The DCP-CSU group spent a week at Anthony's Key Resort from 31 December 2016 to 7 January 2017! The main purpose of this trip to Anthony’s Key Resort was to introduce six graduate/undergraduate students to fieldwork and data collection, preliminary data processing, behavior and physiology studies, conservation programs, application/analysis of data collected, and general critical thinking. The students participated in snorkel sessions, lectures, informal discussions, and in situ observations of dolphin behavior and collection of non-invasive physiological data (i.e., respiration and surfacing rates).
A total of ~180 minutes of video data were collected with the MVA2 and another ~3 hrs of data were collected with a GoPro camera mounted to the top of the MVA2. Sessions were conducted in the morning between 07:00 AM and 11:30 AM, depending on the day and other programs scheduled. The SM2M+ unit was still recording when recovered; ~28 GB of acoustic data were collected during this two-month deployment. Data are being uncompressed and readied for analysis. With DCP volunteers and interns, I'll be processing these data over the next several months to confirm each dolphin ID on the video screen, to document how many minutes each dolphin is in view, and to examine behavioral interaction. We'll also be looking at their vocal activity for any periodicity from this and previous SM2M deployments.
The students from this program are also reviewing the respiration/surfacing data they collected to confirm the amount of data and approach they plan to take on analyses and report preparation. We'll keep our DCP supporters informed of their results in a future blog or issue of the Dolphin Gazette!
Overall, our program was a resounding success! We look forward to future programs with CSU and students!
Surface observations – our final day – it was pretty busy at the surface but much less aerial activity by the dolphins. Lots of pectoral fin slapping (a new action seen) and tail slaps and white water were observed. And the other new behavior was “head stands” – the dolphins sticking their tail straight up at the surface. There were several subgroups that were larger in number of dolphins than previously seen. The calves were there also in the middle of these groups! There are also what we called “science kitties” on Bailey’s Key. The cats on the island were very inquisitive of the MVA2 after it was rinsed this morning. They licked the port and the hydrophones!
Breakfast was followed by our own beach encounter and dolphin swim at Bailey’s Key. We met Bailey, the diva. She had quite a few wiggles and was a touch restless. She did several rub-downs and did a team bow with Maury. She showed us her teeth and tongue and did a double flipper wave. We also got to touch her fluke and we were able to cradle her and feel her heartbeat. We all also received a kiss from Bailey!
Our swim followed the encounter and it was really neat to see the dolphins from Kathleen’s perspective, especially with the really poor underwater visibility. It was very easy to become oblivious to the surface activity when you are focused on the dolphins underwater. It was a cacophony of sound with their clicks and whistles. And often, we heard sound from all over and then suddenly saw the dolphin(s) come into view. We also got to see Shawn close up … such a cutie! Paya was part of our swim too and Gracie also kept her eye on Shawn. It was neat to have 4 or 5 or even 6 dolphins all around us! Our reaction was mostly “oooh, Dolphin!” more so than being able to recognize and ID them underwater while swimming with them! There was also quite a bit of coral and texture to the sea floor of the enclosure.
Late morning and afternoon were spent collecting data on the dolphin respiration rates. Our preliminary opinion is that respiration seemed to vary more by individual rather than their environment (size of enclosure) or external activity (e.g., who they were with, the trainers, party boats passing by and other distractions). The IDs got much easier to get as we worked on collecting the respiration data. We had Ronnie and French, Hector and Han, Bill and Ritchie, and Polly and Tilly. Each dolphin had a seemingly different approach to taking a breath, whether they surfaced and did not breathe or hung at the surface a bit or took a “deep” breath or a slight breath, or leaping while taking a breath.
Today was our last day of the field course. We wrapped up the day with a discussion about future career options and we sought advice from Shane and Kathleen about life and science. We also reflected on the week and our experiences and what we learned.
Tomorrow is our return travel day. Check back in a day or two for a summary of the week’s data collection.
Kathleen, Shane & the funky bunch
We started our day the usual way … with data collection and observations of the dolphins at Bailey’s Key! There was LOTS of aerial activity and much social surface behavior (lots of white water and splashing and dolphin body bits at the surface). It was fun to see so much different behavior above the water surface. That is, today was day 5 of our observations but we had so much activity and it was great to have so many observers to be sure we recorded as much as possible of all the activity, including porpoising, leaping, breaching, tail slaps (side ways), and some very long horizontal leaps. Gracie did a side breach near the side of the dock. There was some pushing behavior at the surface – one dolphin to another … and Polly to Kathleen.
After data collection and breakfast, we logged data sheets and watched the video footage from the morning session. We watched the video to gain a sense of the underwater visibility and to compare vantage points – i.e., surface observations versus underwater observations. They each present different view points into dolphin behavior.
The bulk of our day was spent at Maya Key. It was a wild ride on the bus from AKR to the other side of town to get to Maya Key. We snorkeled first thing and were shocked and disappointed by the amount of trash in the water. There was also quite a lot of jellyfish in the water. After snorkeling, we went to the pool area for lunch and then explored the ruins, which are a replica of part of the Copan ruins (Temple 22). We climbed to the top of the ruins. Then we saw the various exotic animals that had been rescued or confiscated from illegal housing. They included a jaguar, ocelots, capuchins, black howler monkeys and peccaries, macaws, crocodiles, and spider monkeys, toucans, and a few other birds. There were also nurse sharks and stingrays. We took the air-conditioned bus back to AKR after our adventure to Maya Key!
We watched a few more videos and discussed perspective when collecting data. After our chat, we listened to a great sea turtle conservation presentation by Jennifer. It was interesting to hear about the local conservation efforts; it was also a little sobering and close to home when Jennifer spoke about the marine debris that is a threat to sea turtles. Specifically, she was talking about how leatherbacks feed mostly on jellies and that sometimes the jellies can be confused with plastic debris by leatherback turtles and that causes issues with their survival because they ingest the plastic. And, this just really hit home because of the debris we saw earlier today in the water around Maya Key. We were trying to avoid the jellies and kept confusing the jellies with the debris around us and so we empathized with the leatherbacks.
We wrapped up the day with a question/answer session with Kathleen and Shane about aspects of developing a career in the marine sciences. Tomorrow, we wrap the week up with our encounter/swim and more data collection.
Kathleen, Shane & the funky bunch
Again, the underwater visibility sucked … more, much more than yesterday. In fact, it was less than 2 m and very silty. So Kathleen’s observations with the MVA2 were limited to about 7 or 8 minutes. It’s quite difficult to conduct behavioral observation when you can’t really see all of each dolphin’s body in the viewfinder.
We also started our personal interviews with John today about this field course. And, we had a morning snorkel session from the boat at West End beach and point and also finished at Blue Channel. The underwater visibility was much better just outside the inner reef! We saw a small shoal of squid, some parrotfish, blue tang and a disco fish. We had to “play” matrix or do our “mission impossible” moves to avoid the jellyfish. We also saw a queen angelfish and butterfly fish along with a giant conch shell.
After snorkeling, we started our morning observations of adult male dolphin respiration rates. We spent time watching Ritchie and Bill and Hector and Han in the back pools. It was easier to focus on just two different dorsal fins at one time to practice recognizing them from the surface rather than all 23 dorsal fins in the main pool. We ironed out our data collection techniques and divided the pools into quadrants and focused on the surfacing dolphins. We were distracted only a few times by dolphins in other pools breathing loudly … and Mac tried in vain to get Katie’s attention by breaching next to her and splashing her back! Katie kept her focus, however!
The afternoon brought us more data collection under a VERY hot and vivid sun! But, we got even better at data collection. This session was followed by a presentation by Teri about operant conditioning and training and the RIMS dolphins. It was very informative and engaging. Teri is clearly very passionate about her work and her love of the animals is very evident. After her talk, we followed Teri back to Bailey’s Key to meet the latest additions to the group. Alita, Gracie, and Carmella‘s calves all have names: they are Dory and Shawn and Stan (refer to title!). They are readily recognizable with distinct personalities! It was fun to watch them play and interact with each other. The moms certainly kept a close eye on us when their calves were near us.
The evening concluded with dinner on the key with crab races, limbo and Garafuna dancers. Yum!
Kathleen, Shane & the funky bunch
The underwater visibility sucked mostly – dolphin observations because of silty waters. It’s hard to study behavior when you can’t really see it. So, Kathleen retrieved the SM2M, which was still recording! Yeah!! The red light was on and the unit was not too caked with sea crud. We thought it would have more sea life growth on it. The SM2M seemed more non-descript and was bigger and heavier than we imagined (see photo of us with the SM2M after recovery).
Our morning discussion was on behavioral observations and sampling protocols. We learned that a research question must have appropriate methods in order to yield results that are interpretable and also to facilitate appropriate statistical analyses. Our discussion also will help us read behavioral study papers with a more critical eye.
After lunch, we learned how to disassemble the SM2M and were delighted to see that it was dry inside, and had recorded data as predicted by the red light! Then, we discussed and decided upon our research question for the week. Do respiration rates change for adult males according to enclosure size (i.e., surface area) over a given period of time. We’ll collect these observations over the next few days and discuss results at the end of the week.
On our first snorkel trip of the day, we got to test out use of the MVA2. It was much harder than it looks! Kathleen makes it look easy. This snorkel site was deeper than yesterday and we got to see the coral from outside the reef. Of the fish seen, we include 11 disco fish, stoplight and rainbow parrotfish, a trumpet fish, a few durgon, and a barracuda (!) who was way less curious than other barracuda we’ve seen at other places.
After a brief nap, we were back to the boat for our first ever night-time snorkel! It was not as spooky as expected. There were so many lights that it looked a bit like a dance party some times. It was VERY dark and you could look up and see the moon. Of course, when you drifted away from the light, it got VERY dark! So we tended to stay close to each other. We saw two octopus and lionfish and a spotted eel, a squid, several lobster and a big blue damsel fish chase off a squirrel fish from it’s area! There were some tiny fish that were everywhere and we’d not seen them during the day. It was an awesome experience and gave us a different perspective of the ocean.
Kathleen, Shane & the funky bunch
Our day began with two cups of coffee and a boat taxi ride to Bailey’s Key. And, once again, the dolphins were right there! We began the day with more dolphin behavior observations, noting a bit more detail than yesterday. It was a bit easier to ID some of the dolphins – Polly, Hector, Han, Paya, and Gracie were all readily visible to us this AM! The dolphins were frisky this morning – there was lots of splashing and socializing ongoing this AM providing lots for us to document and note.
After our delicious breakfast, we had an informative physiology talk/discussion. We learned that respiration rates don’t cut it to estimate metabolic rates and that you cannot take inaccurate measurements to make an accurate prediction of a data point. The assumption that every time a dolphin or marine mammal comes to the surface they are taking a breath is wrong based on our field observations from the past two days. The assumption that they are going to their max limit with each dive is a fallacy. And, the assumption that with each breath they take in the same amount of oxygen is also wrong. (further explanation to come on the last two assumptions by the end of the week).
We were given our first assignment today – it is to come up with a way to measure something physiological based on behavioral observations. This is something we will try to put into practice on Thursday and Friday. We also learned a bit more detail about the array (see photo) – how to connect the camera and about the controls.
Our almost last activity of the day was to go snorkeling from a boat. We went to Mud Hole and snorkeled in blue water – odd as it sounds! The fish ID talk came in very handy (Thanks Pete!). We saw trumpet fish, a school of tang, butterfly fish, a green moray eel, squirrelfish, wrasse, parrotfish, and coral (brain coral and elkhorn). We also saw sand dollars, hermit grabs, conch shells, and sea fans. It was a good snorkel!
After snorkeling, we rinsed off in the pool and began our roundtable discussion regarding our first assignment! The pool water was chillier than the ocean, especially once the sun dropped behind the palm fronds! Chelsea noticed she was much less buoyant in the pool than in the ocean!
Kathleen, Shane & the funky bunch
P.S. we picked up our bracelets to support the Roatan Marine Park! :-)
We had our first introduction to the dolphins after our boat taxi ride to Bailey’s Cay. The ride was full of anticipation and culminated with Kelly’s reaction, “oh! They’re right there!” They were so close and within reach, not behind 6 inches of glass! There did not seem like there could be 23 dolphins in the enclosure … maybe 12, but then we got to see the different dorsal fins. They swam close to our positions and checked us out. It was definitely hard not to interact with them more.
We spent a few hours after data collection on photo-ID learning about their different scars and marks. We also discussed the different behaviors we saw on the first research dive of the day. After lunch, we returned to Bailey’s Cay and met some of the trainers and dolphins close up. The morning session had us not really seeing all the details Kathleen pointed out about individual IDs but sitting with the trainers and actually meeting a few of the dolphins clarified the scars and marks and the tiny details. It was fun meeting the dolphins. “Carmella is really shy but eventually took the fish from me,” said Micaela. Mrs. Beasley was more finicky with each fish. Gracie is a ham and thoroughly enjoyed the attention. Calli was stinking cute and had a distinctive bite because her mouth does not close all the way on the sides. We also got to watch the calves playing and they tussled with each other while their moms ate.
Our day wrapped up with a very informative fish ID talk. In this talk it was not so much individual ID for the fish but species ID. The talk was a great prep for tomorrow’s first snorkel trip. We feel quite prepared to recognize all the species, maybe not the 500 on the reef but maybe a dozen or so! And, we learned about all the conservation and good work of the Roatan Marine Park. We will definitely be supporting their mission and getting our bracelets!
Kathleen & the funky bunch*!
* the funky bunch includes Micaela, Kelly, Lindsey, Riley, Katie, Chelsea
PS: Time is running out to register for our 2017 field courses at our Bimini, The Bahamas field site! Click here for more info!
Happy New Year’s Eve!
DCP/Kathleen is finishing out 2016 in and welcoming 2017 in research style … with a week of data collection and a college field course on Roatan at Anthony’s Key Resort! And, thanks to John, the MVA2 has new hydrophone arms that allow for the MVA2 to be in carry-on luggage (small black bag on left)! The arms are back to the original design and made of PVC - the green my added touch! I’ll be sure to post a photo of the MVA2 all assembled in a day or two so you can see the full effect of the new arms.
Today is travel day! I’m writing this post as I sit in the airport waiting for my flight to Roatan. I’ll be joined by students from Colorado State University (CSU) and the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) for a week of data collection and study into dolphin behavior and physiology. We’ll be merging the disciplines of animal behavior and exercise physiology. Dr. Shane Kanatous, Biology at CSU, is joining me and we’ll be co-teaching this week’s program. Stay tuned to our blog for daily updates from the field!
Before I wrap up the week, I thought I'd share a photo of the SM2M deployment ... though this image is from 2-3 years ago! When I deployed the SM2M yesterday, the underwater visibility was such that at 24 ft deep, I could not see details of the surface, and vice versa. So, no photos were taken during yesterday's deployment!
We had a good week this year! Our group got in lots of dives and much bottom time. And, I was able to collect 3 hours of data with the MVA2 and a similar amount on the front-facing GoPro. The GoPro gives us a wider field of view such that we can confirm IDs and some of the behavioral exchanges. I'll be busy with video logs and photo-ID for these data over the next several months!
We also deployed the SM2M to record dolphin vocal behavior over the next ~2 months. We'll record 10 minutes of data for every hour while the passive acoustic recorder is deployed. Data analysis comes after we recover the unit.
Stay tuned to the DCP Dolphin Gazette newsletter for updates on our data analyses. And tune in back here on New Year's Eve when I return to Roatan and Anthony's Key Resort with a field course with students from Colorado State University and the University of Southern Mississippi!
The rainy season seems to have arrived to Roatan! Another rain-filled evening dawned to overcast skies and elevated wind speeds! The current was also quite strong! We made the trek over to Bailey's Key with the hope of collecting data with the MVA2. The dolphins were social and seemingly game! I was game, my crew was certainly willing to make surface observations. Mother Nature (or is it Father Neptune?!) had other ideas! The underwater visibility, even viewed from above water, was not good! The current was again strong and a squall was on the horizon.
So, we decided to wait an hour or two ... maybe the visibility would improve?
It did not. But, our group had a dolphin encounter and met Polly and Tilly at the beach. And, with Bill and Ron's help, I prepared the SM2M for deployment. Since I am returning to Roatan with a college group for a field course in animal behavior and physiology on 31 December, we received permission from Eldon and AKR to leave the SM2M (our passive acoustic recorder) out recording for the next two months! I secured it with 24 lbs of weight as well as tying it to a piling. The dolphins were VERY interested in the SM2M and me ... and maybe thought they were being helpful when pulling at my regulator hose and fins!
Today was a good day, even though no video were collected. We wrap things up tomorrow for the return trip. I'll provide a summary of the week tomorrow.
Kathleen & the DCP 2016 Roatan Eco-tour group!