to one thousand individuals forming a larger group called a super pod. A group of dolphins can also be referred to as a "school").
According to DMWR wildlife biologist Alden Tagarino, their office received a call from someone at the Satala shipyard who reported seeing six whales in the harbor on Tuesday, March 5. It was explained to Samoa News that all whales, dolphins and porpoises are really whales. However, these terms can also be used as a way to distinguish size among species, with cetaceans longer than about nine feet considered whales, and those less than nine feet considered dolphins and porpoises.
The whales were spotted as early as 10 a.m. that day but DMWR didn’t receive the phone call until 2 p.m.
Tagarino and a co-worker, Siaifoi Fa'aumu, responded to the call, along with DMWR’s Enforcement Division.
Chief Enforcement Officer Peter Eves and Officer Saia Lavata'i arrived at the scene shortly thereafter, following a patrol at Fagatele Bay.
Tagarino said they saw two dolphins when they arrived at the shipyard. At that time, the Fagatele Bay Sanctuary boat was requested to make a big loop near the yachts in an attempt to lure the dolphins away from the shallow area.
Tagarino, Eves, and Lavata'i used two jet skis to get to the last sighting spot, in order to take photographs to confirm the species identification. According to Tagarino, they have an ongoing project to create a Photo Identification Catalog for the small cetaceans found in American Samoa.
“That is why we need photographs of individual dolphins- especially the dorsal fin shots, and other distinguishing marks on the animals,” he explained, adding that they made another big loop around the area where the dolphins were sighted, trying to see if the dolphins would leave the inner harbor.
By 2:50 p.m., Tagarino and the others had already left the area but the dolphins were again sighted off the shipyard, moving towards the direction of the cannery.
Eves and Lavata'i also sighted two different pods of spinner dolphins, approximately 300 individuals off Fagatele Bay. The second pod was composed of approximately 30 individuals in the area between Vaitogi and Larson's Bay (Fogama'a and Fagalua).
The next day, Wednesday, March 6, one individual was sighted again near the shipyard area. Twenty-four hours later on Thursday, March 7, a concerned citizen reported seeing a dolphin across from the Satala ASPA plant.
Eves and DMWR staff member Ailao Tualaulelei responded to the call and after checking the area from the shore, they reported seeing only one individual.
Last Friday, around 9 a.m., Officer Saia Lavata'i reported a sighting of three dolphins swimming behind the DMWR facility. There were no reported sightings on Saturday, Sunday or Monday.
“We think it is possible that one of the individuals is sick,” Tagarino told Samoa News via email. “Dolphins have a very strong social bond and it is not uncommon to see dolphins together, close to shore, especially if there is a sick member of the group.”
Tagarino pointed out that in other places like Hawaii, they already have experiences of dolphin strandings that were preceded by the behavior which occurred here last week. “That is why we were on the look-out, to see if there will be a stranding over the weekend,” he said.
Tagarino believes that the spinner dolphins and rough toothed dolphins are residents in the waters of American Samoa, as these two species are the most common species sighted here. He explained, “Altogether, we have a total of 14 species of marine mammals (cetaceans); two are mystecetes or baleen whales, and twelve are odontocetes or toothed whales —also known as dolphins (usually people refer to the smaller cetaceans as dolphins and technically, the orca or killer whale as a big dolphin).”
So where are some good local spots for sighting dolphins? According to Tagarino, you have a good chance of seeing a dolphin in Leone Bay, Fagatele Bay, and Fagasa Bay.
For now, DMWR will continue to monitor local waters for more dolphin sightings, and updates will be provided as they are received.
Individuals who are witnesses to whale, dolphin and/or turtle sightings are encouraged to call the Turtle and Dolphin Hotline at 733-5304 or contact DMWR directly at 633-4456 for assistance.
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