By Emily Carter
The Bay has a new member of the ecological community: the Common Bottlenose Dolphin! Historically, these beautiful creatures lived much farther South along our coastline: in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Baja California, Mexico where the waters are warmer. However, 15 years ago the first common bottlenose dolphin was seen in the San Francisco Bay, and for the last 6 years researchers have been seeing these dolphins migrate in large numbers. Research from tracking individuals has estimated that about 10% of the southern California common bottlenose dolphin population has migrated to this area, and while many marine mammals do make long migrations each year, these pods appear to be here to stay. Why is this happening? Scientists are hypothesizing that they’re coming as the ocean temperatures rise and to look for more food sources as they compete with human fish take.
Bottlenose dolphins are quite large, weighing up to 500 pounds and stretching 8-11 feet long. They eat a wide variety of fish, squid and crustaceans. After a 12 month gestation period, the young calves stay with their mothers for 3-4 years before embarking on a 50-year long average life.
If you want to try and see these beautiful creatures, there are a few places you could try to do that. The Golden Gate Bridge is a great place to see them just after dawn as they re-enter the bay from early morning feedings, the calm waters of Point Cavallo, or Clipper Yacht Harbor. Both Rodeo Beach and Ocean Beach are also places you can see these lovely creatures swimming by or doing acrobatic flips and jumps, while also including the possibility of spotting a whale while you’re out there! As dolphins are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, be careful not to approach or disturb them in your motor boat. If you’re lucky enough to see a dolphin, put your Citizen-Science hat on and contact the Bay Area Golden Gate Cetacean Research Center (www.ggcetacean.org) to contribute to the understanding of these new members of the Bay ecological community.