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Dolphins and Seals

Discover the Dolphins in the Lagoon!

  • Conservation

    Distribution

    Global, except in fully enclosed seas. Quite frequently found along the western coasts of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as in the Mediterranean Sea. This species lives both in the open ocean and very close to the coast.

    Description

    Length: 3 m on average

    Weight: 200 kg on average

    Teeth: 88 conical teeth about 7.5mm in diameter at the base.

    Body: very dark grey in colour ranging to white on the underside. Its forehead, called the "melon", is part of its sonar system*. It breathes and emits sounds through its blowhole*, its respiratory organ which takes the place of a nostril. It has a dorsal fin* of about 25 cm in length, a pair of pectoral fins* and a very powerful caudal fin* which allows it to propel itself at high speed (up to 60 km/h). Its skin has the ability to "cut through" water turbulence using a wave system. Dolphins can jump very high out of the water. It can deep-dive* up to 300 m and stay underwater for about 20 minutes.

    *Glossary:

    • Sonar: an underwater ultrasonic detection system.
    • Blowhole: a breathing hole located on the head of the animal.
    • Dorsal fin: rigid fin located on the back.
    • Pectoral fin: fins located on the sides of the animal.
    • Caudal fin: fin that replaces the tail.
    • Deep-dive: deep diving underwater.
  • Social life - Reproduction - Communication

     

    Social life

    Dolphins live either in small pods of about ten individuals or in groups of several dozen, led by a dominant individual. These groups seem to vary seasonally. In autumn and winter, the main group is made up of the mothers and their offspring, with the males living apart for part of the year, but remaining close to the pod. They all come together at mealtimes and then small groups form again. Dolphins have a strong sense of family and a very sophisticated hierarchy. Each group has one male or female leader, which changes from time to time. There are then various ranks which can also progress (e.g. a female with a cub moves up the hierarchy). The "second-in-command" is often the one who will watch for external events and inform the group if there is a possible danger. Dolphins are also capable of helping each other when one of their own is in trouble.

    Reproduction

    Sexual maturity is reached at the age of 8 years for females and 10 years for males A female has a baby about every two years. After a gestation period of 12 months, the baby dolphin is born underwater, most often coming out caudal fin first to avoid asphyxiation. When a female is pregnant, another female will stay with her throughout her pregnancy. She will then help to protect the baby that will often swim between her and its mother. Calves measure between 90 and 130 cm and weigh between 12 and 15 kg at birth. They are breast-fed for 12 to 24 months but start eating fish from their 6th month. A dolphin calf will double its weight in two months, three times faster than a human baby, because its mother's milk is very rich in fats and proteins. Calves stay with their mothers for the first few years of their lives. Our understanding of dolphin calf development has improved enormously thanks to park-based breeding studies.

    Communication

    Dolphins can see underwater, even when swimming in the darkness of deep water, at night or in murky water. They then use their sonar (detection system: echolocation) to find their way around. To do this, they send "clicked" sounds that bounce off objects and come back to them in the form of echoes that allow them to determine the distance, shape, texture, size and thickness of each object. The low frequencies make it possible to roughly locate the obstacle, while the high frequencies provide more detailed information (down to the millimetre level for thickness, for example). The accuracy is such that a dolphin can differentiate between two metals of different density. The sounds vary from 200 to 300,000 Hz and are directed through the melon which is composed of fatty substances. The echoes are received by their ears and most probably also by the fatty cavity in their lower jaw, which transmits them to the ear canal. Dolphins do not have vocal cords and produce sounds through their respiratory system that have higher frequencies than those of humans. The role of the vocal cords is played by air sacs located in the blowhole, but also by the muscles of the larynx which they activate. There are two types of sound: those used for identification, the signature of each individual (whistles, explosive sounds) and those used to orient themselves and analyse the environment (clicking sounds). To communicate between members of the same group or between groups, they use sounds that resemble whistles and each individual has a sound "signature" that allows them to identify themselves. The precise meaning of these sounds is still unknown to us, although the study of dolphin communication and sensory skills has been carried out in parks for several decades.

  • Food - Life expectancy - Unique features - Threats

    Food

    Fish, crustaceans, molluscs. Life expectancy: The bottlenose dolphin is the cetacean that has been studied most extensively by scientists in the wild and in parks. Its life expectancy in the wild is 17.4 years and it is now 34.3 years in a park. Remember that average life expectancy is the age to which at least 50% of a population live. This is the only valid criterion for comparison between two populations. The longevity records reported for certain individuals may, therefore, be higher. The oldest wild dolphin found on the Texas coast was 44 years old and the oldest dolphin living in a European park is 53 years old. This is Moby who lives in Nuremberg Zoo (Germany). The main explanation for the difference between the natural environment and life in a park is that animals in parks are medically monitored and do not face the threats that exist in the natural environment. It is therefore agreed that a bottlenose dolphin can live up to 40-50 years, bearing in mind that this is not the average age of its population.

    Unique features

    Amongst cetaceans, the bottlenose dolphin has a remarkable capacity for adaptation, which is why it is found in all the large marine parks in the world where it lives in direct contact with humans and where its population thrives. Today, two-thirds of the bottlenose dolphin population in European parks are native-born and the population growth rate is 10%. It is also hoped that its unique capacity to adapt will allow it to cohabit with the increasingly intense human activity at sea, which is not the case for a large number of other species that are much more sensitive and weakened by these disruptions. It is, therefore, not one of the species of greatest concern in terms of conservation. In the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) species conservation ranking, the bottlenose dolphin is classified as "Least Concern".

    Threats

    Eight species of cetaceans are the most frequently encountered in the western Mediterranean basin. The threats described here affect them all to varying degrees. Dolphins' natural predators are the killer whale and the shark, but the greatest modern predator is industrial fishing, which decimates dolphin populations in its nets. One of the most significant threats to cetaceans, particularly in the Mediterranean, is industrial fishing using fixed and drift nets. Dolphins are not targeted by these nets, but their accidental capture is fatal as the animals are unable to come to the surface to breathe and, therefore, drown. Maritime traffic: it is estimated that 13,000 ships making 252,000 ports of call pass through the Mediterranean every year. 18% of the world's maritime oil transport traffic is concentrated in the Mediterranean. Dolphins are victims of accidental collisions and pollution. Whale-watching, which is a tourist activity that allows you to observe cetaceans in their natural environment, is on the increase. If poorly practised or too intense, it disturbs animals in their activities and contributes to marine pollution.      Offshore racing is particularly popular along the coast during the tourist season. It causes accidental collisions and contributes to marine pollution.

  • Conservation in the Mediterranean - Contributing to the safeguarding of and respect for cetaceans

    In an attempt to reduce these threats, solutions are being developed to ensure the conservation of cetaceans. The Pelagos Sanctuary – a protected marine area was created in 1999: The Pelagos Sanctuary is located between France, Italy and Monaco. This sanctuary's mission is to provide researchers with the means to increase their understanding of the animals, their environment and the impact of human activities, as well as raising awareness amongst the general public and engaging the various users of the sea, such as fishermen and recreational boaters.

    Marineland (through its research centre, the CRC) and its Foundation have been involved in the Sanctuary's scientific and awareness-raising committees since its creation. The National Stranding Network (RNE–Réseau National Échouage): The RNE has been helping cetaceans in difficulty on the coast since 1972 and records valuable biological and ecological data following these interventions. It is made up of scientists, volunteers and enthusiasts. Only people who hold a green card issued by the Ministry of Ecology are authorised to respond to strandings. Certain professionals at Marineland have this authorisation and are likely to be called upon.

    Contributing to the safeguarding of and respect for cetaceans

    If an animal is in difficulty – If you should come across a stranded or dead cetacean: you must not touch the animal (which may be a carrier of contagious diseases) and should inform the relevant authorities, i.e. the fire brigade (18), RNE (in the Mediterranean: 04 91 26 72 25).– If you come across a live cetacean stranded or in difficulty: do not attempt to handle the animal, which may injure itself or people, keep away crowds and avoid noise, which are sources of stress, and then call the RNE (04 91 26 72 25) or Marineland (04 93 33 55 77).Observing animals at sea: Whether on a whale-watching tour boat or on board a private boat, always respect the rules of good conduct set out by the Pelagos Sanctuary: Observations must be made more than 5 miles from the coastline; observations must be stopped if there are signs of the animals being disturbed. Animals must not be approached if newborns are present. The observation area must be greater than 100 m. The boat must approach from the sides, from the back to the front (never from the front). Speed should be limited to 5 knots, based on the slowest animal. The duration of the observation should be limited to 15 minutes. Swimming with, touching or feeding the cetaceans is prohibited.

Bottlenose dolphin

Bottlenose dolphin

Discover the seals in the Lagoon! An memorable encounter...

  • Seal Lagoon

    During your adventure in the lagoon, you will meet, the Harbour Seals (Phoca Vitulina)! This is a little-known species of French wildlife that is nonetheless worth a look.

    These  mammals spend most of their time in the water. There's every chance that you will see them swimming within a few centimetres of you. Their whiskers, referred to as vibrissae, are true prey detectors. They are able to hunt from the age of about 2 months. Their large black eyes allow them to move around in very murky water but are also adapted to the sea water in the basin. They are gregarious and live in colonies but have no social structure.

  • Did you know?

    The seal's capacity to hold its breath (apnoea) is astonishing... up to 30 minutes! This allows it to sleep on the seabed... and thus protect itself from potential predators.
Harbour Seal

Harbour Seal

Covid Info
Health measures. Visit Marineland in complete safety.

Health measures. Visit Marineland in complete safety.

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