One day in the fall several years ago, I took my regular one o’clock trip and headed toward the Coast Guard Station.
School had started. There were no children on board.
It wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t warm either.
A British couple was aboard. The man wore a tweed coat. That seemed a little warmer than necessary, but the British Navy once ruled the world. They know a thing or two about being on the water.
As we approached the mouth of the harbor, I could see a commotion along the seawall next to the Coast Guard Station. It was dolphins and I was pretty sure I knew what they were doing.
Dolphins like that seawall. They are experts at herding schools of fish up against it. The fish are pretty much trapped. The dolphins in Tampa Bay are well fed.
They weren’t fishing that afternoon.
“What are they doing?” asked the wife of the man in tweed in proper and charming British accent.
By then we were very close. There was lots of white, foamy water as the dolphins thrashed about.
“They are making little dolphins,” I replied.
“Are they mating? Is this their mating season?”
“They mate 365 days a year,” I said.
She pondered that for a moment. Then she said, in her proper and charming British accent, “I want to come back as a dolphin!”
The man in tweed told her to hush. “Someone might hear you!”
Like I said, there were no children on board.
Dolphins travel in pods, which are like large extended families. The more available food, the larger the pod. Dolphins tend to live in the same pod for life.
There are many unknowns about the mating habits of dolphins. However, I have been watching them carefully for 30 years and have seen the same behaviors over and over.
Dolphins have sex every day.
The females initiate the ritual by flirting. They flurt by making squeeking noises, slapping their tales on the water and rolling over among other behaviors.
Males swim around her, vying for attention.
The first male she accepts initiates a little courtship. He nuzzles her with his snout and rubs along side her as they swim along. Finally she rolls over in a standard missionalry position and they copulate.
When the first male is done, she takes on all other interested males.
How often do they do this? I would have to say everyday. It’s part of their routine, as regular as eating and sleeping.
I know that you are asking, “What about birth control?”
I don’t have an answer. But here is what we know.
Females can start having sex very soon after giving birth and go for years without getting pregnant. The generally calf every five to six years. So there is a big chunk of time that they are regularly mating without getting pregnant.
They are definitely not fertile every month like humans.
Maybe someday we will be able to figure out their language and ask them.
But eventually they do become pregnant.
I have been lucky enough to observe the natural birth of a calf from about 30 feet.
It occurred at the airport seawall. There I saw a female dolphin movng up and down...up and down...and another female circling her. I though the one bobbing up and down was in trouble and inched closer to see if I could help and low and behold out popped a baby calf.
They are born tail first. And just that quick.
I learned later that the other female was there to lend assistance like a midwife. She and the mother must get the calf above water to some air first and then try to teach it to breathe. It takes a calf a few weeks to learn how to roll and breathe. Before they learn that technique, they just jump straight up to breathe.
That was quite an experience.