Two resident groups of dolphins living off the Paracas peninsula in southern Peru have been steadily gaining popularity, enjoying particular protection thanks to 13 years of our project work. We are happy about the number of calves observed: the mothers can be seen raising their young without interference.
Since 1999, GRD has been supporting the Peruvian marine conservation organization ACOREMA. Our good cooperation has led to the development of various measures to protect the dolphins, against the dolphin hunt and dynamite fishing, against marine pollution and plastic garbage, as well as to the development of school projects, and campaigns to raise public environmental awareness.
Thanks to the support of our dolphin adopters, supporters, and sponsors of our project, we have been able to realize all of these measures.
Five years after the earthquake of 2007 wrought heavy damage in Paracas, we have finally been able to return to boat-based observations to study this isolated group of dolphins in the Paracas National Reservation, which till then could only be monitored with difficulties from the coastal cliffs, some of which are in danger of collapsing.
It made our hearts leap for joy to see that the group of bottlenose dolphins of original 16 members has grown to 21. This means that new offspring was born, and has been observed, and it is highly likely that all group members identified in 1999 are still alive!
The Supay dolphins were GRD’s first adoption dolphins
Fortunately, eight individuals were recognized by their dorsal fins: Little Tree, Frame, Sun, Up, Down, Shorty, Shark, and Scratchy. The marks of the other dolphins, however, have changed so much in the past years, that they no longer resemble the original photos in the dorsal fin catalog.
Successful, but risky: the fight against dynamite fishing
The Supay dolphins do not seem to mingle with other dolphin groups. In the beginning of our project, their survival was threatened by several factors including dynamite fishing above all.
In cooperation with the Paracas National Reserve we achieved the designation of a special protective status of their habitat. ACOREMA trains rangers to patrol for offenders engaged in blast fishing.
Several campaigns against dynamite fishing, one in cooperation with fishermen and the authorities, another one by implementing a public campaign including a radio spot, made the problem known – successfully. No traces of dynamite fishing have been discovered for over one year by ACOREMA and the Paracas National Reserve staff.
Patricia Saravia, a biologist working for the Paracas National Reserve administration, told me about the risks these rangers are facing in doing their work. She explained the problems with poachers and the dangers for tourists: "Patrolling for instance whether there are any dynamite fishing activities going on or to make sure that tourists are not robbed is a very dangerous job for the rangers, because there is just a single police officer for this region, who does not even carry a gun, whereas poachers are often armed."
We are pleased that the dolphins on the northern side of the Paracas peninsula living in the Paracas bay also have offspring.
Eight mother-calf pairs were observed in 2011, including "PBD 062" with their second calf (the first one was born in 2006), and Sharpy with a young one at her side – a final proof that Sharpy is a female! Moreover, the adoption dolphins and dolphin mothers Silver, Breeze, and Longscar were seen in company of their kids.
It is especially female dolphins that frequent the bay
This might indicate that the bay offers good conditions for raising their offspring. The highest site fidelity was shown by Silver, Longscar, Breeze, and Queen. Frequently, the mother-calf pairs form groups. Not far from the beach they feed their young, rest, socialize, and last but not least at every opportunity follow the fishing boats which land their catch of Peruvian anchovy, with some bits being left for the dolphins.
Says project manager Julio Reyes: "Among the males, the highest site fidelity is exhibited by Pacman and Bay; these two dolphins also show the highest 'association index' since late 2006. The association index is the percentage on which a pair of adult dolphins is seen together, at a very close range. Association indexes higher than 80 % generally correspond to adult males."
Unusual dolphin encounters
The most beautiful moment during my project visit in February 2012 was the encounter with our adoption dolphins in the Paracas Bay.
Having searched for them in the entire bay by boat, we finally spotted them just about 4 m off the beach of the Hilton Hotel at the far end of the bay.
It was just unbelievable: the dolphins stayed there for over an hour, chasing fish from the ground, probably sandeels, positioning themselves up -side-down with their flukes up in the air.
The dolphins visiting in the early morning hours, most guests of the Hilton have missed this "show".
However, two people, one in a kayak, the other one on a surfboard, had the best encounters with the dolphins: very curious and not shy at all, the dolphins came very close to them.