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The Story of P.J.
P.J. is a Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin, animal #179 in the Pacific Whale Foundation's spinner dolphin catalog. Kelly Burke of California lovingly named P.J. in honor of her mom, Patsy Jo Burke, who passed a major hurdle in her fight against cancer in September 2012. Kelly was inspired to name a spinner dolphin for her mother due to the dolphins' playful nature, their apparent dedication to the family unit, and obvious love for the waters of Hawai'i as displayed by leaping and spinning with joie de vivre - just like her mother!
Known among scientists as Stenella longirostrus, spinner dolphins earn their name meaning "long nose/rostrum" (longirostrus). Researchers use similar photographs of the right and left dorsal fin and lateral body for photo-identification (photo-id) of dolphins. P.J.'s dorsal fin has a "notch" about half way down the trailing edge. This creates a unique identification profile used to match P.J. against our catalog of known individuals. This type of "mark and recapture" work through photo-id and subsequent matching enables researchers to learn about movement patterns, population abundance, group structure, site fidelity and more (Würsig and Jefferson, 1990). The Pacific Whale Foundation spinner dolphin catalog contains 293 identified individuals from the last 16 years.
P.J. is an individual known to our research team from several encounters. While most of these re-sights have taken place in summer months and in a relatively confined area (between east Lana'i and west Maui), this reflects our research efforts and not the range of wild spinner dolphins. Our research logs from 1999 indicate four encounters with P.J. from February through July. In all cases P.J. was reported doing what you would expect from a Hawai'ian spinner dolphin: traveling slowly within a pod during the mid-day hours within a few miles of shore. As a nocturnal species feeding in deep waters at night, spinner dolphins are observed quiescently congregating in shallow rest areas during daylight hours (Norris and Dohl, 1980).
A sighting of P.J. in 1998 documented something significant in the life history of this spinner dolphin - she is a mom! Spinner dolphin calves are approximately 80 cm in length at birth, with females estimated to give birth approximately every three years (Larese et al. 2009). Perhaps the next time we see P.J. she will have another calf with her!
We are grateful to Kelly Burke for honoring an important person in her life while supporting Pacific Whale Foundation's ongoing wild dolphin research.