Dolphins spotted off Boston Harbor

OLYMPIA – One or two long-beaked common dolphins have been cruising the marine waters near Olympia since early June, the first sighting of this species in Puget Sound, a marine mammal scientist said Monday.

In the eastern Pacific Ocean, this warm water species typically is found about 50 miles off the coast from Baja California to central California, noted Annie Douglas, a biologist with the Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia, a marine mammal research group.

“These sightings are very unusual — this species of dolphin has never been recorded within the Puget Sound,” she said.

Waterfront residents, beachgoers and boaters have reported one or two dolphins swimming, feeding and approaching boats along a stretch of shoreline from Boston Harbor to Thurston County’s Burfoot Park for the past three weeks, she said.

Olympia resident Angela Mortinson spotted a dolphin offshore while visiting Burfoot Park at low tide Sunday afternoon.

“It came out of the water many times,” she said in an email sent to The Olympian.

While the health and survival chances of the dolphins are not clear, they are subtropical mammals that typically travel in large numbers and inhabit water that is warmer than South Sound, Douglas said.

Photographs show one of the dolphins with minor skin sloughing and algae growth, which is a sign of lower water salinity than the dolphins are accustomed to, Douglas said. The skin irritations could lead to more skin infections, she said.

“We’re not sure if these dolphins can survive here,” she said.

The survival odds for subtropical marine mammal species in South Sound aren’t good. Since January 2010, two Bryde’s whales and a single bottlenose dolphin have washed ashore dead in South Sound after being spotted here.

Long-beaked common dolphins average about 6 feet to 8.5 feet in length and weigh up to 500 pounds.

Their appearance features a distinctly long beak and complex color patterns, including gray-to-black from the top of the head to tail, extending in a “V” below the dorsal fin. The flanks are yellowish-tan in front of the dorsal fin and light gray behind it. A dark stripe runs from beneath the eye to the pectoral fin.

They feed on small schooling fish and squid and travel in groups of hundreds and even thousands. Aerial acrobatics and breaching behavior are common.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444