TDI 2001Home1245679101112131415fin

Monday, May 21st, 2001

Geoff and I headed to lab early today to do fishroom duty as we were scheduled to. Compared to last year, a fair amount has changed about how things are done in there, the most notable is the fish they feed the dolphins now.Last year, herring and kaplin made up the entire diet of the dolphins, but now they also get smelt and squid as well. No big deal, just more fish to sort out.
Shannon with Ake at window
Shannon says hi to Akeakamai between sessions (click for larger picture)
Tonya had the fishroom duty with us and helped us to do the job properly. Unfortunately, we didn't get to feed the vitamin fish to the dolphins. Tonya went out and did that herself before we could ask if we could. I must admit I was a little dissapointed about that one. Last year, that was sort of the bonus for coming in early and helping with fishroom, and I do like doing it. Next time maybe.

First session, I was scheduled to help record husbandry data for a session with Phoenix. Susie was the trainer, and she's definitely done this whole procedure a few times. One of the new interns, Jesse, was tankside with me to hand instruments to Susie while I was up on the stand recording the measurements and things that Susie pointed out to me. The body exam revealed some new scrapes and a few mouth sores, but nothing serious. I also found out a neat name for the little scars they get on the end of their rostrum... They call them pookas. When I first got here a week ago, both Ake and Phoenix had fairly large "pookas" that have all but healed over now. Watching how good Phoenix behaved while she was asked to do all these things tells me one of two things. She was either in a very good mood, or she likes doing it. Maybe a bit of both. I guess it's kind of relaxing for her, because she really doesn't have to do much other than lie there and relax.
A nice dolphin leap from Ake (click for larger picture)
We checked everything from heart rate (13 beats for 10 seconds), girth measurements, fecal swab sample, blowhole sample (where they're told to breath out hard into a cup), brushed her teeth with a tooth brush, and gave a full body exam. It was very interesting to see these kinds of things so close up after seeing them done at a distance my whole life at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Second session, I was an OM for cross model with Phoenix. I hadn't done that one before, but I had always wanted to try since last year. My job, along with Geoff (also a OM), was to hold up the two choices at the side of the tank for Phoenix to choose from. I managed to mess up on the first trial. I thought it was a cross modal exercise between echolocation and visual, but it was a visual to visual match. I couldn't see much due to the darked out goggles I was wearing and it kept me from seeing there wasn't a box in the water. When Dr. Pack called "Show!", I popped up too, and right after I did that I hung my head down - I knew I had messed up before Dr. Pack even said anything.
Craig sends one of the dolphins on a tailwalk behaviour (click for larger picture)
The next trial, I hit the object I was holding against the side of the tank when I stood up; also a mess up. I actually did that twice, but the second time was the only trial Phoenix got wrong. I wonder if she heard it and chose my choice as a result. I hope not. It's a wierd feeling when you're standing there, blind to the world, and you suddently hear a dolphin exhale in front of you and something push on the object you're holding. It's hard not to smile, but that's obviously something you have to prevent to keep the dolphin from picking up any clues to the right answer. Even this would be hard though, because I never knew directly whether I was holding the match or not.

Third session, I was asked to video the visual to visual ross-modal session with Hiapo. That's also a fairly new one for me. The highlight of the session was seeing Mattias train Hiapo in his unusual, very flexable fashion. He definitely lets the dolphin have control of the session, but it worked just fine. Hiapo stationed immediately and didn't even seem to react when the gate was closed to separate him from the girls.Hiapo got almost all of them right, with the exception of some crosses and straight bars that all the dolphins seem have troubles with.

The dolphins can understand how to jump over an object you point at (click for larger picture)
During fourth session, Mattias gave us all a lecture into dolphin evolution, hearing abilities and physiology of how they make sounds. Although I knew most of what he told us, I did learn one thing that sort of surprised me. It turns out, dolphins produce ALL sounds from inside their head, and not from their blowhole like I thought. At times, they will open their blowhole to let the air and sound escape, but even this isn't always the case. That means that a dolphin can still be making a sound even if there aren't any bubbles coming from their blowhole. I always thought that the whistles they make came from their blowhole and their echolocation was done inside their heads behind their melon. Nope. One other interesting thing was that dolphins can produce sound with both lungs. They have two sets of organs that produce sound in their heads, one for each side. Apparantly, most dolphins use just one side for most things, but it's thought they can switch back and forth if they want to. There isn't any concrete proof of this theory though, because of the inherent difficulty in measuring a 5 to 50 kilohertz movement of an object buried inside the dolphins head.
This shows how big Akeakamai really is compared to her trainer (click for larger picture)
I have noticed that when the dolphins whistle, they tend to flex and partially open one side of their blowhole rather than the whole thing. Maybe the blowhole muscles work together somehow with the ones that produce sound and that would show they only produce sound with one side. It might explain why you can at times hear two distinct different sounds from them during session. Phoenix does this a lot.

After the lecture, all the participants and I went over to Kincades, a nice seafood and "chops" restaurant over in Ward Warehouse across the street from the lab. Julia had made reservations for 8 of us, but Mattias Hoffman-Kuhnt from the lab graced his presence opon us as well, so we got an extra seat and sat down for probably one of the best plates of food I've had in a long time. Yeah, it did cost $20 for what I had, but it was EXCELLENT. I had the Mahi mahi (also called "dolphin fish", ironcially) with crab something batter and sweet and sour sauce served over white rice. Everyone else's dinners were equally as good from what I heard too.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I'm hoping I'll get another local with one of the dolphins since I haven't had one in a couple of lab days.

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