Saturday morning found DCP researchers in the office and most of the students exploring the mangroves. At 1500, Nicole and the university group set off on their dolphin search. The ocean was as calm and flat as a lake! It was so flat that it made it much easier to spot the lone bottlenose dolphin that crossed our path less than 20 minutes into our ride. We observed this dolphin from the boat for a few minutes before continuing on our way.
For this trip, Dr. Kaplan brought along the coordinates for a spot she had visited 6 years ago. What's so special about this spot? Well, it's over 3 miles from land but there were 2 golf carts on the sea floor! When Dr. Kaplan was there previously there were also a lot of bottlenose dolphins foraging around the carts. While we did not expect to find a secret dolphin hang-out, we were curious to see if the carts were still there. And since the spot was not far from where we usually travel, Captain Al said a small detour would be fine. Surprisingly, the golf carts were still there! We took a swim break so the students could explore the carts and then continued our search for dolphins.
Only five minutes later we came across a group of 7 Atlantic spotted dolphins! Captain Al joked that we had just missed them at the submerged golf carts. This group was very slow moving and was not actively socializing so it seemed to us that they were resting. After a short time observing them from the surface, a small group of humans entered the water for observations. Once under water we were able to recognize some of the dolphins, though they may not be from our resident Bimini community. It is possible that these adults came from White Sand Ridge--we have to check our records. After a brief encounter, we returned to the boat which repositioned and then deposited us back in the water with a group of at least 18 spotted dolphins! This group included many more familiar faces--Romeo (#10) who was socializing with Stefran (#82); Noodle (#94) with her calf; Split Jaw (#22) who was seen with Prince William (#64) and Tim (#69); and Lil' Jess (#35), Paul (#99), three calves and possibly Speedy (#78) and Freckles (#15)! A couple of the calves have some distinguishing marks that we might be able to add to our catalog in the near future.
A short time later, we climbed back on the boat and left this group of spotted dolphins. They were traveling a bit too quickly for our human legs and we also hoped to see who else we could find since it was still rather early. Only 15 minutes later we found a trio of spotteds and were able to collect some brief underwater observations of two of them. Once these dolphins left the humans, we were picked up and pointed in the direction of home. We had such incredible encounters today that no one expected to see any more dolphins but only 20 minutes later we came across yet another group of spotted dolphins! This was a group of at least 14 which included Split Jaw (#22) once again, so perhaps there were other repeats from our earlier encounter. We had a couple of short underwater encounters with this group in order to collect photos and videos that we will review later for IDs. Then we got on the boat and headed for home. It was yet another late arrival at the dock but we enjoyed a wonderful sunset during our drive--a beautiful ending to a successful day. We're excited to see what we might see tomorrow!
Until next time,
Nicole & Kel
Thursday was a day off the boat for DCP. We used the day to catch up on some data processing and to prepare for some upcoming projects. Friday began with more office work. At 1500 both of us got to join Bimini Adventures' Hunter/Manhattan Colleges group again! It was clear from the beginning that our ride would be much easier--the wind was almost nonexistent! With this in mind, we had high hopes for our dolphin sightings. Sure enough, within the first hour of searching we came across a group of 6 bottlenose dolphins, including one calf and at least one known individual. From the boat we could tell these dolphins were not feeding, which is usually the behavior that indicates that we should try underwater observations, but they seemed to be searching. Nevertheless, the dolphins weren't moving too quickly so we gave it a try anyway. Kel, Dr. K, Dr. M and some of the students had a few short encounters with this group before we decided to move on and search for more dolphins. Within ten minutes we came across a pair of different bottlenose dolphins. These two split up so we chose to stay with one and observed (and photographed) it from the boat for about 15 minutes before continuing on our way.
After another hour and a half of searching, broken up by a nice swim break, we came across a group of 11 Atlantic spotted dolphins!! From the boat we were able to identify Split Jaw (#22)! We briefly observed this group from the surface before the same group of humans got in the water for an encounter. During their swim, more dolphins, including at least 3 bottlenose dolphins, joined the original group. From this first encounter, Kel was able to identify Tina (#14) who is still pregnant, Paul (#99) and a few unnamed and uncatalogued (but recognizable) dolphins! Those of us on the boat were able to observe some interesting behaviors in the calm water--we saw brief socio-sexual behavior, particularly directed by the bottlenose dolphins, and we heard some strange squawks that one dolphin produced right at the surface.
Fifteen minutes later the human swimmers climbed back onto the boat and a new group of students prepared to get in the water. They had an encounter with what seemed to be the same group of dolphins. Over the next 30 minutes the dolphin group gave us a great exhibition of their fission-fusion relationships--they split up, spread out and then got back together many times, during which our swimmers got a few more short encounters. By the end of our time with these dolphins, there were at least 6 bottlenose dolphins with the spotteds, whose numbers had also grown. Unfortunately, it was getting late so we had to head for home. We pulled into the dock after sunset, all smiles from our day full of dolphins. They were definitely worth the wait! We are looking forward to more of the same tomorrow! (fingers crossed!)
Kel & Nicole
Well, on Wednesday Nicole and Kel were both able to join Bimini Adventures’ boat trip, and everyone was hopeful we there would calmer seas and more dolphins. The day started out strong, with a large school of spotted eagle rays not far from the harbor entrance. Everyone got a good look at these graceful critters from the boat. We then continued on and the students were able to snorkel at “3 Sisters,” with the biggest sister nicely tucked in the lee of the Bimini.
With optimism we then headed beyond the island, but the seas continued to be rough. The good thing is that the students are all getting used to the wavy conditions! The bad news is that although we never gave up hope, there were once again no dolphins to be found.
Tomorrow is a day off the boat for us, but we’ll be back at it again on Friday!
Nicole & Kel
Tuesday was a rather uneventful day for us on Bimini. We started the day with the usual office work--writing Monday's field report, photo ID and other such tasks. By 1500 we were ready to climb aboard the boat to head out with Dr. Kaplan, Dr. M and their students once more. Unfortunately, the wind still had not let up and as we got further into our usual route the ride became rougher and rougher. This being the group's third day on the water the students seemed to have gotten used to the bumping and jostling. But we simply couldn’t find any dolphins amongst the waves. Despite hours and hours of searching, broken up by a nice swim break, we did not come across any dolphins. We returned to the dock just before sunset, disappointed but hopeful for tomorrow's journey. We all know that field work is unpredictable, especially when it involves wild animals, and sometimes you just don't find what you are looking for.
Wish us luck for tomorrow!
Kel & Nicole
PS: Curious about the photo posted here? Stay tuned to the upcoming Gazette for details on DCP’s latest program!
Monday morning began with a visit to the students for a class on photo identification. Kel presented an in-depth lecture about the methods and uses of photo ID in marine mammal research. This was followed up by hands-on practice so the students could develop their skills using images of some of the Bimini spotted dolphins they will be encountering this week. It was great to watch how quickly they caught on to the intricacies of the task.
With the hopes that the day would be less windy than Sunday, we left the dock just after 1500. It soon became clear that, though calmer than yesterday, it would still be a rough ride. So we began our search. And we searched. And searched. And 3 hours later still had not seen anything. High winds not only make for an uncomfortable ride at times, they also make it more challenging to spot dolphins.
It was just after 1800 when Captain Audley thought he saw a splash to the west. We made a wide turn in that direction to investigate. Then we spotted them straight off our bow--dolphins! Sure enough, we had located three young spotted dolphins. It was difficult to get IDs, even age classes, with the big waves and the rocking boat but after a few moments of watching we noticed that there were other dolphins with these three. In fact, there were at least 2 bottlenose dolphins! As we observed this group from the boat they began to spread out, some heading east, some west and some staying by us. Suddenly, a bottlenose dolphin far off our starboard side started leaping out of the water! It performed so many consecutive leaps that it resembled a skipping rock!
As we continued observing the multiple groups of dolphins spreading out around us it became clear that we had to choose a group to follow. Captain Audley made the call and we ended up following a group of four spotted dolphins. These turned out to be Lil' Jess (#35), Stefran (#82) with her calf, and a second calf! We watched as these four surfed the waves and dove to the seafloor. We even saw two bottlenose dolphins who surfed right through the group.
After about 40 minutes of observing this group, Captain Al said it was getting late so we should either try underwater observations or head for home. We decided to give the encounter a try with just Dr. Kaplan, Dr. M and Nicole first--the students would join them if the dolphins stuck around. When we first got in the water, we saw Stefran below us. We were only able to observe her for a few moments before she started swimming away. Suddenly Lil' Jess was there! As we observed her floating head down in the water column, a calf swam through our group (was it hers?). Not long after, all of the dolphins were out of view so the boat picked us up and head began our trip home.
Back at the dock, the students headed up to their rooms to get ready for their BBQ at the marina! Even though they were not able to get in the water today, they are excited to see what tomorrow may bring! We all hope it includes less wind!
Nicole & Kel
We are happy to welcome Dr. Daisy Kaplan back to Bimini! This time, she is accompanied by Dr. M and students from Hunter College and Manhattan College. Just after lunch, Kel visiting the group and gave a crash course in still photograph for photo-ID. The students seemed eager to collect useful photographs for DCP! With a warning that the conditions would be windy, we departed the Sea Crest shortly after 1500.
We didn’t wait long to give the students their “gear check” swim – the chance to practice getting on and off the boat and to test their masks, fins and snorkels. The group did a great job, especially considering the challenging conditions. We then resumed the search for dolphins, but everyone’s expectations were low. Suddenly, one of the students was the first to spot a dolphin cruising right next to the boat! It turned out to be three young adult Atlantic spotted dolphins, including Split Jaw (#22), Prince William (#64) and possibly Tim (#69). As this trio came on and off the bow, the big group of dolphins was just ahead! With at least 14 dolphins in the group, it was soon time to give an underwater observation a try.
Throughout the rest of the afternoon we had four total water entries and saw Romeo (#10) and her calf, Noodle (#94) and her calf, Stefran (#82) and her calf, “the boys” (Split Jaw, Prince William, Tim and Speedy, #78) and un-named #75. Hopefully we’ll get even more IDs once we review the photos and video. We saw Romeo rub her fluke in the sand, Prince William take a break from the dolphins to cruise, whistling, through the human group and big, tight formations of adults slowly cruising through. It was a wonderful first day – despite the wind – for the visiting students and researchers!
Meanwhile, Nicole had been up since the wee hours of the morning making her way from New England to Bimini! The Kel-Nicole duo is back in action, just the way it should be. We’re ready for an amazing final four weeks of the 2016 Bimini research season! Keep following to hear all the fun updates!
Kel & Nicole
Wednesday and Thursday were land-based days for me, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t all about dolphins. On Wednesday I had the pleasure of meeting with the Bimini Adventures group for a casual discussion on DCP, dolphins and my specific observations here off Bimini. The group had fantastic questions; chatting with tourists always re-energizes me for more data collection and analysis! Plus, the group was immensely supportive of DCP – thank you!
Thursday began with a younger crowd: the first group of students from Chicago City Day School was aboard the Shedd Aquarium’s Coral Reef II. I have the honor of meeting with CCDS students every summer and as usual, the group impressed me with their knowledge, interest and thoughtful questions. Thank you to the students, their teachers and the CRII crew!
Just a few more days and Nicole will be back on-island. I can’t wait!
Tuesday was my second chance to join this week’s Bimini Adventures group. Our departure was delayed due to a strange squall that was developing immediately to the east. The rain was forming before our very eyes, yet the squall wasn’t actually moving! Eventually we decided we needed to risk the wet weather and get away from the dock. Though we had a late start, the dolphins appeared very early in the trip, yet again! The first dolphin group we sighted was somewhere between six and ten individuals; they were so scattered it was hard to get a firm group count. But, in the mix were Paul (#99), two other juveniles, an older calf/young juvenile and several adults. With a frigate bird overhead, the dolphins appeared to be feeding; but on what, we could not be sure. After observing this group for over 20 minutes, we continued on our way in search of more playful dolphins…
Not long afterwards, un-named #102 was up ahead, along with another juvenile spotted dolphin. We got a few looks at this pair and again continued our search. The next dolphins to make an appearance were bottlenose dolphins! The group of five, including one or two youngsters, may have been feeding on the sea floor, but the poor water visibility made this hard to confirm from the boat. As the passengers gave swim a try, I stayed onboard to collect more dorsal fin images for photo-ID. We soon left these dolphins with hopes that we might get one more chance at spotteds…
And yay! Just before 1900, there they were! A group of Atlantic spotted dolphins who let us observe them underwater. In this group were Tina (#14), Inka (#93), an un-catalogued, but known juvenile and 4-5 other dolphins. I was able to record video, so am looking forward to seeing if I can ID more members of the group. Over 30 minutes later, a boat full of happy campers was on its way back to the dock. But, before we could reach shore, another group of spotteds was on the bow! I was up top at the start of the bow riding, but was able to ID Split Jaw (#22), Noodle (#94) and likely her calf as the final three dolphins to say hello to us today!
It was an unpredictable day, but a great one!
Until next time,
On Monday, I was able to get back on the water in search of dolphins, after a few weeks on land. It had rained on and off all morning, but despite the still overcast skies, the seas were very calm. Immediately out of the harbor we saw a turtle swimming just below the surface and everyone was optimistic it would be a great first day. Because it was the first day, a “gear check” was planned for about 30 minutes into the trip. This gives Bimini Adventures’ guests a chance to test their snorkel gear, practice getting on and off the boat, and get a feel for open ocean swimming. Today, however, the dolphins had other plans!
Before the crew could even call for the groups’ gear check, the dolphins were in view. A group of eight Atlantic spotted dolphins were on the move! Though they were traveling, they spent a great deal of time at the surface, occasionally playing sargassum, riding the bow of the boat and interacting with other. In the group were: Split Jaw (#22), Prince William (#64), Tim (#69), Speedy (#78), Noodle (#94) and, presumably, her calf. After watching them from the boat, it was time to do that gear check after all. Though the dolphins did not stick around, the passengers seemed to enjoy the practice. Back on the boat, we continued the dolphin search and very quickly came upon the same group. By now, however, the dolphins were scattered and some of them seemed to be feeding. Having spent a nice time observing this group, we opted to continue in search other dolphins.
With bad weather looming to the west, and some unfortunately boat trouble, we searched for the dolphins again while headed back home a bit early. Still, spirits were high and grateful for the great dolphin observations we did have. For me, I was thrilled to see familiar faces and fins and am looking forward to other day on the water tomorrow.
This is a (very!) belated post from late July. Apologies for the delay!
It’s been a land-based week or so here in Bimini. Nicole wrapped up her first 2016 session and headed back up north, while I remain in Bimini to hold down the figurative research fort. In between day-to-day DCP responsibilities, I’m working to incorporate Nicole’s photo-ID efforts into our Bimini catalog so we have a more up-to-date catalog to reference going forward. And today (Thursday) I was able to join the second session of Shedd Aquarium’s High School Marine Biology program aboard the Coral Reef II. This group has been handling weather challenges like champs and I was thrilled to make it to and from the vessel between gnarly squalls. I shared background on DCP and lots of information about using photo-ID for our work studying the bottlenose and Atlantic spotted dolphins off Bimini. The students had great questions and graciously laughed at my corny jokes! A big thank you to them, their instructors and the Coral Reef II crew!
Back to data I go,