Bahamas 2000

Fish (and humans) are friends, not food!

On Monday we woke up early, nervous and excited about meeting the sharks – but soon after we left the dock, we saw a huge storm coming ahead. We were getting more nervous: sharks and lightning! We turned back toward home, stopping briefly to snorkel at “Shell Beach.” We saw an eagle ray, a blue tang, a barracuda, lots of parrotfish and lots of little transparent, white jellyfish. Only about 15 minutes after we got in the water, Captain Al called us back to the boat. The storm was moving too fast. We made it back to the dock….nearly. The skies opened up as Al pulled the boat into her slip and we ran back to the hotel to get dry. 

Once we were dry, we met for a class session on photo-ID. This time, it wasn’t practice photos, it was the photos we took from our first dolphin trip! We were able to identify #102 by her spot pattern, dorsal fin nicks and peduncle scar. We were also able to identify her “friend” – another female, this one not yet formally in DCP’s photo-ID catalog! Nicole and Kel have some confirming to do, but they’ll likely give this dolphin ID#110 – and we helped that happen! We are definitely improving our photo-ID skills, or at least we’re feeling more confident! 

The sun came out before lunch and we strolled to the straw market during our break. After lunch we had another break, but this time got called back early: Captain Al advised that we depart 30 minutes earlier than planned and instead of searching for dolphins, that we try for sharks again. So, we hurried along and departed the dock just after 1430, feeling super excited and super scared at the same time. As we headed south, the sun was trying to come out, and we could see blue sky up ahead! 

As we pulled up to a small beach, Kel told us that we were actually going to see a surprise creature first: southern stingrays! We were at Honeymoon Harbor on Gun Cay (greeted by a friendly tourist). At first, we could see just a few stingrays from the boat and it was cool…then we got in the water and there were rays everywhere! They are not scared of people; in fact, they are sometimes too friendly! Swimming along our bodies, they were basically climbing on us! For some of us, it was too much and we got back on the boat. The conditions were fairly challenging, with a strong current to contend with. While the boat crew watched, fending off horseflies (known as doctorflies on Bimini), the rest of us stayed in the water, feeding the stingrays and watching three nurse sharks – even the nurse sharks came very close to us! Sometimes the rays and sharks were right behind us and we didn’t even know. There were so many, we lost track of the group size. 

With our fill of rays and nurse sharks, we boarded the boat and cruised quickly the main attraction. We arrived at Triangle Rocks (cleverly named: three rocks making a triangle!). Captain Al set anchor and then gave us our briefing. Before getting in the water here, some of us were feeling more nervous than before the rays. Al threw a red and white rope overboard and some of the sharks tried to bite it! Most of us were then having second thoughts about going on…As Al was telling us about their moods and sizes, we were having 3rd thoughts…As he told us not to put our GoPros out too close to them, we were having 4th thoughts…But, all of us got in the water (yay!). Our fins kept hitting each other, and we’d freak out thinking it was a shark! Once we were in the water, watching the sharks, it was actually more fascinating than scary. Lots of the sharks had remoras on or near them. We saw both Caribbean reef and sharpnose sharks. The sharpnose were quite little, but not at all shy around us or the larger reef sharks. There were so many fish around, but the sharks ignored them, even as the fish stole the bait! We were surprised at how close the sharks came to us – but even those of us who were scared agreed it was really cool! The experience was so different from the dolphins. With the sharks, the boat was anchored and we could easily stay in place. With the dolphins, we need to drift and swim to keep up the dolphins as they slowly cruise (or lose sight of them, when they pick up the pace and swim away). Perhaps this was just because of the feeding element? It’s another thing for us to think about before our second eco-tourism conversation. As we all boarded the boat, Kel was so happy to see all of our happy faces! 

For most of us, the rays were scarier than the sharks! Back onboard, we asked Al what the strange shape in the distance was: The Sapona. A WWI vessel that was then sold to private individuals/businesses, she ran aground south of Bimini during the 1926 hurricane. It was pretty surprising to see a boat made of concrete! Though it is clearly not sea worthy, we were surprised that as much of it was still intact as it was. We cruised quickly home and cleaned up for dinner. 

Danielle, Courtney and Gianna went for a walk and met “Ginger,” a local dog (“pitcake” – mix of “potcake” and pitbull). Even though she was disheveled, she came right up to us and was very friendly. We were mostly exhausted from our big day and looking forward to tomorrow – back with the dolphins!

Until then,

 

The Storm Troopers (SHU 2017)

Dolphins Among Rougher Seas

On Sunday, we were excited to see the sun and feel the warm rays.  We headed to the Dolphin House and meet with a local Bimini man Ashley Saunders.  We were impressed that he began working on the Dolphin house in 1993, and his family had been on Bimini for over 200 years.  The house was all handmade and unique, made out of shells, pottery, seaglass.  He used recycled materials and salvaged materials that he cleans up from the beaches. We were all interested in hearing his historical perspectives on Bimini.  He explained about the population and the history of escaped and shipwrecked slaves.  We also enjoyed hearing about why the palm trees were planted – to help with fresh water since Bimini does not have many crops.  

Next, we practiced photo-ID with Kel instructing us on the details.  We were able to practice out first photo matching session on an unlabeled photo – it turned out to be Lil’Jess!  It was more time consuming and difficult than we thought.  We realized that taking photos for research (photo-ID) is much different than taking a “pretty dolphin” photo.  

After lunch we headed out on a dolphin survey.  There were a few more swells than the day before and the clouds rolled in, but we were still optimistic.  We thought it was really rough – but Kel, Nicole and Dr. Yeater knew it wasn’t bad at all. The first animal that we encountered was a spotted eagle ray.  Relatively quickly we found two (more?) bottlenose dolphins.   Right away we were able to tell that they were bottlenose and not spotted dolphins by their size and behavior.   We moved on from those two dolphins that were difficult to observe and soon after sighted five bottlenose dolphins.  This group included a mom and calf.  Kel was able to take some dorsal fin photos for identification.  They did not come very close to the boat and were moving pretty fast and the boat had to follow with them.  When we left the bottlenose dolphins the swells got bigger and many of us got soaked on the bow.  It was fun and we all laughed at the big splashes! 

After we moved on we found some dolphins and we were not sure what species they were.  There were five closer to us and two jumping in the distance.  We observed them from the surface and once they came close to the boat we were all able to tell that they were spotted dolphins.  Some of use noticed right away that one of the dolphins was familiar from our encounter the day before.  We were able to observe a group of four underwater.  They were all engaging in a lot of socio-sexual behavior.  We thought it was so cool that we could hear them so clearly, both whistles and clicks.  They swam so close to us that we could feel their movement in the water.  We also thought it was disgusting that we swan through their fecal material – not going to lie!  It was really interesting to observe a larger group size than the day before because we all felt like we could see a dolphin. The dolphins seemed to approach us for a while, but then when they swam away from us, they quickly disappeared into the abyss. 

Some of us were so tired from the boat survey that we went to sleep early.  Those of us that hung out a bit later were rewarded with a yummy chocolate cake treat.  

Until Tomorrow,

 

The Storm Troopers (SHU 2017)

Gang’s All Here!

On Saturday, we woke up to some pretty hefty rain and we weren’t optimistic that it could possibly clear up. But, we toughed it out and headed to the beach for our beach clean-up, even with darker skies threatening. The rain was light at the beginning and we were curious about the little moving things over the rocks – tiny (tiny!) snails and baby hermit crabs! We were expecting the beach to be quite clean – you imagine The Bahamas and you picture perfect, clean, white-sand beaches. Not the case. There were so many wrappers and disposable straws. Though there is no local recycling here, they do collect certain glass bottles to ship away for recycling/reuse. So, we kept those bottles separate from the rest of the trash. Even when there was a garbage can, there was often garbage nearby on the ground. We had invited local high school students to join us, but no one came. We all think the rain kept them away (we understand!), but it was very nice of their teacher to come by and introduce himself! Maybe the next SHU group will get to meet some local students!

Toward the end of the beach clean-up, it was cool to see the rain coming in the distance. We still went swimming to practice our snorkeling skills. But, as we stayed in the water, Captain Al, who had stopped by to give us snorkel tips, said we had to quit – the rain was coming down too hard! We headed back to the hotel in a pretty serious downpour!

Once we were dry, we got to welcome Jamie & Victoria and had some more conversation to get to know each other, and played “2 Truths and A Lie.” Next up was writing our first blog then lunch. We got to try conch salad (thank you Sarah Lee!) – some of us thought it was so good and some of us wouldn’t even try it :-(. During lunch we talked about what makes a useful photograph for photo-ID, versus just a pretty picture and saw the DCP cameras. We headed down to the boat, excited for our first dolphin trip. Just as we were leaving the harbor, while we were being trained on DCP’s datasheet, Dr. Yeater saw a spotted eagle ray leap right out of the water! Captain Al circled around so we could all see it swimming away.

The first pair of us was put on “clipboard duty,” leaving us in charge of the datasheet and GPS while everyone helped look for dolphins. Soon, we had arrived at “3 Sisters” for our first snorkel stop – at the Big Sister. It was cool and we enjoyed seeing how the fish interacted with each other, how they were eating, how the schools would break apart and come back together…basically getting a peek into their world. Danielle was in a school of fish and suddenly another boat was trying to maneuver as his anchor wasn’t holding! We all saw lots of species and will have to look up their IDs. We looked for the Big Sister’s arch, but didn’t end up seeing it. Still, it was a good chance to practice, especially for those of us who are new to snorkeling.

Back on the boat, it was time to search for dolphins! We were all so excited, but then we stopped: “Wait, are we actually ever going to see these dolphins?” We all thought every little wavelet and boat wake were dolphins. As we cruised back toward Bimini, Nicole spotted the dolphins! We all ran to the front of the boat, scooting back and forth to whichever the side of the boat the dolphins were on. We were surprised at how close to the boat they came! It was a pair of juvenile Atlantic spotted dolphins and we were impressed by how quickly Nicole ID’d the individual dolphins!

Soon, Kel announced that we would try to observe the pair underwater. They had been coming together and going apart, coming to the boat and then away…so, Kel was really unsure if we would actually get to see them under water. But, we got our gear on, with our cameras and slates – we were feeling a mix of excitement and fear (especially after Kel reminded us that we are in the open ocean). Once in the water, there was so much to take in! There was “nothing” in the water – no fish, no reef. The water was so clear. The dolphins came so close! It was a lot of swimming (we were tired after!), getting used to our gear and learning not to kick each other. The slates were fun – and tricky writing under water. It was amazing to watch the dolphins – there was a lot of pectoral fin contact and belly to belly swimming. Both dolphins were female and yet there was pectoral fin to genital contact – a bit surprising to us! They came so close to us and really looked us in the eyes. One of the dolphins had two very distinct notches in her dorsal fin and a large notch in her peduncle – hopefully we’ll be able to match her and her friend to DCP’s photo-ID catalog.

From the boat, Colin took some surface videos as the dolphins were in our midst. He also kept an eye on the dolphins and helped Captain Al keep them in our sights. It’s interesting to discuss the different perspectives – from the surface and under water. Pleased by the whole experience and with new data for DCP, we cruised slowly toward home, still keeping an eye for dolphins. Colin saw large two large leaps, but given the late hour and the likely depth where the leaps happened (might have been a sailfish!), we picked up speed and headed toward the dock.

Just at the harbor entrance, Captain Al slowed down so we could all look at the very large school of pilchards. Obviously different from observing two dolphins, it was still a very cool sight to see! Kel lowered one of the cameras into the water…wonder what she got…

Back at the hotel, we cleaned up, ate dinner and had a late night class session. We discussed our opinions of and experience with ecotourism. This is a topic we’ll simmer on, read some peer-reviewed papers on and return to at the end of the week. A busy, great, fun, wonderful day!

Until next time,

The Storm Troopers (SHU 2017)

Long Travels and Cloudy Skies

Hi everyone! I’m thrilled to have Nicole back on Bimini and we’ve been busy the last few days prepping for our field course with Sacred Heart University. The group arrived on Friday 2 June and will be here until Thursday 8 June. So, all the DCP blogs will be written by them – Enjoy!

-Kel 

On Friday, we all woke early in order to begin our journeys to Bimini – in fact, Colin started his trip Thursday night, from California! The SHU students traveled in different groups from the Northeast, finding each other along the way or in Fort Lauderdale. The group was scheduled to travel to Bimini together, but unfortunately an airline snafu left Jamie and Victoria stuck in Fort Lauderdale! The rest of us continued on to Bimini while Jamie and Victoria settled in for the night. 

For some of us, this was the first prop plane we’d ever been on. And as they were going over the emergency protocol, we chuckled as there was no one sitting in the exit row. Some of our concerns about the small plane were calmed when we knew we were “only” flying at 5000 ft! We enjoyed the view of the blue ocean and then were pleased with the ease of going through immigration and customs. It can be different on different days. We had to split up in two different vans, a bit uncertain as we drove away – but all was good! Next up, it was the water taxi and we got to see the Bimini Police’s Jeep Wrangler! There were lots of bug biting us on South Bimini, but thankfully the bugs were a little better on North Bimini. 

We met Kel and Nicole, the DCP team, and had a lecture on the dolphins of Bimini before dinner. Dinner was a BBQ at the marina – it was drizzling, so we were grateful for the tent we were able to eat under so we could still enjoy eating by the water. Nicole spotted a shark in the marina! We were pretty tired, so we skipped our discussion on eco-tourism, but that just means we’ll (hopefully) have Victoria and Jamie here for it tomorrow! 

Until then,

The Storm Troopers (SHU 2017)

Come to Bimini!

Spaces available on a last minute July 2017 Bimini Ecotour/Research Experience. Yes - next month! Details below:

Sunday 2 July (first boat trip at 3 p.m.) - Friday 7 July (program ends after breakfast)

$1875 per person

Includes: 5 nights' accommodation (double occupancy), 5 boat trips (weather dependent), All meals (private cook!), Boat snacks, Drinking water, Rental snorkel gear, DCP talks, Bahamian tax (VAT)

Not included: Transportation to/from Bimini, Transportation between airport/arrival port and hotel, Gratuity

Email us if you'd like one of the few remaining spots! info{at}dcpmail{dot}org

Latest Newsletter!

The latest issue of The Dolphin Gazette - V21no2 - is ready for you! Click here to download your copy and read all about the start to our Bimini field season, our great team of interns and volunteers, data analysis and opportunities to join us in the field.

It's going to be a great summer!!

Day of dolphins – without dolphins

Wednesday started pretty busy on Bimini! I packed my bag and headed to WildQuest to give a dolphin talk to their guests. A big thank you to the WildQuest family not only for the invitation, but also for the wonderful company, stories and questions. And, it was an honor to share mine with you! 

After a quick check-in at home, it was off to the Juliet for the second talk of the day. This time, I chatted with visiting high school students from the Sarasota, FL area. With the breeze whizzing through the door and the large vessel slowly swaying, I told the students about DCP, our research methods and dolphins in general. I hope they enjoyed the little session of school – thanks to the whole Juliet family for having me! 

I parked myself at the Bimini Big Game Club to grab a fast (yes – it was fast!) lunch and get a little computing done before the 1500 dolphin trip. While inhaling my food, I got the message that the trip was not to be – that nice breeze that kept me cool on the Juliet was also keeping the boat at the dock. I’m sure the students were disappointed, but I hope they value the lesson in the realities of field work and enjoy looking back on the amazing dolphin observations they have had. 

We’re staying positive, hoping for a trip tomorrow, but the forecast doesn’t look good. We’re keeping our fingers crossed! 

Until then,

 

Kel 

Thank you, Bahamas Bucket List for Divers, Bimini Edition!

True to his word, Captain Nate Riley has just donated proceeds from pre-orders of his awesome book, Bahamas Bucket List for Divers, Bimini Edition, to DCP! We know all his readers are going to love the book - including us!

Thank you so much to Captain Nate and everyone who purchased this great dive guide!

You can order your copy of Bahamas Bucket List of Divers, Bimini Edition here!

Why helllllllo, dolphins!

On Saturday, Daisy and the visiting students headed out in search of dolphins, but unfortunately came up empty. That didn’t diminish anyone’s spirits as we headed out again on Sunday. About an hour into the trip we saw a group of 13 dolphins; I recognized quite a few, but suspect they were the “transplants” from the northern Bahamas. We had nice surface and underwater observations of this group before they took off abruptly. 

Once we were back onboard the boat, we resumed our search and soon we were with 5 of the previous group of 13. It seemed the juveniles had split off from the others and we once again were able to observe them under water. It’s so much fun to see the students experience swimming with wild dolphins for the first time!

We left this group after their interest in us seemed to dwindle. As we searched for different dolphins, we got a quick visit from a lone bottlenose. Everyone got a good look before we resumed course. Just before 1800, we saw another small group of spotted dolphins. This time, only one mother/calf pair stuck around, but it was Tina (#14) and her calf, so I was thrilled! We got a nice swim with them (new photos for DCP’s ID catalog, woo-who!) and then a final swim for the day with a Tina & calf and two other youngsters….and somewhere in there was Prince William (#64). I wonder if we’ll get any other IDs when we look over the photos and video. Hmmmm… 

Until next time,

Kel 

 

PS: Does searching for and observing wild dolphins sound fun to you? We’ve got a few spaces remaining on our (last minute!) Bimini Research Experience (aka eco-tour): 2 – 7 July 2017. $1875 for 5 nights’ accommodation (dbl occ), 5 dolphin trips, all meals, taxes, rental snorkel gear and DCP talks. Email us to sign up now! Info{at}dcpmail{dot}org

Would you like waves with that?

On Wednesday morning, I joined the SMCM students once again, this time for a lecture & practical on photo-identification. It’s just about my favorite topic to discuss! The students were engaged and knowledgeable and I hope they came away with good info and introductory photo-ID skills to utilize for the rest of the course. Unfortunately, wind conditions were even worse on Wednesday & Thursday, so boat trips were postponed. 

Friday brought us all back to the “Renegade,” eager to conquer the still blowing wind and find some dolphins! We didn’t have to wait long before eyeing a likely mother/calf pair. Though I didn’t recognize the mother, I’m hoping I got a good enough shot of her back to match her to the catalog. Her back was all I’ll have to work with, as this pair – and the 3rd dolphin who joined them briefly – didn’t stick around for us to observe them under water. 

We continued our search closer to the island, since the seas were too rough to allow for any underwater observations. But, we didn’t see any other dolphins. It was still great to see another mother/calf pair, and it was really fun to listen to the students and their enthusiasm over seeing the little one! 

Until next time,

Kel 

PS: We are still have a few open spaces for our 2 – 7 July 2017 Bimini Research Experience (aka Eco-Tour). If you are interested, email us at info{at}dcpmail{dot}org!

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Dolphin Communication Project
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