Kelly Melillo Sweeting
Kel is DCP's Bimini Research Manager, and all around awesome scientist.
One of my favorite events of the year is our field course with Sacred Heart University (SHU). Taught by Dr. Deirdre Yeater and held at our Bimini, The Bahamas field site, this course brings SHU and non-SHU students to study wild Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins. Mornings are filled with class lectures and discussions and afternoons are spent at sea, searching for and observing dolphins. It's exciting for me; most students have never seen a wild dolphin, certainly not under water. And watching students go from sitting and listening to scientists talk about dolphins to being the ones collecting data - real data that DCP will use - is so rewarding. The application period for this field class closes 15 December so get your application in! Learn more at this link and this link.
Hi Supporters! Any electronic adoption kit orders received between 5:00 p.m. ET, 30 Sept and 9 October will be filled on 9 October. We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your support!
(What? You didn't know you can adopt a wild dolphin? Oh, yes! Check out the program here!)
This quarter's issue is full of updates from the field, particularly reports from our Bimini field site. Hear from Kel and the summer "Trio", check out which adopt-a-dolphins we saw and meet Sulfur and Name-A-Dolphin ID#101. You'll see Kathleen has been busy preparing publications and Justin is making an awesome book donation. Thanks for reading - and sharing! Download your copy now.
After spending so much of this summer referring to “The Trio” (Patrick, Kaiya and Tori, our summer interns), it was hard not think of them as I spent a nice portion of the afternoon observing three Atlantic spotted dolphins! I was able to complete trip #43 of the season with Bimini Adventures, once again joining a visiting research team. Since this team was focused on bow riding dolphins, I knew the day would only bring surface observations. Still, it was worth it!
We followed this trio of as-yet unidentified dolphins through the waves as the winds and seas picked up slightly throughout the day. At times they seemed to be traveling, but as I looked toward shore, we never really went anywhere! There were quite a few fluke slaps and aerial displays, which left us wondering if the dolphin was frustrated or showing off. Soon, we realized that maybe it was neither; maybe it was all about the pesky remora!
It was a pleasure joining the trip and even lending a hand. As the summer winds down, I’m always left wondering: Was today the trip of the season?
DCP ID#102 has her name!! We are pleased to introduce, Sulfur, who was named by by Rahul K. Sai as a gift for Snigda Sindhuri Sagabala as part of DCP's Name-A-Dolphin program. Sulfur, a juvenile Atlantic spotted dolphin observed off Bimini, The Bahamas is now available for adoption! Check out her adoption page here. Thank you, Rahul, for your generous support. Snigda, we hope you enjoy your awesome gift!
On Thursday, I was able to join the team of visiting researchers who have chartered Bimini Adventures to explore their 360-degree camera and hydrophone system designed to record bow riding dolphins. It was great to catch up with these folks, whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for years now. Though there was a light chop to the sea, it actually made the search for dolphins more comfortable – at least there was a little breeze to take the edge off the August heat!
As we diligently searched for dolphins, we came upon a scattered group of at least three bottlenose dolphins. I was able to grab a few dorsal fin photographs for future photo-ID matching, but the team decided the dolphin group wasn’t right for their goals: the dolphins were scattered and at the edge of the shallow and deep water. So, we continued our search…
Unfortunately, that was the only dolphin sighting of the day. The team had a great attitude though; grateful for the loads of data they had already collected this week. While I wait for my next day on the boat, we’re all keeping an eye on weather in the tropics. Tropical Storm Harvey is unlikely to impact Bimini, but we’re waiting to see what the disturbance behind it does.
So much of my spring and summer revolves around advertising for interns, interviewing potential interns, preparing for interns, meeting interns, working with interns…and then they are gone! Poof! This year’s team, which included first-year interns Tori, Patrick and Kaiya, was absolutely phenomenal. But, as August rolled around, I knew that one-by-one, I’d be saying, “See you later” to each of them. And, now, as planned, they have all said goodbye to Bimini and returned to their other lives…
So, on Thursday I prepped for my first intern-less dolphin trip in quite a while. And, then it rained. And rained. And looked as though it might rain some more. So, with the dolphin trip canceled, I did some other DCP tasks. Friday was more office work and Saturday was a (mostly) day off. On Sunday, I was thrilled to climb back aboard the Coral Reef II, Shedd Aquarium’s research and education vessel. I really enjoyed my lunch chat with students (and teachers!) from Chicago City Day School. Visiting school groups aboard the CRII are some of the highlights of my season – thank you!
The research season is winding down, but I’ll still search for dolphins when boat trips allow – so stay tuned! And thanks to everyone who followed the adventures of the 2017 Volunteer Field Experience Participants and Summer Interns!
Until next time,
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!
Tori (& Kel!)
After almost six weeks on this island, it was difficult to accept that Saturday’s boat trip would be the last for Tori and Kaiya. The Renegade has been where we’ve spent almost every afternoon and evening this summer; it’s been our “office,” our vehicle of exploration, our means of collecting important data for the Dolphin Communication Project, and the very hub of our research efforts and relationship building. Aboard the Renegade, we’ve weathered rough seas and endured rain and squalls, thunder and lightning, days without dolphins, scorching heat and sun, and have genuinely loved every minute of it. We’ve witnessed joy and elation on dozens of eco-tour guest faces, after experiencing what it’s like to swim with dolphins in the wild, listened to heartwarming stories of conservation efforts, told jokes, discussed plans for our futures and plans to further protect these animals, as well as their habitat, aboard this vessel. We’ve learned about The Bahamas and all the wonders it has to offer, how to navigate the waters surrounding it, what’s in the turquoise waters, and what makes it such a special and wonderful place on this big, blue, planet…and we’ve learned it all aboard this boat. So many memories are now attached to the Renegade, that the thought of our time onboard coming to an end is as bittersweet as it gets.
Unfortunately, the dolphins we’ve grown to know and love this summer were not inclined to make any type of appearance on this, our last boat trip. We had one sighting of a lone bottlenose dorsal, and when Captain Audley pulled the boat closer, the dolphin retreated to depths in the distance. We continued on our search, spotting a large loggerhead turtle swimming at the surface, but still no further sign of dolphins ever presented itself. We never gave up hope as we all scanned the horizon, but as the hours ticked away, and the sun dropped lower in the sky, it became clear that perhaps saying good bye was just as hard for the dolphins as it was for us (well, so we might like to think!). Left only with memories, gratitude, and heavy hearts, we pulled back into the marina aboard the Renegade for the last time. With only a few short days left of our stay in Bimini, we now find ourselves faced with the new task of readying for our departures.
The Duo (& Kel!)
Friday morning offered a new and exciting opportunity for Tori and Kaiya to step into the education side of DCP's mission. After watching Kel lead information sessions for eco-tours and school groups throughout the summer, it was our turn to step up and take the lead. We did some preparation, then biked over to the Sea Crest where we met up with this week's eco-tour group. On top of it being our first DCP presentation, we had the added element of utilizing a translator as we were presenting to a group of native French speakers. It was so interesting to hear our own words and DCP's research in a different language! The guests were curious and animated about the information that we were sharing, making our job easy and enjoyable. It was a wonderful learning experience for us and, we hope, for the guests as well!
After a brief lunch at the apartment, we biked back to the Sea Crest for the 2 pm boat departure. Our first stop of the day was at Bimini Road for a brief snorkel. We saw some squirrelfish, Bermuda chub, parrotfish, and sergeant majors while cooling off in the clear water. The rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully as we searched the somewhat choppy water for signs of dolphins. At one point Captain Audley spotted a large tiger shark! It was swimming peacefully at the surface, allowing us to get a good view before it traveled deeper into the water. After more searching, and a much needed swim break, Tori saw dorsals in between the waves! Soon we had three adult spotted dolphins riding our bow. An underwater encounter was attempted, but the dolphins were more interested in the boat than the swimmers. Back on board and headed for home, we enjoyed the peaceful sun as it sank towards the horizon, marking the end of another great day in paradise. We are excited yet saddened for tomorrow as it brings our final boat trip.
Kaiya, Tori, & Kel