Their cameo was kept relatively quiet and low-key, but three long-beaked common dolphins made an unusual visit to Santa Barbara’s harbor last week. They were first sighted on Wednesday, November 9, and stayed until Thursday evening.
The dolphins, explained Dr. Toni Frohoff, a wildlife behavioral biologist and the director of POD (Protect Our Dolphins) of Santa Barbara, made it to the “elbow” section of the harbor where the concrete walkway heading toward the ocean turns left and follows the breakwater. They kept to that area, swimming in tight circles around the cramped space.
Dolphins appear in the harbor every few years, Frohoff explained, but they’ve always been coastal bottlenose dolphins, which live and feed closer to shore. To find long-beaked dolphins, which dwell deeper in the ocean, is a first.
Concerned about the animals’ health, Frohoff headed to the harbor last Thursday to monitor their behavior. They exhibited noticeable levels of stress, she said, but continued to echo-locate — a good sign — and appeared in overall fine condition. She and representatives with Harbor Patrol and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) encouraged onlookers in the area to keep their distance and intentionally didn’t notify the media to avoid large crowds. The dolphins left on their own, Frohoff said, the best possible outcome for that type of situation.
It’s impossible to say why the dolphins stopped in the harbor in the first place. They could have been drawn by food, pushed by a predator, or disorientated by human activity or noise. Frohoff noted that the Navy destroyer that docked off Santa Barbara’s coast last week and through the weekend could have been a factor. “Naval exercises and other military sounds are always a possibility [for causing disorientation] when observing odd marine mammal behavior,” Frohoff said.