Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Fauna of South Carolina: Cetaceans

This post was originally going to be a part of today's earlier post, previously entitled "The Fauna of South Carolina:  Cetaceans, Foxes and Otters."  However, when I tried to upload all of the pictures of the cetaceans, foxes and otters, the computer slowed to a crawl.  So I decided just to split the post into two parts, and just pretend like it was one.  So without further ado, I present to you...."The Fauna of South Carolina:  Cetaceans."
Bottlenose Dolphins at "The Inlet"
If you recall, a few weeks ago I posted about another fascinating creature that I learned about when we visited South Carolina in June, called THE BLACK SKIMMER.  We saw it hunting while we were in a small coastal inlet, which we shall henceforth refer to as "The Inlet."  Our main purpose for our visit to "The Inlet" was to see dolphins.  We had seen them last time we had gone to South Carolina at the same place, and we lucked out again.  We saw a group of at least three, but possibly four bottlenose dolphins swimming through the area.  My mom was able to snap a couple of pictures, but it was very difficult to predict where they would next surface.
Dolphin going under.  What you see in the picture is its tail.
 Although all four of these pictures of the dolphins were taken at "The Inlet," we saw dolphins a couple of other times as well; I believe I saw them on four other occasions, all while out on our friends boat.
Dolphin dorsal fin, the same fin that strikes fear into people who have seen Jaws too many times.
By far the most memorable occasion was out in Charleston Harbor.  We were just on our way back from buzzing around Fort Sumter (the starting point of the Civil War).  We had been (boating?  driving?  floating?) for a few minutes when Captain Jim stopped the boat: he had spotted dolphins.  A pod of dolphins was swimming around our boat.  None of them got closer than twenty-five or so feet, but that was still pretty close!  We knocked on the side of the boat to try to draw them closer, as dolphins are very curious, like the polar bear, but nothing doing.  They stayed nearby our boat for awhile, and they didn't seem to be hunting or anything, so my guess is that they were probably curious, but a little nervous about getting too close.  Or perhaps they were getting close, and we just couldn't see them under the water!  Or, perhaps they were just, as today's urban youth says, "Chillin'." 
Another shot of the dolphin dorsal fin
Later on, we went to an excellent restaurant called "The Crab Shack" (scroll down to the "Alligator" part of the post), and they had a small display of local fossils.  I took a picture of a few of the more interesting ones, seen below.
Dolphin vertebrae
A whale bone

These large bones help the whales to "see" via echolocation at the deeper, darker levels of the ocean, where seeing with your eyes is virtually impossible without massive eyes, like those seen in the giant squid.
On our last two nights of our vacation, we stayed at a little place called Tybee Island, near Savannah, Georgia.  On one of those days, we joined a local ecologist named Dr. Joe Richardson on an ecology tour.  It was a lot of fun, and I hope to devote a post to him and his tour later on.  Also on the island was a small museum, called the "Tybee Island Marine Science Center" (TIMSC), which was also very cool.  I know for a fact that I will have at least one post later on about an amusing incident that took place at the center, and probably mention it in passing a few times as well.  But for now, all you need to know is that they had a few bones of a sperm whale that had washed up on the beach there a few years back, I think perhaps in 2002.  Take a look below!
Sperm whale bone, I don't remember what bone this was.  If anyone has any idea, shoot me an email! 
Sperm whale ribs
Sperm whale vertebrae
Finally, on our last night there, we stopped at a small shop.  I had gone down to South Carolina in the hopes of nabbing a Megalodon tooth or two (I know you're tired of hearing this, but a later post!) but I had been foiled.  I did find a couple of really cool fossils, including other sharks teeth, a few fossils belonging to stingrays, as well as a fossilized horse molar!  A lot of what I have is unidentified at this point, but I will keep you posted as I find out more.  But I decided to buy two whale bones at this fossil shop, and below are two pictures.  The Rupee is there for comparison.
Fossil whale vertebrae

Fossil whale bone, I believe it to be a jawbone.
This post is part of "The Fauna of South Carolina" series.  For the rest of the posts in this series, click HERE.

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