When your office is next to a beach in The Bahamas, sometimes your lunch break includes a snorkel. (For which we are VERY grateful.) That was the case for us (Patrick and Kaiya), while Tori was on her boat trip. We grabbed our gear, jumped off the rocks, and cruised through the refreshing water towards the Gallant Lady, a sunken ship right along the rocks. It was fun to watch the fish (mainly sergeant majors of all sizes) drift back and forth with the incoming tide as they went about their business. As we came around the ship Patrick was shocked to find a very large stingray nestled into the sand! It was the first of three big stingrays that we saw as we snorkeled around North Bimini's southern point. We also saw a very large barracuda, a smaller barracuda eating a blue tang, male sergeant majors valiantly defending their nests of eggs, a needlefish opening its mouth (it looked like it was yawning!), as well as other awesome sea creatures. It was definitely a lunch break that we can put at the top of our lists. Afterward, with our heads clear, we headed back to the office for a productive afternoon and evening.
While that was happening with Kaiya and Patrick, Thursday was a pretty exciting day aboard the Dakota for Tori, with Captain Al and his guests. The trip began with Tori putting her new spotting skills to the test and locating a group of more than ten bottlenose dolphins in the distance. The group was split into three smaller sub-groups, and they headed north alongside the boat for almost an hour, providing ample opportunity to photograph them with the surface camera, for additional data for the ID catalog. After that, we headed over to North Rock for a quick snorkel stop, where the guests were able to cool off and explore for a bit. Once underway again, we had another bottlenose sighting, except this time it was only a group of two. Instead of lingering, we decided to push on in search of spotted dolphins, and it wasn’t long before we found them. Three for three with my new spotting skills, I was overjoyed to finally get back in the water with these familiar faces! Making an appearance was none other than Splitjaw (#22), Speedy (#78), Stefran (#82) with a calf, and Lil’ Jess (#35) with a calf. This wonderful cast of characters stuck around for about 30 minutes, giving us quite an exciting encounter. Once they’d had enough, we got back onboard the Dakota, and were off in search of some more dolphins. About an hour later, four more spotted dolphins appeared off the bow and were taking turns bow riding. Since they seemed to be in good spirits, we decided to get in the water and have a closer look at who it was. This time it was Romeo (#10) with a calf, and Leslie (#80) with a calf. So many calf sightings today! Unfortunately, right as things were getting good in the water, the video camera battery icon started to blink, indicating it was going to die, and my heart sank right there in the water. Eventually the camera shut off, and I made my way back to the boat with the intention of swapping out cameras, but once I pulled myself back onboard, Captain Al said the dolphins were starting to break away, and it might be time to go. The guests returned to the boat, and since it was getting late, Captain Al decided to head back to the marina, and with that we were calling it a night. There was sporadic bow riding for a little bit after we left the area, and as I chatted with the guests about what we’d seen that day, they couldn’t seem to contain their excitement over their lengthy and wondrous encounters, and honestly, it’s not something I ever get tired of discussing. As the sun set on another productive DCP day in Bimini, I’m overcome with gratitude for this opportunity and experience.
Until next time,
As DCP interns, we have settled into the rhythm of our days on Bimini. Wake up to the bright sunshine, make a pot of coffee (or two, or three), and settle into our morning office tasks. Apart from video logging and photo identification, we input the previous day's sighting log from the boat into the computer, make sure that all of the research equipment is charged and ready for the day's boat trip, write field reports, and update DCP's social media accounts (Did you know you can follow our dolphins on Facebook?! Simply search DCP followed by the dolphin's name!). Wednesday morning followed a similar pattern. With delicious coffee in our mugs and uplifting music in the background we completed a successful morning of work.
After lunch it was Kaiya's turn to join Captain Al and his guests on the boat. While she was gone, Tori and Patrick continued to work on daily tasks inside, away from the midday heat. Tori ventured outside for some relaxation on the beach, but only lasted about an hour before the sun's intensity chased her back inside. With a rerun of the Shark Week episode featuring Kel playing in the background, the rest of the afternoon was spent making progress on video logs and bottlenose ID projects.
My afternoon on the boat was fairly similar to Patrick's yesterday. Soon after emerging from the channel that separates North Bimini from South Bimini we came across a group of bottlenose dolphins. Unfortunately, they were spending more time under the water than at the surface, probably crater feeding, or searching for prey items in the sand. This made it difficult for us to track them and take photos of their dorsal fins for future identification so Captain Al steered us toward spotted dolphin grounds. As we continued on our way, we all kept our eyes on the horizon, searching for dorsals amongst the waves. Captain Al cruised for awhile before we finally found a group of spotteds playfully traveling. From the brief surface observation, I was able to count nine individuals, but then it was time to try an underwater encounter. We slipped into the water and headed towards the dolphins, but quickly realize they were simply traveling too fast for us to keep up. Once back on the boat, we were able to watch as they played with seaweed, rolled over (showing us their pink bellies!), and engaged in lots of pectoral fin contact. Though we did not try another encounter, we enjoyed watching them for the next little while, which allowed me to identify Split Jaw (#22 – here’s a photo from yesterday’s video), Leslie (#80), and Swoosh (#36)! We were also able to watch the playful interactions of two calves zooming around the adults and sub-adults. After awhile the group disappeared into the waves and we began to head back to the dock, enjoying the beautiful Bahamian sunshine (through many layers of sunscreen) and the turquoise waters all the way!
Until tomorrow (and Tori's adventures on the boat),
Patrick, Tori, and Kaiya
Tuesday started off like usual, we hopped out of bed and began our office work with a cup of coffee. While working we were plotting on how we were going to surprise Captain Al for his birthday. Kel is off visiting family in California, so she left us in charge of delivering his gift and a birthday pastry from the bakery. We decided that while Al and Patrick were on the boat, Kaiya and Tori would go to the bakery, and once we were all home for night we would surprise him. After our morning passed and we had lunch, Patrick got ready for the boat, while Kaiya and Tori prepared for their day on land.
Tori and Kaiya:
After Patrick left for his solo boat trip, Kaiya went outside to stretch her legs and discovered that another boat ran afoul on the reef at the tip of the island and was stuck (This makes 3 in less than 2 weeks!). Kaiya also got to see Captain Al and Patrick motor by in the boat, once out of the channel, she could see them in the distance as they appeared to have found dolphins not far from shore! Once that excitement wore off, Kaiya and Tori decided that it was time to bike down to the bakery and see what they could get for Captain Al’s birthday surprise. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much chocolate available, so they opted for a giant cinnamon bun and some freshly made chocolate chip cookies. Once back home, they spent several hours working in the office on video logs and catalog ID’s, before an afternoon break to go for a snorkel and enjoyed watching various fish in the reefs and shallows, as well as some rays. Kaiya and Tori had a hard time deciding to call it quits, and head back home to get some more work done before the boat returned.
Since Al was taking a small group on the little boat there isn’t much room for all of us; so I headed to the boat solo. After arriving and waiting out a small spot of rain, we were on board and heading out of the channel a few minutes after 2 pm. On our way out we saw another boat stuck at the tip of the island, that makes three since we’ve been here, Al claims that has to be some sort of record. As we rounded the southern tip of the island and headed north we were soon greeted by a few bottlenose dolphins. They were spread out and seemed to be crater feeding, so after snapping a few surface photos we continued north in search of spotted dolphins. The further up we got the bigger and bigger a storm cloud ahead of us got. I was worried that it might force us back home, but Al didn’t seem too concerned as we circled around to wait it out, all the while still searching for dolphins. Soon enough we found them! A group of 11 spotteds that were travelling north, they were all sub-adults and adults except for two calves. The wind had picked up and the waves got bigger, and this certainly was not a problem for the dolphins as they surfed the waves. They also engaged in quite a lot of pec rubbing and seaweed play. We followed them for a little bit and every once in a while they would change directions, or stop and stay in the same area and then continue travelling. We decided we would give it a shot and get in with them. The first encounter was a quick one as we hopped in, they weren’t too interested and swam by and out of sight. We hopped back on board and decided to try again. Luckily, the storm cloud had broken up and passed, so we were out of harm’s way. During the second encounter they hung around for much longer and we got to see all sorts of interactions and bubble play, along with the continued seaweed play. This time around I got a better look at everyone and was able to ID Splitjaw (#22), Prince William (#64) and possibly Cerra (#38)! Eventually, they swam out of sight as they continued on. Luckily, we got another shot and hopped in the water for a third time. Since it was the same group the whole time it helped me get more familiar with the individuals I knew, and the others I kept in mind to try and identify in the video later. The third time in the water was similar to the second, as the dolphins would stop and check us out, they would swim around us, blow bubbles at us, and swim alongside us. The entire group seemed very playful as they swam circles around us and darted back and forth. But eventually, the group swam off into the distance as they continued travelling. As we made our way to get out of the water we saw a large nurse shark cruising at the bottom of the ocean. It was a nice sight to end to the encounter for the guests, and myself. We got aboard the boat and decided to head towards home and see if we could spot another group on our way in. We had no luck with spotteds, but we saw bottlenose in the exact same spot as we did earlier, right next to shore. We continued home and docked the boat at the Sea Crest. After reviewing the footage I was able to ID Tim (#69) and Speedy (#78)! It was an exciting first day for the guests, as well as a valuable experience for myself. I hope the next few days are just as good for Tori and Kaiya!
After Patrick arrived home, we prepared for the surprise. We put a candle in the cinnamon bun and headed upstairs. We lit it before we knocked on the door and as he opened the door we began singing Happy Birthday with full intentions of embarrassing him. He opened his goodie bag of gifts that was left for him and he seemed excited about his cookies and cinnamon bun as well. It was a rather eventful day and we were happy to surprise Al for his birthday.
Kaiya, Patrick, and Tori
After a busy week of boat trips and dolphin information sessions, the DCP team welcomed the calm weekend. However, we were going to miss the Bimini Adventures group that we spent the past week with! They truly showed an interested in the research that is being conducted as well as the health and well being of the dolphins who call the water around Bimini home. It is encouraging to see individuals outside of the research community share in DCP's goals of education and conservation. As Kel often says, once we are able to get individuals to care about the dolphins themselves, then they will begin to care about their habitat as well!
Friday and Saturday brought half days in the office for us, interns, as we continued to work on our video logging and bottlenose dolphin photo identification. For the remainder of those days we were able to explore the island, snorkel, and restock on groceries. Sunday and Monday were full days in the office, but, much to our excitement, they ended with watching Shark Week on Discovery Channel. Although Shark Week brings with it the extra drama and sensationalism that often comes in society's portrayal of sharks, it has wonderful cinematography and images from under the sea. It was extra exciting to watch from Bimini because so much of the filming for this year’s episodes was done right here! As part of the research community, we want to do our part to change the negative stereotypes that accompany sharks. Just like dolphins, sharks are vital to ecosystems all over the world, including here in The Bahamas. As a part of this internship, we have been lucky enough to swim with sharks, as well as dolphins, and observe first hand just how graceful and highly evolved they are! It reminds us, again, that we want to do all that we can to protect marine environments all around the world.
The Trio (Tori, Patrick, & Kaiya)
Nothing beats waking up in the Bahamas and knowing that you have an awesome day ahead of you, especially if you are a DCP intern! Our excitement only increased as we began our Thursday morning office work, thanks to all of the progress we made yesterday on the video log entry and bottlenose dolphin identification. After another few hours diligently working on these tasks, it was time to get ready for our 2pm boat departure. Today, our first stop was at Bimini Road for almost an hour of fabulous snorkeling, enjoyed by guests and interns alike. In and among the rocks we were able to see multiple angelfish, trumpetfish, parrotfish, squirrelfish, purple sea fans, tube worms, and even male sergeant majors valiantly defending their nests of eggs by changing their colors from yellow, silver, and black to dark blue!
The end of the snorkel meant the beginning of our search for dolphins! Captain Audley pointed the boat north and off we went. After two days with only a few sightings we were hoping for a more eventful day. All passengers were in good spirits as we worked together to scan the horizon, hoping to see those elusive dorsal fins. As we searched, we were able to enjoy the calm, turquoise, crystal clear water that this area is known for. After a 5:30pm swim break that cooled us down and snacks that helped us regain our motivation, we finally saw some dorsal fins peak out of the water a ways ahead. Unfortunately, they disappeared back into the deep, not to be seen again. However, only a few minutes later, we were back in action as more dorsals were seen in the distance. In no time we had four Atlantic spotted dolphins playfully riding our bow. After a few minutes of observation from the boat, the swimmers scrambled to get ready to try an underwater encounter, including Tori with the video camera. With Kaiya keeping track of the dolphins from the bow, Patrick recording data on the clipboard, Tori was able to get some awesome video data of the playful encounter. The dolphins hung around for a few minutes but soon continued their travels northwest, much too fast for the swimmers to keep up.
Back on the boat and continuing our path towards North Bimini, it was only a few more minutes before another group of four Atlantic spotteds came into view. This time we were happy to see the familiar right pectoral fin of Inka (#93) among the group! She was joined by two other juveniles and a sub-adult, all of whom enjoyed riding the bow just as much as the previous group. Though an encounter was attempted, these dolphins were too interested in traveling to hang around for very long. With daylight winding down, we again resumed our travel home. We followed the calm waters all the way back to the dock, watching a rainbow and briefly getting showered on along the way. Everybody was in good mood after a successful afternoon of dolphin observation. It was a great send off for this week’s Sea Crest guests. We hope that they had as much fun this week as we did!
Until next week,
The Trio (Kaiya, Tori, and Patrick)
After a week of collecting field data, Marie was invited to present at the local university, Universidad Nacional de la Amazonía Peruana (UNAP), by the non-profit organization Solinia (https://solinia.org/). During this venue, various anthropogenic threats that impact both dolphin species inhabiting the Peruvian Amazon were discussed. Also, Marie presented about how bioacoustics was being used as a tool to ascertain information concerning dolphin populations. One example anthropogenic threat is the use of dolphins as bait in catfish traps. This practice seems to have originated in Brazil, but has now traveled up-river to the Iquitos, Peru region. It was estimated that 200 pink dolphins were killed locally last year to be used as bait in catfish traps. Not only are these dolphins easy targets as they are slow swimmers, but they are a preferred food source for the catfish. Due to this program, Marie has begun an initiative with the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana (http://www.iiap.org.pe/) to assess fish populations up to 170 km downriver from Iquitos, Peru. The intent is to investigate any possible trophic cascades associated with the removal of the top dolphin predators and the abundance of fish species desired by humans. If it can be demonstrated that it is beneficial to protect the dolphins in order to sustain fish abundance, then it is possible to motivate the local people to protect the local dolphins, both pink and gray.
Wednesday started bright and early for Kel and the Trio as we began our day with an 8:30 am inflatable boat pick-up by the Captain of the Coral Reef II, the research vessel for the Shedd Aqaurium, and we were taken back out to sea where the ship was anchored and awaiting us. On this particular morning we were scheduled to do a DCP information session with the High School Marine Biology program students currently on board, and as usual, Kel delivered an enthralling presentation, and these awesome students were absolutely engaged, knowledgeable, and inquisitive. (We love this!) The Trio shared their different educational backgrounds and paths, career plans, and how they came to be interns for DCP, and fielded any questions the students had.
Once back on dry land, Kel and the Trio headed down “the Pit” (DCP workspace) for some collective work-time and each tried to get as much done as possible before heading over to the Sea Crest for another information session with this week’s Sea Crest group. We thoroughly enjoy these information sessions as well, as it provides us the opportunity to get to know each group personally, and share with them our passion for DCP and its mission. After a lovely chat, the trip boarded “Renegade” and got underway in our search for dolphins.
There was a flurry of animal activity while leaving the channel today, and we were fortunate to have a bull shark and multiple rays bid us farewell as we headed out into open water. With Patrick on the bridge, and Kaiya and Tori on the bow, the Trio was ready for another day’s adventure. A massive squall could easily be seen to the NW, but fortunately for us, we weren’t going that way, but we still kept our guards up while watching the lightning strike in the distance. Pretty soon, those tell tale fins were spotted, and we found a group of at least two bottlenose dolphins. In times like this, when the dolphins appear to be a little hesitant to get close to the boat, we’ve got a surface camera at the ready (with a great zoom lens), and Kaiya quickly began taking pictures of them to assist with our photo-ID catalog. They kept their distance and eventually left us, so we pressed on and continued our search.
After about thirty minutes, dolphins could be seen leaping in the distance, seemingly chasing after fish, so we approached cautiously, as not to completely disturb their feeding. Before we were able to get close, these spotted dolphins could be seen breaching the water and slapping around the fish they were feeding on, and a sub-adult was seen approaching the bow with a fish in its jaws. Though it was just a pair of dolphins, one juvenile and one sub-adult, their willingness to stay close to the boat and bow ride gave everyone on board the opportunity to marvel at their beauty and graceful swimming yet again. Eager to get in the water with them, everyone began donning their masks, fins and snorkels, including Patrick, who was ready with the DCP video camera. Unfortunately, these two dolphins seemed to be more interested in feeding and didn’t stick around long enough for an encounter, but the passengers jumped in the water anyway for a much needed swim break. The spotteds could still be seen leaping and flipping in the distance, chasing after fish, so we opted to leave the dolphins to their meal, and start making our way back towards Bimini. Regrettably, those were our only sightings for the day, and we headed back towards the dock, hoping that tomorrow (the last boat trip of the week) will bring one last incredible encounter for this group.
Kel and the Trio signing off after a long day…
We began our Tuesday morning with the usual office work of video logs and bottlenose ID. Except, this morning we were joined by Kel! We used the joint work time to get some questions answered and to confirm some new catalogue changes. We were very excited to be making significant progress on the bottlenose pictures and we’re hoping to keep updating the catalogue. Our morning of work passed and we had our lunch, then we got ready for the boat. We settled in with the guests on the boat, and we made our way out of the marina a little after 2 o’clock. After a quick sun-baked ride to Three Sisters, we were excited to hop in the water to cool off with a snorkel stop. We saw a few cuttlefish right off the boat and continued to explore the reef. We saw the usual, yet always interesting, fish all around the rocks and a yellow stingray also made an appearance. The guests enjoyed the hour of exploration and casual swim. We boarded the boat and made our way to search for dolphins. As we looked and looked all day, without any luck, we headed towards home. On the way a rather large raincloud was coming over the island and right towards us. We tried to evade it but instead of getting too off course we decided to wait out the rain. This allowed for us to have a nice swim break and we got to practice our free-diving in the 30 foot waters. While we got back aboard, and got rained on a little bit, we continued our quest to find dolphins. When the rain passed, an amazingly perfect rainbow appeared over the island. Then, right under the rainbow, we finally saw our first dolphins of the day! Unfortunately, they only surfaced a couple of times and then disappeared in the deep. While we didn’t get to see much of them, it was a very magical sight to see them appear directly under the rainbow. Then we continued on our way home. We returned to the dock and everyone parted ways. After an amazing first two days, the guests weren’t too discouraged by the lack of dolphins today. Everyone is already looking forward to our very busy day tomorrow!
After such an awesome boat trip on Sunday, the DCP crew was very excited to get back on the water on Monday, after a morning of office work, of course. With a successful amount of work done, we, the interns, headed to the boat for their first solo trip, without either Kel or Nicole. However, thanks to their excellent teaching, we felt confident and ready to go. Once everybody was aboard the boat, we pushed off for a prompt 3pm departure. Unlike yesterday, we did not see dolphins as soon as we came out of the channel. Instead, after a long search, we were greeted by a group of spotted dolphins that included three juveniles, a sub-adult, and an adult who were all ready to bow ride. The dolphins amazed the eco-tour guests with their antics in front of the boat, gliding along and occasionally showing us their white bellies.
After about ten minutes of observation from the boat, Captain Al gave the signal for swimmers to get ready with their masks, fins, and snorkels. Without Kel or Nicole on the boat, it was our job to make sure to capture good video footage, something that they make look easy. Today it was Kaiya's turn and she geared up with the rest of the guests, video camera in hand. The underwater encounter began with two of the juvenile spotteds. We observed as they swam through the water together, exchanging rubs with their pectoral fins and playing with sargassum. They also began to play with a large piece of plastic that they found floating in the waves. One swam with the impromptu toy draped over its fluke before passing it to the other, and back and forth. After about twenty minutes the two dolphins were joined by other dolphins, most likely those that we had seen at the beginning of the sighting. The swimmers were able to watch this larger group for a few minutes before it was time to head back to the boat. Overall, the swim was a wonderful observation of object play and tactile contact.
As the boat turned south and headed towards home, we could hear the animated voices of the guests as they described what the dolphin swim was like for them. Two days in a row, this group has lucked out with what they have described as "magical" experiences! Though we were headed home, we were not yet done with dolphins for the day! We passed another group of bottlenose as we motored parallel to North Bimini's shore. Though it was too late in the evening to stop for a swim, we were able to have a brief observation from the boat. It was the perfect ending to a beautiful, Bahamian day. Hopefully tomorrow will be the same!
Patrick, Tori, and Kaiya
If the first trip of the week is any indicator of how the rest of the week’s dolphin trips will go…then we may be headed into a phenomenal week. Sunday’s trip kicked off the initial tour for this week’s Sea Crest group, and it was quite the experience on the water. Before we could even get out of the channel, exactly ten minutes after leaving the marina, we intercepted four, very large bottlenose dolphins, who to our amazement, decided they were in the mood to bowride our vessel, giving all of us a little unexpected thrill. After that brief, and somewhat unusual sighting, the guests, crew, and DCP researchers were all excited for the rest of the trip, and we didn’t let the storm clouds and squalls in the distance dampen our spirit for the day’s adventure.
After making our way through some of the darker storm clouds unscathed, Captain Al decided to stop for a quick swim break and gear check, allowing the new group to get their bearings and do a practice run before the real deal dolphin encounters began for them. It’s important that everyone aboard knows what will be expected of them during these trips, and that they are comfortable getting in and out of the water with masks, fins, snorkels and cameras. These gear checks are a crucial component and give everyone a chance to work out any kinks they make have with the boat procedures. Safety first! After that, we continued heading north for another hour until we spotted a group of three juvenile Atlantic spotted dolphins, who were all too happy to stick around just long enough for us to document them on the surface, and for the guests to attempt getting in the water for their first encounter. Two more juveniles joined in, for a total of five dolphins in the area when the group entered the water. Unfortunately, this group of dolphins was more interested in feeding on (or just chasing?) nearby fish, and left us without looking back.
However, we soon caught up to them again, and this time they were joined by two adult dolphins, who we suspect are originally from the northern Bahamas. With a group size of seven at this point, we once again eagerly got in the water. Much to everyone’s delight, these dolphins were incredibly interested in us, and this was arguably one of the best encounters of the season. The dolphins, possibly far more than seven, were weaving in between the guests in the water, checking out each individual, with each dolphin doing several laps throughout the group, giving everyone both in the water and watching from the boat-an incredible experience. At one point, from the boat, we noticed the younger dolphins fast swimming away. From Kel’s underwater perspective, she able to tell us that the dolphins weren’t swimming away from anything; they were swimming toward a hammerhead shark! The large sharks cruised past, seeming to give no thought to the young dolphins checking it out. Soon after, Kel also saw a barracuda and an ocean triggerfish. There was also a young yellow jack in the dolphins’ midst and the dolphins were, at times, quite busy chasing the poor thing all about! We observed the dolphins for 34 minutes, and in the end, we had to leave them in order to head back home, to ensure we made it back to the marina before nightfall. Ironically, the moment we stopped looking for dolphins and began heading home, we were spotting dolphins in the distance, left and right. Journeying back to the marina, while the sun was setting beautifully, was just a picture perfect end to a phenomenal day, and we cannot wait to see what tomorrow has in store for us! Hopefully we’ll all be spoiled yet again...
Kel and the Trio, (Patrick, Tori, & Kaiya) signing off.