One day in the life of Romeo

ROMEO is a wild dolphin we see every summer. Romeo seems to enjoy the company of humans to their greatest pleasure. Unfortunately, it is often quite difficult for a young dolphin to have so many fans.

The story of ROMEO tells about the adventures he has during one day. Some are hilarious, others are sad. But let us follow our young guide for more details…

Hello! My name is Romeo.

I am a Bottlenose dolphin and I am two years old. Scientists use a more complicated name when they talk about me. They call me Tursiops Truncatus.

You may think I am a fish but, in fact, I am a Mammal: I breathe air just like human being (I have lungs), my blood is warm and I nurse my young.

I am a Cetacean, a tooth whale or odontocete. My main food is fish.

I breathe through an orifice called the Blowhole. Unlike humans, my respiration is conscious and voluntary. That means that I have to think to breathe; it is not automatic like it is for you! This is why dolphins die when something frightens them; they are so scared they forget to breathe! It is what happens to dolphins which are caught in fishermen’s nets.

What happens when we sleep, then? In fact, we rest only one half of our brain at a time; we don’t sleep totally!

I live in the Gulf of Mexico, along a beautiful Island with white sand near Panama City Beach, Florida.

All my family and friends live here. All together, we are a group of about fifty dolphins living in this area. We all look the same, don’t we? But if you pay close attention, you will see that we have scars or marks on our body. This is the way you can identify us.

My favorite activity is to Play! I love it! More than that, I’m free to go everywhere in the ocean.

Of course, I never go too far from my group. So that, we can stay in contact with each other permanently, ready to act if one of us needs help.

The ocean is full of strange creatures, and everyday I swim out to explore them.

The sea is very quiet this morning and the sun is rising slowly on the horizon, promising a beautiful sunny day.

I decide to start my journey by going to the jetties : there are a lot of Fish to tease over there!

Ooooh… one of them, a stripped one, is swimming by himself, away from his group. It’s a Spadefish.

This big fish is really funny.

I release him… He quickly goes back to his group, zigzagging and annoyed to be ridiculed like that!

Here is another one, even funnier : the Puffer Fish.

As soon as something or somebody bothers him, he blows himself up with water, and hop, he looks like a ball floating on the surface! In fact, he pretends to be dead, to fool his predators!

Something on the bottom is catching my attention : I dive down and stick my Rostrum (my nose) in the sand to see what it is : Starfish

They are so pretty : orange on one side, and white on the other!

Not far from there, a Hermit Crab has found a wonderful shell and he is making it his house.

Indeed, as only one part of his body is covered by a carapace, he protects himself by living in empty shells. As he grows up, his house becomes too small and he has to move into a bigger shell.

Suddenly, I hear commotion at the surface : Birds! Dozens of Pelicans and Seagulls…

They are all over the rocks and over the water, squawking of excitement, looking for fish.

All of a sudden, I hear a growing humming sound. The excited whistles of my family members start to get louder.

I understand that it is time for me to catch up with them : in a few minutes a huge cargo ship will enter the channel!

A good opportunity for us to…

surf in the waves!

I stick close to my mother, swimming in her wake. Together we ride the ship’s wave. To the great joy of all the passengers on deck, we escort this giant by jumping in its waves with synchronization.

After this thrilling game, we go back to the pelicans and the seagulls who have found a shoal of fish. They share this banquet with us.

The pelicans are real dare-devils!

They dive down, head first, to pursue their prey which they catch in their pouch. Before he can eat the fish he caught, the pelican has to drain the water out of his pouch and send the fish down his throat, by repeatedly opening and closing his beak. The seagulls take advantage of this unique fishing method to steel what fish they can out of the pelican’s beak!

Everybody has got his own technique. We, dolphins, hunt in a group : we circle the shoal of fish and we chase it toward the beach where we catch it in shallow water. We help one another! Sometimes, we do kind of what the seagulls do : we follow the fishing boats and we catch the fish that fall out of the nets.

With a belly full of fish, I go back to my exploration of the sea floor.

On my way, I meet up with a shoal of Stingrays. They “fly” gracefully under the water…

Here, hundreds of Sand Dollars cover the bottom! They are dark brown while they are alive but after they die, they loose the thousands of tiny little hair covering their shell, and they turn a beautiful white.

Sea urchins, starfish and sand dollars belong to the same family : the Echinoderms. I like to hang between the surface and the bottom. I rub and tickle my belly in the sand. I disturb a Crab, who runs away.

He is very upset! I’m sure he wouldn’t hesitate to pinch me! It’s a Blue Crab : the males have blue claws, the females red claws!

I am inside the bay now. There are a lot of interesting things to discover here, especially in the Grass Beds. Grass beds are the beginning of the food chain. Life starts here… and the health of everybody, dolphins and humans alike, is related to the turtle grass and the shoal grass that you can see in the shallow waters of the bay. I meet an interesting character, with four eyes : it is a Horseshoe Crab.

But the Scallop does even better with his two rows of blue eyes! He swims around, clapping his shells like Spanish castanets!

The day is getting old; I hear all kinds of sounds, including the hum of propellers. We, dolphins of Panama City, have been living with Humans for many years.

We inherited this way of life from our forefathers who started to bond with local fishermen who were giving them fish. This was about thirty years ago. Very rapidly, the humans started to seek our company. One thing leading to another, before you know they were in the water, swimming with us!

Usually, I enjoy spending some time with them.

They are so funny, because as soon as they see me they all start screaming and waving while they hang over the side of their boats to greet me. Some of them even jump overboard to swim with me.

Three of them are already in the water, with their masks and fins. They look like they are waiting for me. Three strokes of my caudal fin brings me right to them. I surprise the breath out of them with my clicks and my whistles.

I hear their hearts beat faster and I see their eyes sparkle with joy! The two older ones seem to be good swimmers. They kick their way toward the bottom with their fins.

I could swear that they are trying to swim like I do!

I’m catching up with them and we swim together for a while, like three dolphins! Of course, they are kind of clumsy, and they keep having to go back up for air. Though they are doing very well, considering they are humans. We spin in every direction. Wow! I think they are tired now.

I’m curious to find out more about the little girl on the surface. She hasn’t missed a single moment of our underwater ballet. I slowly swim up to her while Clicking.

In fact, we, dolphins, can see two different ways: we can see with our eyes, but we can also “see” by producing sounds. Let me explain…

When we want to find something in the water, for instance a fish, a person or a boat…we broadcast sounds (clicks) using the big bump we have on our head.

This bump is called the Melon.

We make those sounds (clicks) by squeezing air sacks in our sinuses. The clicks travel through the water, hit the object (for instance, the fish) and bounce back to us like an Echo.

We pick it up with our lower jaw and it travels to our ears. Our brain processes the clicks and gives us an Acoustic Image. This is how we can tell what is around us. It even works at night or in murky water.

We call this Sonar.

Our sonar allows us to see the object in front of us in its smallest details. Just like a sonogram, it allows us to see the inside of the body! My sonar tells me that the little girl is very calm, because her muscles are relaxed. She seems to be waiting for me patiently. I am drawn to her kindness, and I know that I can safely get closer. I look into her blue eyes and I gently take her hand into my mouth. I’m trying to know her better and it is as through I was tasting her.

She trusts me and I trust her. She knows I won’t bite her, just like I know that she won’t hurt me with her hands.

We both know that it is a very precious moment. We both belong to two different species, but instinctively we have found a way to communicate based on mutual Respect.

This beautiful encounter is suddenly interrupted by an uproar. I can hear them getting closer by the second: There come the Jetskis!

Those “marine motorbikes” are noisy and dangerous. I say goodbye to my little friends with the blue eyes, and I go back to my pod. They have also heard them.

Unfortunately, before we have time to react, they are already all around us. If they could only stop their motors..! But no, they want to get close to us by all means. They brush past us Dangerously.

We would like to make them understand that it is neither the time, nor the appropriate way to approach us, but they don’t understand and keep coming even closer.

“Slap! Slap!” It’s the sound of Pacha’s tail hitting the surface with frustration. “Slap! Slap!” Leave us alone!

But they don’t understand…

One of the jetskiers jumps in the water and tries to grab my dorsal fin to get a ride!

“Clap! Clap!” I turn around and clap my jaw loudly at him. I think that this time he understands!

This other man tries to entice us by holding fish in front of us: “Junior”, a very young dolphin takes the fish and throws it back right away: It’s frozen.

We do our best to stay in a group and continue our way. They finally leave, driving their machines at high-speed unaware of the danger to human swimmers and to us.

As soon as the water gets back to normal, I let myself rock by the surf thinking of my little friend with the blue eyes…

…what a difference in behavior…

A lot of people still believe that we are circus animals, just like our poor brothers and sisters in the Marine Parks, who have to do all kinds of tricks to entertain the humans.

They hide a great Sadness behind their dolphin smile. They are condemned to live in the confinement of concrete tanks. Away from their families, they often die of Despair and Disease

Now, I really understand that some humans can show respect to wild animals but also that others can be a threat because of Ignorance and Stupidity. The sun is already low on the horizon, and everyday around this time, we regroup for the night.

A little boat is anchored not far from us. It looks familiar. Yes… it is the boat of the little girl with the blue eyes!

I jump for joy to greet her. There she is, sitting on the bow, her feet in the water, bathed in the golden light of dusk.

Carried away by our good mood, our group starts to stroke and to rub against one another, while we whistle and click with excitement!

We swirl, zigzag, cuddle…

Full of happiness and freedom!

Jellyfish turns into a playball: hop! I toss it up in the air! We wild dolphins, have no need for plastic balls.

And tonight, my pleasure is doubled because I know that two little sparkling blue eyes are not missing a second of our show.

Since the sun has set it is time to say goodbye to your kind audience… As a sign of farewell, I do a last jump, my belly still pink with excitement.

Well, at least for now, this is the end of the story of ROMEO. We still often see him surfing, playing with jellyfish and even swimming with us.

An encounter with wild dolphins is a marvelous experience. If you would like, we are ready to introduce you to ROMEO and to all of his friends.

But before you set out for this wonderful adventure read some advice from Romeo.

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