Whale Sharks, Jellyfish Scares and Pink Dolphins
L AST SUMMER, I TOOK it upon myself to learn everything I could about the Gulf of Mexico and its inhabitants so I could bring it to you our loyal readers.
The “Wild Gulf” saw me trekking all around the Gulf and having quite the adventure. I learned some intriguing things about some of the region’s inhabitants that I know you will find as interesting a I did.
People Fear Jellies: When I pulledup to Orange Beach in Alabama to do some snorkeling, I saw that there were hundreds of people on the beach, but no one in the water. It reminded me of the scene after the first attack in “Jaws” when everyone chose sunbathing over water sports. I asked a life guard and he said there were jellyfish out there.
I went snorkeling and did indeed get a couple of small jellyfish stings, but I have seen more jellies on Texas beaches with no panic. I have also seen signs warning about deadly bacteria in the water with folks nearby frolicking in the water with little worry.
Had I seen a bacteria warning sign, I would not have entered. This writer fears “flesh eating bacteria” more than jellyfish. Yes, I know it can pop up anywhere at any time, but when bacteria levels are up it’s a good time to avoid the water.
Turtle Marks: It is always sad to see trash long the beach, especially plastics which can be ingested by a variety of marine organisms. While visiting the NOAA sea turtle facility on Galveston Island I learned that many of the little marks we saw on plastic at the beach are from juvenile turtle bites.
I have seen many cups and sheets of plastics with little diamond shaped holes. Those are from small sea turtles, and it made me want to get the word out more on the danger of plastics in Gulf waters. No doubt plastic ingestion kills thousands of sea turtles annually.
Mississippi Impact: It is amazing to see the impact of the Mississippi River run-off. The reason we have such murky water on the Upper Coast of Texas is we get a lot of the run-off from the mighty river.
If you go east of the Mississippi the water is clear. From about Biloxi, Mississippi. on to Florida the beaches look strikingly different from ours, with waters that are much clearer.
Even though that water is clearer, doesn’t mean people are more aware of the wildlife there. While doing the aforementioned snorkeling expedition at Orange Beach, I kicked up a stingray that was in about 18 inches of water right in front of a bunch of people. I also saw a small redfish and a bunch of juvenile pompanos. Encountering stuff like that is much more fun than sunbathing in my opinion.
My wife: Lisa took a northern detour to Atlanta, Georgia to swim with whale sharks at the absolutely amazing Georgia Aquarium.
Their friendly and informative staff guided us to within inches of their four massive whale sharks along with several large manta rays. Whale sharks are present in the Gulf, but sightings are rare. These animals are absolutely stunning with their light tan body decorated with white speckles.
These creatures as we learned have a huge mouth with thousands of tiny teeth that send fish eggs, tiny shrimp and other small marine life down a very small throat. In the wild, they have to swim all day to filter out enough food to survive.
Pink Dolphins: The Atlantic bottlenose dolphin is the most frequently seen marine mammal in the Gulf of Mexico.
Seeing a pink one however is extremely rare.
That’s why I was excited to get a clip in my Facebook inbox of one of these beautiful animals provided by Matt Metzler. It shows a pink albino dolphin jumping in front of a boat off the Louisiana coastline.
In 2013 I captured footage of a pink albino dolphin in the ship channel near Cameron, Louisiana. This particular dolphin with the obvious nickname “Pinky” has been thrilling fishermen who encounter it for at least a decade after Capt. Erik Rue began photographing the creature on his charter trips.
Regina Asmutis-Silvia, a senior biologist with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, said: “I have never seen a dolphin colored in this way in all my career.”
“Although this animal looks pink, it is an albino which you can notice in the pink eyes. Albinism is a genetic trait, and it’s unclear what type of albinism this animal inherited.”
Some believe there are several “Pinkies” in the vicinity but little research has been done on the subject. I have interviewed two people who claim to have seen pink dolphins from the ferry in Galveston, a three-hour boat ride (in calm waters) from Cameron, Louisiana. The animal could certainly make that trek, but there also could be more of them out there.
All of these creatures require a healthy ocean and as we know by tragedies such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Gulf is not always healthy.
To think of such magnificent creatures being negatively impacted by our actions serves as a reminder to be kind to our oceans. If you live in Texas the Gulf is your ocean, so to speak.
Let’s all make decisions that benefit sustainable fisheries, promote clean water and allow amazing creatures such as the whale shark to thrive in the Gulf of Mexico.
Email Chester Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org