From the start, we were unsure of how much data we could collect today. The skies were gray over the Kona Coast and the winds were already picking up as we left the harbor. Luckily, we spotted dolphins quickly, just outside of Makako Bay, around 7:30am. We could see the arc of dorsal fins skimming the surface, so we planned to start a focal follow – recording the dolphins’ behavior continuously so we can assess any patterns we may find. We got all of our paperwork and cameras ready, took our respective positions around the boat, and started the timers. But then, the dolphins were gone. They would appear on one side of our boat, then dive down, and reappear one or two minutes later, somewhere in the distance. After about ten minutes, we had to call off the start of our first focal follow because when we finally resighted the dolphins, they were too far in the distance to observe efficiently.
Then, it occurred to us – they are actually resting. It was the first time all of the team members could confidently say so. During a typical focal follow, the researchers are shouting behaviors to the recorder so quickly that is often difficult to keep up. The boat moves in parallel with dolphins as we take photos, GPS coordinates, and behavior logs. Some of the group is usually visible and active at all times. Today, all eighty that we estimated in the group had vanished. They were synchronized in their breathing and were diving, all together, for much longer than usual. On previous focal follows, we thought the groups may be resting, but then a few would leap and spin, and the group would move rapidly and sporadically around the boats that were in the bay. This morning, no one was there but the sleeping dolphins and our research vessel.
As per our protocol, we have observed the dolphins for hours on each of the seven days we have been on the water. This is the first time any of us had witnessed real rest. The synchronous activity, the long diving intervals, we had not seen any of it before. How often can the dolphins get the amount of rest they actually need? If they were not disturbed, would the dolphins rest this way each morning? With the current standards for tourism, it is hard to say.