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Pregnancy is a drag for bottlenose dolphins
Date:11/23/2011

nd realised that the pregnancy had a colossal impact, increasing their frontal surface area by an enormous 51%. And when Noren measured the drag experienced by the animals as they glided through the water, she discovered that it doubled when the mothers were close to delivery.

The pregnant dolphins also had another problem: their increased fat stores in preparation for lactation had also increased their buoyancy. 'The buoyancy issue is going to be problematic when you are going down on a dive to capture prey and they are going to need extra energy to overcome that buoyant force', says Noren. So, pregnancy had a dramatic effect on the dolphin's hydrodynamics, but had it changed their swimming style? Did the pregnant dolphins move with a different gait?

Manually digitising the position of the animals' flukes (tail fins) as they beat up and down, Noren discovered that the pregnant females were unable to sweep their flukes as far as they could after birth. They had reduced the amplitude of their tail beat by 13% and they compensated for the reduced propulsion by beating their flukes faster. The pregnant dolphins had changed gait.

Having found how pregnancy affects soon-to-be dolphin mothers, Noren outlines the additional risks that the females face. Unable to outrun predators, heavily pregnant dolphins are more vulnerable to attack and they may not be able to keep up with the pod if pursued by fishing vessels. Explaining that tuna are still fished using massive nets in the eastern tropical Pacific, Noren says, 'Here is a fast speed event, so it is possible the near term pregnant females are being left behind in the chase. They are reliant on a large pod for protection and cooperative feeding and once the animal is separated it would be hard for it to find the pod again.'


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Contact: Kathryn Knight
kathryn@biologists.com
44-787-634-4333
The Company of Biologists
Source:Eurekalert

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