The Fin Review | Whiskers the newborn

One day in May while following a group of dolphins in Comet Bay, I photographed a newborn calf that was only a couple of days old.

I knew this as the calf still had its whiskers.

Yes, like all mammals, dolphins have hair.

If you look at the upper jaw of a dolphin of any given age you will see a row of tiny pits, referred to as ‘vibrissal crypts’, on either side of their ‘rostrum’, or beak.

These pits house the whiskers, which are lost approximately three to four days after birth.

No one has studied the function of the vibrissal crypts in the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin, which we have here in Mandurah.

However, we know that the pits function as sensory organs in another species of dolphin called the Guiana.

The Guiana dolphins use their pits, which are visibly larger than the pits on the bottlenose dolphin, to detect electric fields produced, for example, by fish.

In this way the pits may supplement the dolphins’ sonar while they navigate and forage in the shallow, often highly turbid waters of estuaries.

Since my encounter with the newborn that we named Whiskers, I now easily see the pits on all the 20+ dolphin calves we have encountered since January.

The MDRP is a partnership between Murdoch University, City of Mandurah and Mandurah Cruises that commenced in January 2016.

They are measuring how many dolphins use the Peel-Harvey waterways and how they are connected to dolphins in nearby coastal waters.

You can follow the MDRP on Facebook or through this fortnightly column.

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