Save Lolita

All Things Are Possible!

Summer break may be finished, but Ocean Camp memories gust thicker than my Oklahoma accent. As I plug away behind my computer reconciling administrative tasks and reacquainting myself with current events, I can easily become discouraged with the empty nest syndrome of a quieter classroom and the multitude of unjust issues impacting our precious marine life. Yet every climb down the stairs in our office confronts me with the reason why I do what I do. Tacked on an otherwise barren, white wall is a sign that speaks volumes above the noisy staircase it decorates. The artistically rendered petition reads, “Save Lolita” referring to a captive orca. This project is a representation of the many efforts that result from our educational program Ocean Camp.

Through the eyes of a child, all things seem possible. Children have a hope that knows no bounds and an uncorrupted knowledge of what’s right and what’s wrong. They haven’t been wielded by the norms of culture and are relentless in their demand for fairness. They are juvenile in their craving for justice, and this naivety can be potent when combined with an accurate education. Education is empowering. This understanding, combined with my own residual childhood dreams and a resurrected child-like hope, is why I do what I do.

Lendy Leslie, a fourteen year old freshman, has lived in Hugo, Oklahoma, for all of her life.  She is involved with honor programs and school activities.  She is a cheerleader, and she loves gymnastics.  Her favorite animal would probably be a whale or a dog.  Lendy would someday like to live near the ocean and become a marine biologist.

From a book I authored as a school project at 14 years of age.

Like our Ocean Campers, I was a young girl who desired to see dolphins and whales live in freedom, but somewhere along the way I lost that childhood aspiration. Maybe it was a lack of direction or available educational resources, but like many young people with dreams, it became a distant possibility.

On the other hand, they say a lot can happen in a year. During last summer’s Ocean Camp, the children created petitions in regards to the sea lion performances occurring at Hawai‘i’s state fair. This year, Hawai‘i’s Governor Ige respectfully vowed to cease the issuance of permits for wild animal acts like these. Although captive cetaceans (dolphins, whales and porpoises) are not included in this decision, such victories encourage us to keep hoping and using our voices whether BIG or small for matters both f-a-r and near.

I intend for my efforts at Pacific Whale Foundation to equip others with knowledge and awareness, so they are encouraged and inspired to protect our ocean and its inhabitants. So as I consider all the issues that threaten these creatures—adversities like captivitySONAR, marine debrisdrive hunts, and ultimately extinction, I remain child-like in my determination and tenacious in my teaching. Even though there is strong opposition in retiring captive cetaceans like Lolita, I continue to teach students about marine mammals and allow them to decide how they feel about captivity. I am hopeful that one day marine mammals will no longer face this particular issue because of the attitude the children demonstrate. As author Neil Postman stated, “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”

I believe that all things are possible, and as a part of my job, I am thankful I get to be a part of creating that possibility.

Sightings of baby spinner and spotted dolphins

Recently the research team set out towards the island of Lanaʻi to continue our odontocete and marine debris surveys. Around 9:30 am, we came across a pod of approximately 100 spinner dolphins, including five calves. Even better, two of the calves were neonates: newborn dolphins!

Neonates can be distinguished by their small size: only 75-80 centimeters long in spinner dolphins — about the length of a skateboard. They also have “fetal folds” on their sides. These vertical, lightly-colored “stripes” are the result of being folded up inside mom, and they fade with time as the calf grows.

After spending just under an hour with the spinner dolphin pod, we continued our survey and were rewarded again, this time with an active pod of approximately 45 pantropical spotted dolphins, including six calves.

Not only was it great to see so many calves in one day, but these sightings were also sources of valuable data. Photographs and behavioral data collected during the time we spent with these animals will help build our photo ID catalogs and further our understanding of the amazing dolphins living here.

Underwater Footage of Whales and Dolphins Interacting

If two animals share the same environment, then at some point they are likely to meet. In the wild these meetings are often between predator and prey; however, nature isn’t always so cruel. Some such encounters, referred to as “interspecies interactions,” can be playful or social, where neither individual is threatened.

The research team was recently lucky enough to observe two such interactions while surveying humpback whales off the leeward coast of Maui. The first was between pantropical spotted dolphins and humpback whales and the second between bottlenose dolphins and two humpback whales. Humpback whales and dolphins are more often observed in pods consisting of their own species; however interspecies interactions have been documented before. One notable example was in 2010 when researchers Deakos et al. observed bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales engaging in a “lift and slide” type of game off the coast of Kauai; which was such a significant behavior that their findings were later published as a scientific paper.

In the video captured by the research team, one of the two humpback whales is observed swimming with a group of bottlenose dolphins. Some explanations for this behavior could be:

  • Dolphins hunting fish that associate with the whale
  • Dolphins riding the pressure wave created by the whale swimming, similar to bow-riding
  • Dolphins bullying the whale
  • Play behavior, such as the whale attempting to coax a dolphin onto its head for another game of “lift and slide the dolphin”

The PWF Research Team is excited to be able to share this special encounter with you.

Deakos, Mark H., et al. “Two unusual interactions between a bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Hawaiian waters.” Aquatic Mammals 36.2 (2010): 121-128.


FACT OF THE WEEK: Bottlenose dolphins may address each other by name!

MORE ON THIS: Recent research has suggested that bottlenose dolphins have individually unique signature whistles that are equivalent to human names. During the first few months of life, a dolphin will develop its own signature whistle made up of a series of sounds and notes. Dolphins will also adopt the signature whistle of other dolphins in the pod to identify and communicate with different individuals, specifically close associates or those with strong social bonds. When a dolphin emits its own signature whistle, a  dolphin that is a close associate will reply with a copied version of the whistle with a few subtle alterations that differentiates the signature whistle from the copied whistle. This allows the second dolphin to relay information back to the first dolphin; the alterations to the whistle may also give information about who the second dolphin is.

Signature whistles httpwww.cell.comcmsattachment20079513612030487757gr2.jpg

Image from: Janik, V.M. 2013. Cognitive skills in bottlenose dolphin communication. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 17(4): 157 – 159.

Many species of dolphins live in fission-fusion societies, this means that the size and composition of the pod will change as time passes. When pods merge together, vocal signatures are exchanged in order to learn about the identities of individual members of the new pod. These exchanges are generally repeated several times during the interaction to either improve the probability of correct identification, or provide additional information with each exchange.


Written by Patrice Hostetter

FACT OF THE WEEK: Can’t Touch This

FACT OF THE WEEK: Zoonotic disease Brucellosis found shared between marine mammals and humans.

MORE ON THIS: Zoonotic diseases are those which can be passed between humans and animals. Brucella spp. is the genus of bacteria which causes the zoonotic disease Brucellosis, and can be found in numerous domesticated livestock and wild animals. The Brucella strain in domesticated animals has been eradicated in most industrialized countries, but unfortunately, in developing countries, it is still an issue. The disease has also been found in marine mammals, particularly recorded in dolphins, seals and sea lions. Symptoms in each terrestrial or marine mammal vary, and acquiring the disease can be done by ingesting the bacterium or by touching an open wound.

Spotted dolphin with a lesion

Dolphin with an open wound

A case of a New Zealand man acquiring Brucella was reported in 2002. Initially doctors thought the transfer was from the man dressing a pig a year prior. Upon further investigation through laboratory tests, the Brucella strain found in the man was more closely associated with a strain found in a United States bottlenose dolphin and common seals. The man was interviewed and stated that he was never directly in contact with a marine mammal, but he was in contact with different types of bait and he had consumed a raw fish (Brucella is killed by cooking). Now you know that marine mammals can have diseases which can be passed to humans, so please refrain from approaching or touching them!


  • NOAA Fisheries: Brucella Infection in Marine Mammals Read More
  • McDonald, W. L., Jamaludin, R., Mackereth, G., Hansen, M., Humphrey, S., Short, P., Taylor, T., Swingler, J., Dawson, C.E., Whatmore, A.M., Stubberfield, E., Perrett, L.L., & Simmons, G. (2006). Characterization of a Brucella sp. strain as a marine-mammal type despite isolation from a patient with spinal osteomyelitis in New Zealand. Journal of clinical microbiology44(12): 4363-4370.

Written by Laura Behm

Bottlenose dolphin in Maalaea Harbor

Dolphin in Maalaea Harbor

The research team did not have to go far on July 3rd to spot a dolphin. There was one swimming around Maalaea Harbor! It looked like a sub-adult, meaning it was not fully grown. We photographed it following our protocol, and this week searched for a match within our bottlenose dolphin catalog, but this individual had not been photographed previously by our researchers. When we were examining the photos, we noticed a lot of tooth rake scars on the posterior (back) half of its body – perhaps it was seeking shelter from another dolphin or predator, it was curious, or maybe it had simply gotten lost. The team watched for a while and eventually the dolphin followed another boat out of the harbor.  Teenagers are always getting into trouble!

Rake Marks Photoshopped