11 August 2017

And then there was one…

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Tuesday was a bittersweet day for the Bimini DCP crew. It began on somewhat of a sad note for the DCP team with the anticipation of Kaiya’s departure from Bimini, but also came with a hint of excitement at one last minute dolphin boat trip for Tori aboard the Dakota.  The “Trio,” having downsized to a “Duo” after Patrick’s departure, would now briefly become a solo stay for Tori.  Having spent the past ten weeks together, (four in Florida at the DCP office, and six here in Bimini) it’s definitely hard for the team to go their separate ways, but we all know it’s not the last we’ll be seeing of each other.  If anything, the bonds of friendship that have been built this summer will undoubtedly follow each of us into on our separate paths through academia and hopefully there will be more opportunities for collaborative research efforts for the Trio in the future. After getting Kaiya loaded on the ferry to South Bimini, hugging her goodbye, and waving like a maniac, Tori headed back to the office to work on some more video ID logs before making her way down to the marina one last time for a boat trip aboard the smaller vessel, the Dakota (aka “Lay Low”).

Since the dolphins were essentially a no-show on Saturday’s boat trip, today’s last minute invite for a boat trip was a great (and absolute last) opportunity for the dolphins to give me, Tori, a proper send off – or, perhaps, for me to say bye to them.  It wasn't looking too good, as we only had one sighting of a lone bottlenose dorsal which quickly disappeared, and after 3.5 hours of nothing but blue water, we were heading back in.  Frustrated, (but grateful) I began chatting with Captain Al at the helm, when I peered over the side of the boat into the water, only to see a spotted dolphin suddenly (and shockingly) surface not 4 feet from me. Not only did it surface stealthily, but once I cried out, “dolphin!” for the last time, another spotted dolphin appeared. After a minute of bow riding, one of the dolphins took to an aerial display of acrobatics, doing three-back to back flips out of the water, and then ending with a tail slap as if to say, “Get in the water already! We’re here to play and say goodbye!” (Hey, a girl can dream…) After donning my mask, fins, snorkel and camera, I slipped into the water with the four eco-tour guests and was greeted by un-named spotted dolphins #101 and #110. These two were in such a playful and interactive mood, they were swimming extremely close to us, weaving in and out between us in the water column, exchanging pectoral fin contacts, and swimming in tandem. If one of us dove, one of them followed, and kept pace, spinning along with us. At one point, #110 dove down and ascended from directly below me with a piece of plastic and released it right in front of me and a guest…then hovered vertically, and waited…as if waiting for us to respond or react! She even motioned towards the plastic with her melon, perhaps directing me to do something about it and engage. Maybe she was telling me to take it out of her habitat, maybe she just wanted to play, either way it was by far, one of the most phenomenal interactions I experienced (and recorded!) this summer. Once the plastic was removed, she was right back to twirling around me in the water. This went on for about 30 minutes, to the point where I thought the camera battery was going to die.  Such an incredible interaction to end an incredible summer, that I couldn’t even find adequate words to describe it after surfacing and returning to the boat. Luckily, there was a beautiful sunset, and so I sat and watched in silence, and let the leader of the eco-tour group say it for me in French… “Nous sommes tous liés ensemble et fait party d’un ensemble plus grand et plus beau,” which when translated means: We’re all linked together and part of a bigger, beautiful whole. Thank you for sharing those words!

Signing off,

Tori (& Kel!)

Kelly Melillo Sweeting

Kel is DCP's Bimini Research Manager, and all around awesome scientist.

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