Wednesday through Saturday were off-the-boat days for DCP. In lieu of dolphin-searching, we filled our days with data entry, photo ID and (Master's) project preparation. We also spent some time preparing for the rescue of 7 puppies and 5 adult dogs found on North Bimini--Island Paws Rescue is coordinating these efforts and we wanted to lend a hand! Stay tuned for details!
By Sunday we were ready for the newest Bimini Adventures tourist group. Nicole was on the boat at 1500 to join the guests on their first boat trip. Despite a heavy wind and threat of rain, we set off with the excitement only a Bimini dolphin trip can inspire. At the beginning of our journey, we stopped for a gear check, allowing the guests to become accustomed to their fins and snorkels. Shortly after that, we had to change course to avoid a large squall. But only a little while later we had our first dolphin sighting! Just off our port side we saw a dolphin leap--this turned out to be a group of 7 bottlenose dolphins. This sighting was particularly exciting because Captain Al thinks 3 of these may have been a little different from the rest. It's possible these dolphins are from a different population than the Bimini bottlenose--they might be the offshore bottlenose ecotype, which are characterized as being larger and slightly darker than the coastal population we are used to seeing. Hopefully the surface photos Nicole collected will be useful for exploring this theory further.
Not long after getting a good look at the whole group, we lost sight of these 7 and continued on our way. While the wind and rain had thus far not been a big deal to us, at this point the waves got a bit bigger and the squalls more menacing. Since we weren't seeing anything in our normal search areas, and it started drizzling, we decided to move back towards the island. This turned out to be a good idea; not only did the wind die down a bit but we had 4 more sightings of bottlenose dolphins! These were rather brief (and not great for surface dorsal fin photos) but it was still exciting for our new guests! Many of them got a really good look at these dolphins from the bow!
The guests were thrilled to have seen dolphins on their first day! Everyone was also thrilled to simply have the chance to swim in the beautiful waters of Bimini. We are looking forward to the rest of the week with this group-- what will tomorrow bring?
Nicole & Kel
The Dolphin Gazette, 20.3, is here! It is jammed packed with exciting announcements and heartfelt reflections. From our Pay It Forward for Conservation initiative (Viva Vaquita!) to strengthening relationships with students and collaborators, we're sure you'll enjoy this issue. And for all you college-kids (and parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and friends of college kids), be sure to check out the details on our Dec/Jan field course to RIMS. Applications and deposits are coming in - secure your space now!
Click here to download The Dolphin Gazette. Thanks for reading - and for sharing with your friends!
Tuesday was the Hunter and Manhattan College group's last day on Bimini. For their final boat trip we departed from the dock just after 1400, a tad earlier than usual, to do a bit of snorkeling before commencing the search for dolphins. Our snorkel stop was at Bimini Road (known by some as the Road to Atlantis, or some variation of this name). After the students had explored the site, they returned to the boat and we began our search. With the wind disturbing the water and the clouds closing in it was rather difficult to see much of anything. Nevertheless, about 45 minutes after we left Bimini Road two of the students spotted something at 3 o'clock! It took us a few minutes to find them again but they turned out to be two bottlenose dolphins (good job students!). Even though we stayed in the same spot for 10 minutes, it was hard to tell what this pair was doing--they did not stay at the surface for very long. We were able to collect a few photos of their dorsal fins before we lost sight of them completely and proceeded on our way.
As we continued our travels, a squall to the northwest was moving closer, bringing large clouds that were blocking the sun. It's surprising how difficult it is to see dolphins from a distance without sunlight but it was well-illustrated for us when the next group of dolphins we saw basically found us--they were less than 10 feet from our starboard side! If they hadn't surfaced so close we likely would not have seen them at all. This was a group of at least four bottlenose dolphins. Unfortunately, with the impending rain and increasing winds we could not stay to observe these dolphins, or even linger to take surface photos. As we got closer and closer to the channel entrance we tried harder and harder to see something in the water. We even turned back and retraced our path for a few minutes to be sure there wasn't anything we had overlooked. Unfortunately, the dark sky made our efforts futile so we returned to the harbor, slightly more on-time than our previous trips.
It was not the most dolphin-packed last day for this university group but they did get to enjoy the natural wonders of the Bimini reefs. They also had many great dolphin days during their time with Bimini Adventures which left the students with smiles on their faces and amazing stories to share! DCP is grateful to Dr. Kaplan and Dr. M for including us in their Bimini visit. We look forward to seeing them again next year!
The next few days are off the boat for us but keep an eye out for some updates of our goings-on on the island!
Until next time,
Kel & Nicole
PS: Did you read about Nicole’s and Dr. Kaplan’s big announcements? Check out the latest issue of The Dolphin Gazette!
Sunday was another beautiful day on Bimini. Kel and Nicole had planned to have a morning meeting but it was rescheduled so instead, they took care of some other island business (we can’t resist trying to help The Stray Dogs of Bimini!). By 1500 Nicole was ready to head out with the Hunter/Manhattan College group once again. Only 15 minutes into the trip, Dr. Kaplan's wish was granted--we spotted three bottlenose dolphins, including one older calf, and they were crater feeding! We observed this group from the boat for a bit, collecting surface photos of their dorsal fins. Then the student teams were able to take turns doing underwater observations as Dr. K and Dr. M recorded video and acoustics. After an almost 50 minute encounter, we decided to get back on the boat to search for more dolphins.
A relatively short time later we came across a small group of Atlantic spotted dolphins--an adult, a juvenile and an older calf. These dolphins were moving pretty slowly and not interacting much with each other. We watched them from the surface for a bit before entering the water. We had a couple of encounters with the younger two individuals, the male juvenile and the female calf, who were playing with seaweed but still not interacting very much with each other. After some time we decided to leave these dolphins to see who else we might find. And what do you know, only 6 minutes later we came across more bottlenose dolphins! This was a different group of 3, also including a calf, who were also crater feeding. Dr. Kaplan must have been wishing really hard because her request was granted twice in one day! Our underwater observations of this group were shorter than earlier in the day but everyone was able to collect some interesting data. And the last student team who had not yet had the chance to see bottlenose crater feeding finally had the opportunity!
As we climbed back on the boat and left the bottlenose dolphins, Captain Al saw something in the distance. At first we thought it might just be fish but it turned out to be 2 juvenile Atlantic spotted dolphins, a different pair from the ones we saw earlier. We were not able to identify these from the boat, and our underwater observations were not successful, so we started to head for home. As we approached the channel entrance Dr. Kaplan noticed dorsal fins between us and the island! It was a group of at least 5 bottlenose dolphins, likely crater feeding. The sun was setting so it was too late to do more than mark their location and continue for home. Yet again, we docked in the dark and battled the mosquitoes as we got off the boat. But we were all very satisfied with our dolphin experiences from the day. This group has one more dolphin trip on Tuesday--let's hope it is as successful as the past few days have been!
Until next time,
Nicole & Kel
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