On Thursday, I was able to join the team of visiting researchers who have chartered Bimini Adventures to explore their 360-degree camera and hydrophone system designed to record bow riding dolphins. It was great to catch up with these folks, whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for years now. Though there was a light chop to the sea, it actually made the search for dolphins more comfortable – at least there was a little breeze to take the edge off the August heat!
As we diligently searched for dolphins, we came upon a scattered group of at least three bottlenose dolphins. I was able to grab a few dorsal fin photographs for future photo-ID matching, but the team decided the dolphin group wasn’t right for their goals: the dolphins were scattered and at the edge of the shallow and deep water. So, we continued our search…
Unfortunately, that was the only dolphin sighting of the day. The team had a great attitude though; grateful for the loads of data they had already collected this week. While I wait for my next day on the boat, we’re all keeping an eye on weather in the tropics. Tropical Storm Harvey is unlikely to impact Bimini, but we’re waiting to see what the disturbance behind it does.
So much of my spring and summer revolves around advertising for interns, interviewing potential interns, preparing for interns, meeting interns, working with interns…and then they are gone! Poof! This year’s team, which included first-year interns Tori, Patrick and Kaiya, was absolutely phenomenal. But, as August rolled around, I knew that one-by-one, I’d be saying, “See you later” to each of them. And, now, as planned, they have all said goodbye to Bimini and returned to their other lives…
So, on Thursday I prepped for my first intern-less dolphin trip in quite a while. And, then it rained. And rained. And looked as though it might rain some more. So, with the dolphin trip canceled, I did some other DCP tasks. Friday was more office work and Saturday was a (mostly) day off. On Sunday, I was thrilled to climb back aboard the Coral Reef II, Shedd Aquarium’s research and education vessel. I really enjoyed my lunch chat with students (and teachers!) from Chicago City Day School. Visiting school groups aboard the CRII are some of the highlights of my season – thank you!
The research season is winding down, but I’ll still search for dolphins when boat trips allow – so stay tuned! And thanks to everyone who followed the adventures of the 2017 Volunteer Field Experience Participants and Summer Interns!
Until next time,
Tuesday was a bittersweet day for the Bimini DCP crew. It began on somewhat of a sad note for the DCP team with the anticipation of Kaiya’s departure from Bimini, but also came with a hint of excitement at one last minute dolphin boat trip for Tori aboard the Dakota. The “Trio,” having downsized to a “Duo” after Patrick’s departure, would now briefly become a solo stay for Tori. Having spent the past ten weeks together, (four in Florida at the DCP office, and six here in Bimini) it’s definitely hard for the team to go their separate ways, but we all know it’s not the last we’ll be seeing of each other. If anything, the bonds of friendship that have been built this summer will undoubtedly follow each of us into on our separate paths through academia and hopefully there will be more opportunities for collaborative research efforts for the Trio in the future. After getting Kaiya loaded on the ferry to South Bimini, hugging her goodbye, and waving like a maniac, Tori headed back to the office to work on some more video ID logs before making her way down to the marina one last time for a boat trip aboard the smaller vessel, the Dakota (aka “Lay Low”).
Since the dolphins were essentially a no-show on Saturday’s boat trip, today’s last minute invite for a boat trip was a great (and absolute last) opportunity for the dolphins to give me, Tori, a proper send off – or, perhaps, for me to say bye to them. It wasn't looking too good, as we only had one sighting of a lone bottlenose dorsal which quickly disappeared, and after 3.5 hours of nothing but blue water, we were heading back in. Frustrated, (but grateful) I began chatting with Captain Al at the helm, when I peered over the side of the boat into the water, only to see a spotted dolphin suddenly (and shockingly) surface not 4 feet from me. Not only did it surface stealthily, but once I cried out, “dolphin!” for the last time, another spotted dolphin appeared. After a minute of bow riding, one of the dolphins took to an aerial display of acrobatics, doing three-back to back flips out of the water, and then ending with a tail slap as if to say, “Get in the water already! We’re here to play and say goodbye!” (Hey, a girl can dream…) After donning my mask, fins, snorkel and camera, I slipped into the water with the four eco-tour guests and was greeted by un-named spotted dolphins #101 and #110. These two were in such a playful and interactive mood, they were swimming extremely close to us, weaving in and out between us in the water column, exchanging pectoral fin contacts, and swimming in tandem. If one of us dove, one of them followed, and kept pace, spinning along with us. At one point, #110 dove down and ascended from directly below me with a piece of plastic and released it right in front of me and a guest…then hovered vertically, and waited…as if waiting for us to respond or react! She even motioned towards the plastic with her melon, perhaps directing me to do something about it and engage. Maybe she was telling me to take it out of her habitat, maybe she just wanted to play, either way it was by far, one of the most phenomenal interactions I experienced (and recorded!) this summer. Once the plastic was removed, she was right back to twirling around me in the water. This went on for about 30 minutes, to the point where I thought the camera battery was going to die. Such an incredible interaction to end an incredible summer, that I couldn’t even find adequate words to describe it after surfacing and returning to the boat. Luckily, there was a beautiful sunset, and so I sat and watched in silence, and let the leader of the eco-tour group say it for me in French… “Nous sommes tous liés ensemble et fait party d’un ensemble plus grand et plus beau,” which when translated means: We’re all linked together and part of a bigger, beautiful whole. Thank you for sharing those words!
Tori (& Kel!)
After almost six weeks on this island, it was difficult to accept that Saturday’s boat trip would be the last for Tori and Kaiya. The Renegade has been where we’ve spent almost every afternoon and evening this summer; it’s been our “office,” our vehicle of exploration, our means of collecting important data for the Dolphin Communication Project, and the very hub of our research efforts and relationship building. Aboard the Renegade, we’ve weathered rough seas and endured rain and squalls, thunder and lightning, days without dolphins, scorching heat and sun, and have genuinely loved every minute of it. We’ve witnessed joy and elation on dozens of eco-tour guest faces, after experiencing what it’s like to swim with dolphins in the wild, listened to heartwarming stories of conservation efforts, told jokes, discussed plans for our futures and plans to further protect these animals, as well as their habitat, aboard this vessel. We’ve learned about The Bahamas and all the wonders it has to offer, how to navigate the waters surrounding it, what’s in the turquoise waters, and what makes it such a special and wonderful place on this big, blue, planet…and we’ve learned it all aboard this boat. So many memories are now attached to the Renegade, that the thought of our time onboard coming to an end is as bittersweet as it gets.
Unfortunately, the dolphins we’ve grown to know and love this summer were not inclined to make any type of appearance on this, our last boat trip. We had one sighting of a lone bottlenose dorsal, and when Captain Audley pulled the boat closer, the dolphin retreated to depths in the distance. We continued on our search, spotting a large loggerhead turtle swimming at the surface, but still no further sign of dolphins ever presented itself. We never gave up hope as we all scanned the horizon, but as the hours ticked away, and the sun dropped lower in the sky, it became clear that perhaps saying good bye was just as hard for the dolphins as it was for us (well, so we might like to think!). Left only with memories, gratitude, and heavy hearts, we pulled back into the marina aboard the Renegade for the last time. With only a few short days left of our stay in Bimini, we now find ourselves faced with the new task of readying for our departures.
The Duo (& Kel!)
Friday morning offered a new and exciting opportunity for Tori and Kaiya to step into the education side of DCP's mission. After watching Kel lead information sessions for eco-tours and school groups throughout the summer, it was our turn to step up and take the lead. We did some preparation, then biked over to the Sea Crest where we met up with this week's eco-tour group. On top of it being our first DCP presentation, we had the added element of utilizing a translator as we were presenting to a group of native French speakers. It was so interesting to hear our own words and DCP's research in a different language! The guests were curious and animated about the information that we were sharing, making our job easy and enjoyable. It was a wonderful learning experience for us and, we hope, for the guests as well!
After a brief lunch at the apartment, we biked back to the Sea Crest for the 2 pm boat departure. Our first stop of the day was at Bimini Road for a brief snorkel. We saw some squirrelfish, Bermuda chub, parrotfish, and sergeant majors while cooling off in the clear water. The rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully as we searched the somewhat choppy water for signs of dolphins. At one point Captain Audley spotted a large tiger shark! It was swimming peacefully at the surface, allowing us to get a good view before it traveled deeper into the water. After more searching, and a much needed swim break, Tori saw dorsals in between the waves! Soon we had three adult spotted dolphins riding our bow. An underwater encounter was attempted, but the dolphins were more interested in the boat than the swimmers. Back on board and headed for home, we enjoyed the peaceful sun as it sank towards the horizon, marking the end of another great day in paradise. We are excited yet saddened for tomorrow as it brings our final boat trip.
Kaiya, Tori, & Kel
Thursday started off on a somber note, as it came with the realization that one of our Trio members was leaving us later that morning. The time had come for Patrick to say goodbye and head home to Kentucky, and after spending the last nine consecutive weeks together, it was heartbreaking to think that the time of the “Trio” had come to an end…at least for now. Having spent the night before celebrating his birthday, we were determined to give Patrick a proper send off, so when the time came for him to catch the ferry to South Bimini (and the airport), we walked him there, genuinely sad about his departure, and made sure to embarrass him with excessive good-bye waving. You’ll be missed, Patrick!
After losing a member, the Trio, became the “Duo”, and Tori and Kaiya went back to the office to spend some time working on ID’s and video logs before getting themselves ready for the afternoon boat departure and dolphin search. Once on board the Renegade, we set out with Captain Al and Captain Audley, determined to have an eventful day and locate some dolphins. It was about 90 minutes into the trip when we came upon a group of more than ten bottlenose. With Tori on the bow spotting, Kaiya sprang into action taking pictures with the surface camera, and after about ten minutes of them hanging around, Captain Al gave the go-ahead to get in the water. With Kaiya on the bridge, documenting everything on the clipboard, Tori grabbed her mask and fins and the video camera and slipped into the water with the eco-tour guests. Unfortunately, the bottlenose didn’t stick around that long, but Tori was able to get some footage of one crater feeding, before it left view. The group was picked up, but was told to keep their gear on because we were going to get dropped off again closer to the dolphins and continue our encounter. Once again, everyone entered the water, only to catch a few glimpses of some more crater feeding behavior, before Captain Al made the call to bring us in since it was getting late and we were pretty far out today. Leaving the dolphins once we find them is never easy, but it’s much harder to navigate a boat in the dark, so unfortunately that decision often has to be made.
On the way back to the marina, Tori caught sight of those tell-tale dorsal fins off the starboard side, and called out to Captain Audley who brought the boat right up alongside a group of four spotted dolphins, including none other than Lil’Jess (#35) and her calf, and an unidentified adult female with her calf as well. Since this was an ideal encounter, and we had made good time getting back, Captain Al let us get in the water for one last swim. This time, with Tori on the bridge, Kaiya was able to grab the video camera and get in to take some fun footage of this group. After about 20 minutes, Captain Audley said it was time to go, so yet again, we had to leave these incredible animals behind and call it a day. Today though, it wasn't so bad leaving, since we had multiple encounters, and the eco-tour group was highly satisfied and incredibly enthusiastic about the rest of week to come. Once back at the marina, Kaiya and Tori were off back home to prep for tomorrow’s DCP Information Session with the Sea Crest guests. It’s never a dull moment in the day of an intern here on Bimini…
Kaiya and Tori
The two species of dolphins found in the Peruvian Amazon are the pink dolphins (Inia geoffrensis) (front photo with this report) and the gray dolphins (Sotlaia fluviatillis) below. However, similar to beluga whales, pink dolphins are born gray, almost black, and loose pigmentation as they age. As can be seen in the photo, a large juvenile which is still gray in color, is swimming with its presumed mother displaying pink coloration with a touch of gray on the head. However, we are not certain of the family ties, which is part of the motivation to device a method to individually identify these dolphins acoustically…a voice recognition system! These pictures were taken during the first couple of weeks in July.
We also have documented what appears to be territorial behavior displayed by Inia towards Sotalia. Although these two species hunt for fish together peacefully at river confluences, the Inia prefer to have their resting areas free of Sotalia. We have documented the Inia actively chasing the Sotalia from the calm, shallow, protected from currents resting areas preferred by Inia on three occasions.
Maria (from Peru)
After a rough, short, dolphin-less day yesterday, we were very excited to get back out on the boat on Wednesday. We were even more excited because it was Patrick's birthday! Although, unfortunately, it was also his last day. After a celebratory lunch at the Bimini Big Game Club and a quick swim, we gathered our gear and headed to the boat for our 2pm departure. The sun was shining brightly and the ecotour guests were all excited that the clear weather also brought smaller swells, offering both a smoother ride and better visibility of dorsal fins.
Our boat trip began with a snorkel stop at Three Sisters, where we were able to see a plethora of life including parrot fish, angelfish, squirrelfish, a very large barracuda, and some schools gently drifting along the sea floor. Back on the boat and headed towards dolphin territory, all eyes were scanning the horizon. As we searched we kept spirits up by eating birthday brownie bites and taking lots of swim breaks to cool down. Fortunately, our patience paid off. A few minutes after 5:30, we saw a dorsal approaching the bow. We were soon surrounded by three juvenile spotted dolphins playfully circling the boat. Patrick was quickly able to recognize Paul (#99) by the distinct notch pattern in his peduncle and unnamed #108 by her damaged fluke. (Back in the office we were able to ID the third dolphin as unnamed #109.) As Kaiya and Patrick geared up with the guests to take video footage and still photos, Tori helped Captains Al and Audley keep the dolphins in sight.
The three dolphins were just as playful from the water as they seemed from the boat. They explored the swimmers by swimming circles around them, exchanged lots of tactile contact with each other, and picked up clumps of seaweed on their fins and in their mouths. Paul (#99) was observed twirling with a large piece of seaweed, causing it to encircle him and flow gracefully around him as he spun. It was a wonderful, light hearted encounter that the guests described as "magnificent." We had another brief sighting on the way back to the dock as three more spotteds joined us for a brief bowride.
Overall, it was a wonderful trip, especially for Patrick's birthday/last day. (Thank you dolphins!) As The Trio, we have been so fortunate to have this internship opportunity with DCP. We have truly enjoyed working with Kathleen, Kel, Nicole, and each other on this adventure of learning!
For the last time (until we're together again!),
The Trio (Tori, Patrick, & Kaiya)
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