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Soooo many dolphins!
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Friday, 25 July 2014 15:52

BIM14_T30_SfCalfIt was another exciting day on the water for DCP researchers! Kel and the Parallax Film Productions crew got an early start. During a swim break, we were visited by a group of at least 10 spotted dolphins. We hopped in the water quickly and were pleased that two mother/calf pairs stuck around: Lil' Jess (#35) and her female calf and un-named #70 and hers. We thought that Lil’ Jess looked suspiciously plump – maybe she is pregnant again! Soon, this foursome was interrupted by a group of at least 8 dolphins, who appeared to be mainly adult males, including Lumpy (#17) and un-named #24 and #75. Later, after spending some time filming in deeper water, Kel and crew encountered the same group of spotted dolphins, plus a few new additions, including Speedy (#78) and Prince William (#64). As if that wasn't enough excitement, we also saw two bottlenose dolphins on our way back to the dock.

Meanwhile, interns Amy, Alexis, and Lauren headed out for an afternoon dolphin trip. The ocean was almost as placid as a lake and shining blue, with clear skies overhead, so we had high hopes of seeing dolphins! At 16:00 we were rewarded by the sight of four crater-feeding bottlenose dolphins who came to ride the bow for a minute, letting us get a close-up view. Then, at 17:38, we were approached by two spotted dolphins wishing to lazily ride the bow. Similar to our experience yesterday, we discovered that when we tried to join the dolphins in the water they swam away but as soon as the boat's engines cranked up, they were back at the bow! Apparently they thought the boat was more fun than us! We had a series of similarly brief encounters with these and a few other spotted dolphins. At 18:50 we spied two bottlenose dolphins crater feeding. We observed them for a few minutes, but the sun was sinking low in the sky so we decided to start heading in. On our way, we cruised right into a new group of at least 20 spotted dolphins. Not wanting to pass by such a large group, we slid into the water for one last snorkeling attempt. This time, happily, the dolphins didn't ditch us right away, so we had the chance to snap a few photos. One calf (pictured) was particularly playful, zipping circles around Amy while whistling and releasing a bubble stream from its blow hole. This was an exciting conclusion to a very eventful day!

Thanks to Bimini Adventures (and their guests!) for all the great boat time!

 

Cowabunga pals ,
Amy, Alexis, Lauren, & Kel

 
Dolphins everywhere!
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Friday, 25 July 2014 15:37

BIM14_T28_CalfOn Wednesday, Kel departed with Bimini Adventures' first boat just before 1300. The sun was shining, but there was a solid chop to the sea. Still, the crew was optimistic that their patience was going to pay off. Several hours later, optimism was fading! As happens, time and time again, the dolphins show us who is boss – and we saw a group of spotteds near the interns and Bimini Adventures’ second boat! We confirmed 7 spotteds near us, including an adult, a younger sub-adult (possibly Speedy, #78), a juvenile – who will soon be entered into our catalog, and four other young dolphins. The young dolphins came very close to the Parallax cameraman and showed him some great social, tactile behaviors as the adult seemed to hover off to the side. Soon after it was a crater feeding extravaganza with bottlenose dolphins, all the while we could see the second boat with the interns…
 
After just an hour of searching Lauren, Amy, and Alexis found a group of around 15 spotted dolphins! We quickly went into the water and although most of the group didn’t stick around long, we still interacted with dolphins for over an hour! All of the interns agree that the dolphins were in a strange mood today, as they all were in a very lackadaisical state. Four of the dolphins stayed near the bow almost the entire time, clearly wanting to bow ride by slapping its fluke at us! We were able to snap a few pictures, but they seemed more interested in the bow of the boat. Suddenly we saw a group of around 10 bottlenose dolphins crater feeding and even saw a dolphin leap after a jumping fish! The water was too deep to collect data, so we decided to leave the dolphins and head back home. We were all very excited to have such an eventful day!
 
Peace out, 
Lauren, Alexis, Amy, & Kel

 
Ohhh dolphins, where are you???
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 14:57

 

BIM14_T26_Bowriding64_22_78Tuesday was a day full of dolphin trips! Kel departed around 13:00 with Bimini Adventures. Even though Kel and crew stayed out until almost 18:00, they unfortunately didn’t see any dolphins. Though that was a bit of a bummer, spirits are still high as this crew has a few more days on the boat.
 
The intern trio also had a boat trip (with Bimini Adventures, as well), which left around 15:00. Aside from seeing a sea turtle and a shark swimming above a small reef, they were off to a similar start: where were the dolphins? But then, after the boat had already turned around and started heading back toward Bimini, Alexis spotted a group of four bottlenose dolphins at 17:59. They seemed to be sticking around, so we jumped in the water for a very quick encounter. We were surprised to see the bottlenose not crater feeding, but rather in a group social ball which involved a lot of pectoral fin and body rubbing. The encounter was brief (but exciting) as the animals were much less interested in us and moving fairly quickly. Almost an hour after we first saw the bottlenose, a group of four spotted dolphins (including 2 very small calves) came swimming right up to the bow of the boat. We once again geared up and hopped in for another very quick encounter. Like before, the dolphins seemed less interested in us and more interested in getting a free ride from the wake of the boat, so we jumped back onboard. Luckily for us, the dolphins were still very interested in bow riding and along with three additional spotted dolphins, rode the bow of the boat for over 15 minutes. We saw some familiar spots in this group including those of, Split Jaw (#22), Speedy (#78), and Prince William (#64, all pictured here). It seemed as though the boys were having a bit of a joy ride this afternoon! Eventually all the dolphins left and we continued on our way toward home. Off in the distance captain Audley spotted a few dolphins (likely bottlenose), but as it was getting late we continued home to shore.
 
Both Kel and the interns have more dolphin trips tomorrow, so hopefully we will both come back with exciting news of dolphin sightings and encounters!
 
Catch ya on the flipside,
Lauren, Amy, Alexis, & Kel

 
So, about that rain coat…
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 01:49

BIM14_21JulyMonday began with odds and ends as Kel prepped for a boat trip with Bimini Adventures and Parallax Film Productions. The boat departed at 1245 with storm clouds looming. We were hopeful that the storms would miss us and the dolphins would be plentiful, but neither was the case! Still, it was an exciting day of filming for the crew; as we searched for dolphins, they spotted a large loggerhead turtle. Quickly the cameraman was in the water, not expecting much. Boy was he surprised! This turtle came so close, filming was actually a challenge. The observation was so long that Captain Al actually had to call the crew back to the boat – the storm was closing in. It was quite possibly the wetness ride back toward Bimini we’ve ever experienced, but going slow and steady we knew we were safe with Al. After the rain cleared, we made another loop in search of dolphins, but only saw a lone and elusive bottlenose.  

Meanwhile, Alexis & Amy worked on data processing (including still photos from our boat trips last week and videologs from 2012) while Lauren (our newest intern in Bimini) was in transit, on her way to join us. Amy and Alexis anxiously awaited her arrival and greeted her as she got off the water taxi! Lauren arrived safe and sound, but with a few hiccups, as she almost missed her flight and had to throw out a few items in order to get her bags through security, including all of her sunscreen!

Lauren settled into Bimini life quickly and was excited to hear about a surprise boat trip planned with Bimini Undersea. Unfortunately, a pretty bad squall came through which canceled that trip (the same squall Kel was stuck in), so instead the interns introduced Lauren to the data processing side of field research in Bimini. 

Since the interns’ boat trip was canceled, we were able to attend a town meeting with some Bahamian environmental figures including a representative from BREEF, BNT, Waterkeeper Alliance, and The Nature Conservancy. This meeting was to discuss the proposal of turning the Bimini mangroves into a marine reserve (aka, Marine Protected Area or MPA). We enjoyed hearing about the conservation and development issues from a scientific standpoint, as well as from tourists/return tourists who deeply care about Bimini and the health and future of the local ecosystem.

 

Until next time,
Lauren, Amy, Alexis, & Kel

 

 
A land-based day of dolphin chats and data entry
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Saturday, 19 July 2014 02:41

 

Friday morning we spoke to a group of high school students visiting Bimini on a field trip. Although it was an early start for many of them, you could tell they were ready and eager to listen. Kel began by discussing DCP and our research focusing on the dolphins around Bimini. Amy and Alexis helped with discussing the various ways to identify individuals and answering a few of the students’ questions. At the end of the talk we had a very lively discussion on the proper ways to swim with wild dolphins. We discussed the difference between chasing and swimming alongside the animals, as well as being respectful and not touching the dolphins. Thank you to the group for allowing us to come in and chat with you!

After our talk, Amy and Alexis went for a grocery run. For those that don’t know, groceries are shipped to Bimini from Florida once a week; so you have to go soon after the shipment arrives (usually Thursdays) if you want the good stuff! Once we gathered everything we needed, we headed back to the house to unpack our food and start some data processing. We worked on identifying still photos of the spotted dolphins and entering sightings data from our boat trips earlier this week. We also spent some time IDing dolphins for the 2012 video log. Did she just say 2012…? Yep, we are a bit behind with so much data and not enough hours in the day to get caught up, but we are hoping to make a pretty serious dent in the catch up game! Wish us luck!

Later gators,
Amy, Alexis, & Kel

 
A dolphin-filled day without dolphins
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Friday, 18 July 2014 15:25

 

BIM14_SheddHSMB2Thursday began with a DCP presentation to a new group of students aboard the Coral Reef II for Shedd Aquarium’s High School Marine Biology Program. Kel presented a PowerPoint while Alexis and Amy chimed in to answer questions and share their experiences. It was an engaging group of students full of thoughtful questions and smart ideas. The discussion ranged from what we know about dolphin interspecies interactions to the frequency of shark attacks in Bimini to how we might study dolphin personality to the meaning of pectoral fin contact between dolphins. What a positive way to start the morning! Thank you to everyone involved for inviting us.

Sadly our afternoon boat trip with Bimini Adventures was postponed due to another bout of stormy weather. When we finally left the dock at 17:00, we only had time for a short trip out to the undersea ruins of “Bimini Road” for a passenger snorkel. We hoped we might see dolphins on the way, but no such luck. We’ll wish for better success next time!

Cowabunga dudes,
Amy, Alexis, & Kel

 
Wind, white caps, and rain…oh my!
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Friday, 18 July 2014 15:01

BIM14_T22_stormcloudsWednesday’s adventures began with a nice talk with the guests of Bimini Adventures. We met with the group around 1300 and discussed DCP, the dolphin population around Bimini, and the research conducted. Kel led the chat; while Amy and Alexis assisted with answering the many fantastic questions we were asked. It was wonderful discussing things that everyone in the room seemed so curious and passionate about. Thanks to this group for their support!

A little later we prepared for our boat trip, which left at its usual 15:00 start time, but this time we were lucky enough to have Kel join us on the boat! With a windy morning, the seas were a bit choppier than we have had the past few days, but nothing, not even a few waves could stop us; or so we thought. Although the waves didn’t pose a problem and actually calmed down the longer we were on the boat, a storm (pictured here) was looming off in the distance potentially threatening our trip. We managed to stay out for almost 2 full hours before captains Al and Audley decided it was time to turn in and make it back to shore before the storm hit the island. At that point we had yet to see any dolphins, but were hopeful that we may spot a few on the way back. Unfortunately, the dolphins never appeared for us. Instead we took a brief swim break to allow everyone to cool off and enjoy some good old fashion swim time, then headed back to shore just as the rain drops started falling.

Hopefully tomorrow we will have more cooperative weather and lots of dolphins!!!

Sayonara muchachos,
Amy, Alexis, & Kel

 
Our spotted wish came true!
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 14:16

 

BIM14_T21_SfsAfter two exciting days of bottlenose dolphin encounters, it almost looked as though we’d have to stay inside today; a thunderstorm struck us in the hour before our scheduled boat trip. Magically, the sun came out just in the nick of time, and we headed out on calm seas to search for dolphins. An hour into our trip, at 16:14, we spied three spotted dolphins immediately ahead of us. As we approached, the three adult dolphins raced to ride the wake of our bow. Alexis recognized Split Jaw (#22, pictured here) among them. It was cool to see how much he’d changed since she’d seen him last, and even cooler that she still knew him! As we observed them from the surface, the dolphins stuck close to the boat, appearing to invite us for a swim. We jumped into the water expecting a leisurely encounter with just three dolphins, but once underwater we were delighted to discover a new group of at least 20 spotted dolphins joining us! In an instant we were surrounded by spotted dolphins - yesterday’s wish come true! As we observed them, we saw a lone bottlenose dolphin in their midst, who unsuccessfully tried to mate with a few spotteds (they’d have none of it!). The dolphins were in a playful mood, with one young spotted dolphin even leaping exuberantly into the air during our swim. With such a large group, we had ample chance to observe behavioral interactions. We documented jawing and tail slaps, but also observed dolphins swimming side-by-side with their pectoral fins overlapping as if holding hands. We stayed with this group, which included Prince William (#64) and Speedy (#78), for nearly two hours before the weather finally caught up with us and we were forced to turn in.

Never mind the threatening weather, we’re grateful for a perfect day on (and in) the water!

Cowabunga Dudes,

Amy, Alexis & Kel

 
Calm Seas & Curious Dolphins
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Tuesday, 15 July 2014 19:32

 

BIM14_T20_TtMonday was the second day on the water for the summer interns and the conditions were perfect (calm and beautiful). We headed out of the Sea Crest a little after 15:00 and were about to take a gear check/snorkel stop for some of our new guests, when all of a sudden we saw a single bottlenose dolphin surfacing in between crater feeding spurts at the bottom of the ocean. Alexis managed to take a few surface photographs of the dolphin’s dorsal fin while the gear check commenced. Once the passengers were back on board we headed out in pursuit of a livelier bunch of dolphins! Almost an hour and a half later we spotted a group of approximately 10 bottlenose dolphins that seemed to be sticking around for us. Once geared up, we headed in to a fairly social and interactive group. We were able to have 2 encounters with these dolphins allowing Amy and Alexis to take underwater video, underwater still photographs and above water still photographs! The dolphins seemed more curious than normal coming very close and swimming in and out of our group. We spotted 2 relatively young individuals and what looked like an attempted nursing event (which Alexis thinks she may have gotten on video)! After a while the dolphins seemed less interested in us, so we hopped back on the boat and headed back toward Bimini hoping we may see some more along the way. We were almost back, when all of a sudden Alexis spotted 2-3 dolphins surfacing in the distance. Unfortunately it was getting late and the sun was going down, so we continued heading in.

Today was a great day. Now, Amy is praying to get an encounter with some spotteds tomorrow! Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Over and out,
Alexis, Amy & Kel

 
Time to get wet!
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Monday, 14 July 2014 19:53

 

BIM14_T19_Tt w spotsOn Sunday, Alexis and Amy eagerly boarded DCP’s boat for our first boat trip of the season! Only 20 minutes into the trip, we encountered a group of 15-20 bottlenose dolphins, including at least 3 calves. We hopped into the water and found that they were crater feeding on the sandy bottom, with a nurse shark lurking nearby (hoping for a handout, no doubt!). Although busy searching for food, the dolphins were inquisitive when surfacing, swimming within a foot of us and checking out our equipment with their eyes and sonar. We saw several distinctive individuals, including one with a stubby pectoral fin. We swam with them for about 20 minutes before returning to the boat to let them focus on their hunt for food.

At 18:20 we suddenly had 10 spotted dolphins riding our bow, including three calves. It was Amy’s first time seeing spotted dolphins, and she happily snapped photos from the bow, surprised by how small they were in comparison to the bottlenose dolphins we’d seen. Unfortunately the spotted dolphins didn’t stick around for long, so we weren’t able to get into the water to confirm identities.
After the boat trip, we headed back to the computers to check out the underwater photos from our swim with the bottlenose dolphins; Amy was relieved to find that she had taken usable shots as it had been her first time using an underwater camera. Here, you can see how many spots this bottlenose dolphin has! We're off to a good start and can’t wait to see what tomorrow’s boat trip brings. Hopefully our next group of spotted dolphins will allow us to join them for a swim!

Cowabunga Dudes,
Amy, & Alexis

 
A busy day off the water
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Tuesday, 08 July 2014 01:29

 

BIM14_InternsDay1Although most of our field reports from Bimini revolve around boat trips searching for and observing dolphins, Monday was packed with land activities. The day began with a visit by Kel to the Coral Reef II (Shedd Aquarium). Kel visited with the first round of High School Marine Biology program participants and despite the early hour, the students were full of fantastic questions and insights. It was a struggle to wrap up after 90 minutes – we probably could have talked about dolphins all day! A huge thanks goes to the students as well as their instructors and, as always, the great boat crew.

Meanwhile, two of DCP’s 2014 summer interns were on their way south. It was Alexis’ and Amy’s first day in Bimini. For Alexis it was her first day back since August 2011 and boy was she happy to return to this beautiful little island. This was Amy’s very first time to The Bahamas, let alone Bimini, so today was an exciting day full of new sights and sounds. For both, the day began very early (3:40 and 4:20 am) leaving PA and NJ, respectively. We both arrived safe and sound to Florida; unfortunately Amy’s luggage did not seem to make the journey. Nonetheless, we met up at the airport and boarded our puddle jumper plane to Bimini. We were greeted on the island by a quick, but fierce, rain storm that passed, and then Kel and Miles! Once we settled into our new digs we began assembling brand spanking new intern bikes, yippee! Kel then briefed us on all the exciting tasks we have for the next few weeks. We ended the day with a delicious leftover dinner with Kel and Miles, followed by a beautiful sunset in our backyard! Aside from misplaced luggage, it has been a great start and we are super excited for the next few days!

Over and out,
Kel, Alexis & Amy

 
Mixed species show!
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Thursday, 26 June 2014 03:09

 

BIM14_T17_MixedSpOn Wednesday, I was thrilled to be headed into the dolphin grounds after so many days off the boat. Bimini Adventures had a group of ten and their smiling faces and good attitudes had us really hoping for a great day. The sun was shining and the breeze was just right….but, where were the dolphins? Oh, there they are!

We saw some biiiiig splashing and a few minutes later we reached a group of six dolphins: 2 bottlenose and 4 spotted. The two male bottlenose were in calm pursuit of the spotteds, giving us great views of their interactions at the surface. When the spotteds weren’t directly interacting with the bottlenose, they were bowriding. The group was moving too swiftly for an underwater observation, so we enjoyed the show from the boat. Soon, it was time to head back and the guests took this opportunity to give a dolphin swim a shot. They were not disappointed as the dolphins came right up to each of them!

A great day for some great guests!

Until next time,
Kel

 
Goodbye SHU
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Thursday, 26 June 2014 02:45

 

I find myself ready for a break after our field courses, as just about anyone would. But as I say goodbye to the students (and professors!), I mean it when I say I wish they weren’t going. Can’t we all just take a day off and then have the class start right up again?

I must extend a huge thank you to Dr. Yeater and her students. This group stayed focused and excited throughout their entire 12 night course. You were a pleasure to have and even though I might need a new hard drive just to store all the photos and videos you took (oh, what an awful problem!), I do hope each and every one of you had a positive experience. Our course wrapped up with a beach clean-up, free time to explore Bimini, a final photo-ID session, a dock-side BBQ with fellow hotel guests and a stop at Sherry’s Beach Bar. A fantastic finale to a fantastic course.

Until next time,
Kel

 
The last best day ever
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Thursday, 26 June 2014 02:42

 

On Friday, we discussed eco-tourism, including the benefits of helping people connect with the environment and animals, but that regulations must be in place (and enforced) to minimize the negative impacts. We reflected on how we have behaved as eco-tourists during this course. We realized how we all need to be reminded about our impacts; we are all interested and aware (and interested in becoming more aware), so as a group we are already interested in reducing our impact. For others, who may not be conscious of the environment while they travel, getting them to care may be more difficult. In addition to the environment, it is important to consider the impact on the local community and how your tourism can, and should, benefit them.  We looked to the scientific literature and learned about short and long-term effects of dolphin watching boats on certain bottlenose dolphins. We can use research to inform policy makers so that regulations are scientifically informed.

Then it was time to get out of the classroom for a bit and we headed to the Bimini Museum. We divided into three teams and went on a fact-finding mission. It is a quaint little museum, but it really is filled with a lot of local history. Some of the signs were in need of repair, but it was very informative. Next it was lunch – baked potatoes! – then a 1400 boat departure.

Our boat trip began with bottlenose dolphins. But, we decided to only observe them for a couple of minutes as we knew boats had been observing them all morning. We could tell just from the boat that there was at least one individual that we had already seen. Next, we made our way to the snorkel stop…the boat began to slow and we thought, “Oh, why are we stopping in the middle of nowhere?” It was an “ocean donut” – The Hesperus. This old barge sits on the sea floor with tons of fish! This artificial reef was a popular spot for barracuda and a few lionfish. At the edges of the sand, we saw a nurse shark and more southern stingrays. There were ocean triggerfish and of course, the wreck itself. We returned to the boat and headed home, keeping our eyes out for dolphins on the way. Aaaaand….off Bimini, we saw another group of bottlenose! This group of at least 11 bottlenose were busy traveling north. We didn’t get in the water, but hey, that’s research. We still got photo-ID photos and saw chin-slapping and side breaching. And after so many dolphins all course, we’re all happy!

Back on shore, we enjoyed (really, enjoyed) an authentic Bahamian dinner cooked by Ms. Stephie. Baked chicken, mac n cheese and peas n rice…mmmmm. We ended the night with a fun film, “We Bought A Zoo.” We should have bought tissues for this emotional rollercoaster, but the challenges surrounding animals in captivity and the message of enriching the lives of those animals fit well with previous course discussion.

Thanks for following,
“Cetacean Nation” (SHU 2014)

 
A beautiful day brings the sharks and rays to play!
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Thursday, 26 June 2014 02:23

 

BIM14_103Thursday our day began in its typical fashion, with breakfast and a class session. We did our field report and then suddenly it was time to make our lunches. We had to make our lunch early because we had a picnic lunch on the boat! We departed at 11:00 a.m. and headed south to Triangle Rocks. On the way, we even got to see a group of dolphins, most likely bottlenose, but not confirmed. Here got a briefing – which scared some of us! – before putting “chum” in the water for Caribbean reef sharks, and a few sharpnose sharks! Some of us were so scared at first, and for others, we found ourselves more calm once we were actually in the water in the sharks. The sharks distracted some of us from our buddy system, while others found ourselves glued to our buddies. Some of us saw a very large spotted eagle ray and our first remoras, some free swimming and some attached to the sharks. We all stayed together, behind the anchor line, with our captain assuring us that we’d be “fine” as long as we stayed behind this imaginary line. We’re not sure the sharks got that message! After the sharks took a bite of their snacks, they would swim by and check us out. There were at least 8-10 reef sharks, plus the sharpnose sharks. At the end of our swim, with all of us back on the boat, Captain Al gave us all a good look as he tied bait to a line and manipulated where the sharks would pursue it.

Back on the boat, we all enjoyed our lunches on the way to Honeymoon Harbour, a section of Gun Cay. We hopped into the water fin-free, but quickly realized that we were all more comfortable with our fins. So, with those on our feet, we had lots of time to feed the southern stingrays. They are so “friendly,” especially the very large one. As we fed them squid, some rays were efficient at getting them, while others weren’t so great at it! At one point, a fish stole squid right out of our hands! We were impressed at how smooth the rays’ skin is – and they came close enough we had lots of chances to touch them. For us, this was a great experiential learning opportunity. We did not even know we were going to be able to have this experience and for some of us, it was outside our comfort zone and some of us came away saying it was a favorite element of the course!

On the way home, we saw dolphins – again! This time, it was definitely bottlenose dolphins. There were at least five to eight, but they were scattered so it was hard to get a good count and it is very likely there were more. We got some photos and could already tell that some of the dolphins were the same individuals that we had seen the day before! Our captains let us watch from the boat for a while, before we really headed for home. Or not, because then we saw a huge loggerhead turtle! Captain Al estimated this turtle weighed 300 lbs! After this, we headed home. Really.

Back in class we discussed interspecific interactions, specifically between bottlenose and Atlantic spotted dolphins in The Bahamas. Then, to wrap up our exciting day, we got to be the ones who added ID#103 to DCP’s spotted dolphin photo-ID catalog (pictured here)! From watching video, we confirmed that this calf is a female; it will take more observations to determine who its mother is.

What will our last boat trip, tomorrow, bring?
“Cetacean Nation” (SHU 2014)

 
Experiencing culture…and discussing dolphin culture
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Wednesday, 18 June 2014 02:06

 

BIM14_Tx_4Jun_TtOn Wednesday morning, we discussed last night’s film and dolphin cognition. There is great research that is ongoing, but many questions remain unanswered. What is the importance of self-recognition? Do dolphins have Theory of Mind? We caught up on other readings as well, including “sponging” by dolphins which may be an element of culture. The specific tool use is currently passed down through matrilineal lines (vertical transmission of culture!). We found it interesting that it is the females who show this behavior. Other readings included DCP’s research into pectoral fin contact and other work on coefficients of association among female spotted dolphins.

After class, we got away from dolphin discussions and got to see the island and experience some of its culture. We toured all of gigantic Bimini aboard the Bimini Tram. With Lorrick as our guide, we passed the goats, a golf cart repair “shop,” and the local baseball field. Along the way Lorrick shared Bimini facts, including that several young Biminites were recently drafted to Major League Baseball teams. We saw Resorts World Bimini’s property and now have a better sense of the development that we have been referencing all week. We stopped at the Porgy Bay Park playground while we waited for Stuart’s Conch Stand to open. The empty conch shells were used to create a pen for live conch. In order to catch the conch, a fisherman gets towed behind a small boat, diving down when they swim over the conch. We didn’t know that conch have pearls and we tried our hand at getting the conch out of their shells (harder than it looks!). Some of us were brave enough to eat the conch pistol before trying the conch salad we came for. Then it was back aboard the tram to Sea Crest.

After a late lunch, we headed on the boat. We have had such great success so far, we told ourselves that we couldn’t expect that every day. Aaaaaand – we saw both species! At 16:45, we saw 2 young Atlantic spotteds. The group size quickly grew to 9 individuals, including 2 calves. It looked like there were only two adults, likely the two mothers. There was a lot of pectoral fin rubbing and petting (perhaps some tactile communication!). Under water, we saw a calf with a big, dark mark across the right side of its face. We’ll look at the video Kel recorded, and the photos and video we all took, soon. Some of the dolphins were playing with sargassum, including carrying it on their flukes. There were tassel barnacles on some of their flukes –something we had just discussed in class. We are all getting the lingo down and translating what we learn in class to observations in the field. Some of us saw a barracuda near the dolphins and a school of small fish. There was active rubbing from one juvenile’s pec fin to another’s genital region: perhaps an example of socio-sexual play.

On the ride back to shore, we all were starting to get pretty comfortable, enjoying our ride. Suddenly, Dr. Yeater called out, “Dolphins!” At first we thought it would just be a handful of bottlenose dolphins, but the group size was soon at least 13. They were on the move, traveling north. We turned around to follow them and collect dorsal fin photos for ID work. There were a lot of distinctive fins and we saw synchronous swimming (surfacing and diving). One was “chuffing” – a loud exhale, displacing water. The dolphins were surfacing with a beautiful evening sky as their backdrop. It was a nice surprise finale to the boat trip!

At dinner, we got to try another local take on conch, cracked conch. It was nice to try more local cuisine!

What will tomorrow bring?
“Cetacean Nation” (SHU 2014)

 
Bottlenose Buddies
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Wednesday, 18 June 2014 01:49

 

BIM14_TX_3Jun_TtWe’ve become accustomed to spending hours in search of dolphins, but on Tuesday (3 June) we saw our first dolphins at 15:16. It was a group of bottlenose just off the shore – another surprise, since we’ve become used to spotteds. We feel like we are finally getting the hang of swimming with – and not after – the dolphins so that we can better observe them. It was really cool to hear them echolocating and watch them find food in the sand. Everywhere we looked there were bottlenose; they were in front, behind and just when you thought they were gone, one would appear. They did not seem to mind us floating above them while they fed. When they came to the surface they would come very close to us before returning to the sea floor. During these approaches we could tell they were using their echolocation to investigate us, or perhaps our cameras. We were able to see them successfully catch a fish (or eel?) and one seemed particularly excited about his catch, or perhaps it was working harder! We were able to observe this group for nearly 50 minutes. There were at least 4 dolphins, but because they were scattered it will take photo-ID review to be sure. In the group there were 2 juveniles a nice contrast to the large adults we had seen from the boat. It was awesome!

Back on the boat we continued watching these dolphins and soon there were even more: possibly 20 individuals! Some of them were very, very close to shore; we followed them straight up the beach line. They were all over. As we reached the dredge construction project, the water became very silty, the dolphins seemed to reduce their diving and they abruptly turned direction in order to get around the construction site. This obstruction seems like it could cause the dolphins to use more energy and possibly put them at risk of greater predation as they spend more time in deeper water.

When the dolphins were bowriding, which is not very common for the bottlenose dolphins, it was cool to see them turn their heads towards each other. It is getting fun to compare our surface observations to those under water. We also saw the dolphins bowriding on passing boats’ bows. One of the highlights of our surface observations was when a single dolphin repeatedly flipped its entire body out of the water, altering the direction but repeating the behavior. We know he caught the fish, as he carried it around afterwards! We can’t wait for tomorrow!

Until then,
“Cetacean Nation” (SHU 2014)

 
Q&A with the Dolphin Class
DCP News
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Tuesday, 10 June 2014 02:58

 

Now that The River School’s 1st Grade Dolphin Class has explored our website and discussed dolphins, they have submitted the following questions to our researchers. We hope everyone enjoys reading their questions, and our answers. Thank you Dolphin Class!

Q: How long can they stay out of the water?
A: Dolphins cannot stay out of the water for very long. Although they are very good at leaping out of the water, their bodies are designed for the ocean. So, if they find themselves on dry land, like when they strand on the beach, they need to get back to the sea as quickly as possible.

Q: Do they like to play?
A: Yes! Dolphins are social animals and this includes lots of play. Like us, there seems to be more play among young dolphins, but even older dolphins play! Dolphins play with each other and with objects in the water, like fish and seaweed.

Q: How do Dolphins get their color?
A: Many dolphins have skin colors that help them blend in with their environment, the ocean. The bottlenose dolphins and Atlantic spotted dolphins that we study are “two-toned” or “counter shaded.” They are dark on their backs and light on their bellies.

Q: When was Leslie born?
A: We do not know when Leslie (ID#80) was born. But, we first saw her in 2004. She was a juvenile dolphin then and was probably born around 2000.

Q: How do they eat?
A: What dolphins eat depends on what species they are and where they live. Off the island of Bimini in The Bahamas, we have seen Atlantic spotted dolphins chase and eat fish called mackerel.

Q: Where are their ears?
A: Dolphins do not have ears that stick out like we do. But, they do have tiny holes behind their eyes – their ear holes! By not having ear flaps, their heads are nice and smooth for swimming through the water.

Q: How long can Dolphins stay underwater on one breath?
A: How long a dolphin can hold its breath all depends on which species of dolphin we’re asking about. We’re not sure how long the Atlantic spotted dolphin holds its breath. Maybe one day we will!

Q: How do we know which sound means something like hello with Dolphins?
A: We’re not sure which sounds have which meanings for dolphins; in fact, their communication probably isn’t like the languages humans speak (like English or Spanish). But, they do use sounds to communicate, as well as touch. We see dolphins rub their fins against each other all the time!

Q: How fast do Dolphins swim?
A: The speed a dolphin swims at also varies by species. Some dolphins have been recorded swimming 17, 20, even more than 30 miles per hour. That’s a lot faster than even the fastest human swimmer!

Q: How do you name the Dolphins?
A: Naming the dolphins we study is one of the ways that DCP raises money for our research. When we have a dolphin who we know fairly well, and we have photos and video of that dolphin, we give someone the chance to donate money and name the dolphin! Then, lots of other people can adopt the dolphin; just like your class adopted “Leslie!”

 
Hello 1st Grade Dolphin Class!
DCP News
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Friday, 06 June 2014 03:44

 

DCP would like to extend a big hello to the 1st Grade Dolphin Class from The River School in Washington, D.C. These students are participating in DCP’s Online Classroom Connection program.  Hello Dolphin Class!  This eager group will be spending time learning about dolphins over the next week, utilizing DCP resources and connecting with our researchers. Today, I’ll be directing these students, and their teachers, to particular areas of this website.  All of you out there are welcome to play along too!

So, 1st Grade Dolphin Class, my name is Kelly Melillo Sweeting.  Let’s start with a sort of internet scavenger hunt to help you get to know me, DCP, the dolphins we study and our website. 

What does DCP stand for? 

Can you find the ‘What is DCP’ link?  We study 3 different species (types) of dolphins in 3 different countries. Can you name the 3 types of dolphins and the 3 countries? Can you find the 3 countries on a map?

Click here for an episode of The DolphinPod called ‘The Dolphin Species Song.’ What do you think of that? Can you try to sing along?

 

Can you find my short biography?  Where was I born? At what “field site” (a place where we study dolphins) do I study dolphins? Do you know what country this is in? You can learn more about this field site under “About DCP.”

I am looking forward to reading & answering your questions, and “meeting” you next week!

Talk to you soon!
-Kel

 
Don’t step on the jelly
Bimini 2014
Written by Kelly Melillo Sweeting   
Thursday, 05 June 2014 19:54

 

Monday began with a field trip to South Bimini. We hopped on the water taxi, after waiting for the rain to pass, and then boarded “the fun bus,” a colorful old school bus from Bimini Sands. Grant & Katie introduced us to a Bimini boa and they stressed to us that it is extremely unlikely to be hurt by this type of snake. The Bimini boa is only found on Bimini and they are endangered. The one we saw was 3-4 years old and about 5 feet long. We got to hold it and touch it and learn a bit about the ongoing tagging program. The dwarf boa is another snake on Bimini and is capable of auto-hemorrhaging as a defense mechanism. Thanks to the early rain, the mosquitoes were out in full force. The nature trail itself was interesting, and we were able to see a green iguana (invasive). The whole walk was a nice natural history lesson – including some pirate history! We found a huge termite mound and had a chuckle at the white crown pigeon. There was a poisonwood tree growing right next to its antidote counterpart. Ashley Saunders came up in conversation and we had met him earlier at his Dolphin House! We saw another snake, a racer, and we learned about the only fresh water turtle on Bimini which lost its only habitat due to the current airport expansion. This will add to our on-going conversation about eco-tourism.

After the nature trail, we headed to the SharkLab for a tour. Their outreach education program has just been revamped and our guide, Zach, was extremely enthusiastic. We had a seminar/presentation in the lab which was designed like a research boat. During the presentation we learned that some sharks return to their place of birth in order to give birth themselves. The conditions weren’t right to finish our tour, so we headed back to the Sea Crest for lunch.

Some of us saw a frigate bird circling above as we planned alternative activities because we couldn’t go on the boat due to high winds. We headed back to the SharkLab to finish our tour and we waded to their sea pen, dodging Cassiopeia (aka upside down) jellyfish on the way, to see the young nurse and lemon sharks. We were able to touch the sharks and we learned about tonic immobility and their lack of bones (cartilaginous) which means that when you hold them, you need to be careful as they can bend and bite you! We learned lots of shark physiology and the on-going research of the lab, including their great hammerhead shark projects and the importance of tagging this species while free-swimming. Hammerheads have a high mortality rate when caught on a fishing line.

Back on North Bimini, we watched BBC’s Inside the Animal Mind and we all realized our dolphin boat is an international celebrity! It discussed the social lives of dolphins, how this relates to brain size and compared them to several other social animals. It was interesting to see how scanning fossils of extinct dolphin relatives can inform current research. Dinner was festive – local pizza from Edith’s and Bahamian beer. It was sooo good!

Until next time,
“Cetacean Nation” (SHU 2014)

PS: Photo to follow!

 
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