So after a few days of poor weather conditions thanks to Tropical Storm Emily, and a few cancelled boat trips, The Trio was excited to get back aboard the Renegade on Tuesday for some field work! Unfortunately, there were still some squalls in the area, and some rough seas once outside the channel, but the Renegade was determined to give it a try for the sake of Bimini Adventures’ new eco-tour group and see if we could find some dolphins. Captain Al and Captain Audley found the group a nice, calm spot to jump in the water for an equipment check, after putting some distance between us and the rain. Once back onboard, and steady on course, it was becoming clear that it was going to be very difficult to locate dolphins in seas like this, despite the best efforts of the crew and researchers. With Captain Audley at the helm, navigating us through the weather (and waves), we began to make our way back to the safety of the marina.
Once docked, we were greeted in the marina by three, fairly large bull sharks, who took to cruising around the boat, showing off their size and maneuverability. So although today’s efforts did not yield any dolphins, we are not discouraged because the ocean is full of life and it’ll still be there, waiting for us tomorrow when we return.
Patrick, Kaiya & Tori
Saturday morning came and went in a similar fashion to most work day for DCP interns. We made progress on our usual tasks and also spent some time reviewing the underwater footage that Patrick took yesterday. This allowed us to identify more of the dolphins that were seen while simultaneously practicing our ID skills with the new spots that the dolphins may have developed over the past year, since they were last photographed. After lunch (leftover Bimini pizza!) Patrick and Tori got back to work while Kaiya prepped for her afternoon on the boat.
Tori and Patrick:
Our afternoon of bottlenose photo identification and video logging progressed smoothly. Partway through, we each made sure to take a break to get some fresh, salty air. Now that we are well past the halfway point of our time in Bimini, we want to take every moment that we can to enjoy this spectacular island!
I headed down to the boat for the 2 pm departure, excited for the afternoon ahead. Even after only a few days on land I was more than ready to get back out on the water! Today's trip began with a snorkel stop at Bimini Road where I was able to work on my free diving. It is always easier to practice holding your breath when you have tropical fish and beautiful sea fans to distract you! We then headed into dolphin territory. Neither the dolphins or the choppy seas made it easy on us. A few times we thought that we saw a dorsal fin or a splash, but it was simply the waves playing tricks on us. It was not until 17:55 that Captain Al saw dolphins for real! It was two spotted mother calf pairs surfing the large waves as they slowly traveled. Although neither of the adults got close enough to the boat to identify, everybody still enjoyed watching the four from the boat. One of the calves breached as it tried to remove a very large remora attached to its side. It showed us its pink belly over and over as it shot into the air and flopped down on the water's surface. We were able to try an underwater encounter, but it did not last very long. The calves circled us a few times before swimming off to join the adults, who were far enough away to avoid being seen. Although the afternoon was not full of dolphins, it was still a beautiful day out on the water!
As a team, we are excited to get back out on the water all together next week!
On Friday we woke up and worked on our usual ID’s and video logs, but then we decided to shake things up. We soon got ready and headed up the island to Edith’s Pizza for lunch. We arrived on our bikes, as they were opening and ordered our highly anticipated chicken wings and pizza. It was a much needed meal and change of pace for the day. We headed back home after eating our delicious lunch and enjoyed getting back to air conditioning after the long ride of blistering heat. While Patrick was gone on the boat, Tori and Kaiya spent their day at home making significant progress with their office work.
I met Al and his guests at the marina and we were quickly heading out to sea shortly after 2 pm. We headed straight for Three Sisters for a quick snorkel stop around the always interesting rock formation that is full of life. After about half an hour, we jumped back on board and headed in search of dolphins. Around 45 minutes later we spotted a lot of splashing in the distance. As we got closer we saw it was three juvenile spotted dolphins, who I realized were #s107, 108, and 112! We followed them for a bit as they chased fish and each other and splashed around. As we prepared to attempt to get in the water with them, we spotted more dorsal fins surfacing on the horizon. As we were watching them, we lost the original three in their quick, playful travelling. So, we decided to check out the new group. As we got closer we counted a rather large group of 16 spotted dolphins! They were also travelling but they would break apart into smaller groups, slow down and interact with one another and come back together again. From the surface I noticed Swoosh (#36) and Leslie (#80), I was excited to get in the water and see the rest of the group up close! Throughout the three encounters with this group we had spent about 20 minutes with them in the water. We saw quite a bit of interaction, seaweed play, and a few of the dolphins seemed to enjoy sneaking up behind us. I was able to ID Inka (#93) and Paul (#99), while Tina (#14), Prince William (#64), and Speedy (#78) may have also made an appearance (I also was able to identify Juliette (#12) and #109 from the video when I got home)! I was thrilled to be able to identify them as they were all interacting and being so playful together in such a large group. It’s always difficult to not get caught up in the dolphins and focus on the video and keeping track of who’s who, but being there in their environment with them will never get old in any way. But, we soon decided they were moving too quick and we should look for another group on the way home. In a few hours, when we were close to home, we spotted a few more fins in the distance. This time, it was a small group of about eight bottlenose dolphins. After snapping surface photos we enjoyed an encounter with them since they were staying in the same spot as they crater fed. Along with the bottlenose we saw two massive nurse sharks taking advantage of the apparently abundant feeding grounds. During the swim we saw some very interesting behaviors: At one point there were four dolphins chasing a small spotted eel; as they were seemingly toying with the creature, one individual eventually caught it and carried it off to play with and, I think, eventually eat it. Later on we saw a few instances of seaweed play and a calf attempting to nurse, as well. They had a few moments where they seemed interested in us, and would swim circles around us in-between their crater feeding bouts. Nearly every individual looked familiar to me, since I have been working on sorting bottlenose pictures for quite a while now, so I was excited to get home and see which individuals were there. After a near 45 minute encounter we called it quits and head home. It was another fantastic day in the office and I’m soaking up every moment I can before I leave next week. Hopefully the dolphins will grace us all with a few more great encounters before we all leave Bimini!
Kaiya, Tori and Patrick
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…