Kendra Miluu Leidich celebrated her 50th & 51st Scuba dives on Sunday April 11 with family and friends. After enjoying encounters with a Feather Tail Stingray at Short Drop-Off and a Leopard Shark at Ngerchong, she asked her dad if they could search for whales on the boat ride home. With a smile, Captain Jefferson Nestor set a course for the deep-water trench-line off of Palau’s eastern reefs. With large flocks Mechadelbedaoch and Ochaieu feeding at the surface, chances were good that whales would be found.
Dive Master Macstyl Sasao was the first to spot dorsal fins, which appeared to be a bit too large for the resident spinner dolphins. The delighted crew had stumbled across a pod of several hundred Melon Headed Whales. These wary “Black Fish” can be quite shy, so the crew maintained a respectable distance, while taking photos with a telephoto lens. After only a few minutes with the beautiful cetaceans Miluu yelled “dolphins,” and the chase was on. Hundreds of muscular dolphins were leaping out of the water in a wild frenzy, less than one mile from the Melon Headed Whales.
The distinctive jumping behavior was unlike anything the veteran whale watchers had seen before. The dolphins were leaping out of the water in unison, in perfectly timed choreography. As the speed boat approached, the dolphins raced towards the bow and immediately began surfing the wake. The dolphins were now within touching distance and everyone immediately noticed that they were different. The dolphins’ noses (rostrum) were ridiculously short and the body weight was more than twice that of the resident spinners. Each cetacean had especially large eyes and a white stripe running down the length of their body. Their bellies were bright pink, which is a sign that they’d been swimming at full speed.
These could only be the excessively rare Fraser’s Dolphins. Discovered in Sarawak in 1895 with a single washed up specimen, the species had not been seen alive until 1971! Even today, they are one of the most enigmatic and least understood of all the oceanic dolphin species. This encounter marks a new record for the species in Palau, bringing our total of known cetaceans (whales & dolphins) to 24 species.
Why have are they shown up for the first time now? Could this mark an exciting new beginning for Palau’s National Marine Sanctuary? It’s quite possible that the expulsion of the commercial long liners has resulted in less noise pollution for the cetaceans as well as more food for the whales and dolphins. With a cleaner, safer, ocean, perhaps rare species such as the Fraser’s Dolphin will become a common sight in the R.O.P. Kendra Miluu Leidich and all dolphin lovers think that the Palau National Marine Sanctuary is a really good idea.
11-year-old Palauan girl discovers
new species of dolphin in PNMS