Our first week without boat trips was a change of pace. We had more time to relax and explore the island, but it also offered us more time to take a significant chunk out of our video logs and bottlenose photo-ID. After a very productive work week, we capped it off with an eventful Friday and Saturday. On Friday, after a morning of work, we set off for the Bimini Biological Field Station (aka “Shark Lab”) around two. We took the water taxi over to South Bimini and rode our bike to the lab. We were a little early so it gave us the chance to bike around the island and see the houses and scenery. We arrived at the Shark Lab and were greeted by our three tour guides. We chatted for a few minutes and got acquainted with them by the time the rest of the tour group arrived. We then were lead to their pens they have on the beach behind the lab and we got a good look at a young lemon shark and nurse shark as the Shark Lab volunteers held them and explained their anatomy and behavior. They also gave the group a brief introduction into the research and studies they are currently conducting. On our way back to North Bimini, Kaiya noticed another boat that ran aground at the southern tip of the North Island, presumably trying to take a short cut out of the channel. This added a little excitement to our island experience, with two boats having run aground here just this week. Afterwards, Tori headed home to work on more video logs, while Kaiya and Patrick headed to the northern end of the island to observe the protest that was taking place through Resorts World Bimini. The locals were protesting the continued destruction of the mangroves for a golf course. In short, this is a big problem because the mangroves are important habitats and nurseries to many species of marine life, including sharks, rays, lobster, conch and many fishes. Along with this, mangroves are important to protecting the island during natural disasters, such as hurricanes, they are important carbon captures and they have cultural value to this island community. It was awesome to see and hear the passion from locals to support their environment.
After a full Friday, we started early on Saturday as well. One of the many ways Kel helps the island is by volunteering her time when the veterinarian, Dr. Grant, comes to town. He began coming to Bimini when the stray dog and cat population got out of hand many years ago. Today, thanks to the collective effort from many people around the island and support from folks around the world, the stray animal population is well managed and under control. We helped Kel out by hanging flyers last week, and Saturday Patrick and Kaiya went with her to volunteer some extra hands if needed at the vet clinic. Unfortunately, Tori is allergic to dogs so couldn’t help out as well, instead she did some work at home, did a mini beach clean-up outside the house, and went for a swim. We were joined at the vet clinic by a few Shark Lab volunteers as well. After a relatively slow morning, the vet offered to buy us all lunch from The Big Game Club (Thank you, Dr. Grant!!!). We had the time to get to know the other volunteers and Dr. Grant over lunch. After lunch, we had quite a few clients. Around four p.m., Dr. Grant, Patrick, and two of the Shark Lab volunteers went to make a few house calls up the island. Meanwhile, Kaiya and one of the Shark Lab managers hung back in case any more visitors showed up. On our first house call there were four big dogs to give vaccines and medicine too. A once, potentially, unpredictable pit bull ended up being Patrick’s favorite patient of the day. Immediately after we finished up with him and restraining him to make sure he couldn’t hurt anyone, he plopped over, tongue hanging out, begging for belly rubs. After another quick stop we headed back to Kaiya and Ches around 6:30 pm. It was a long, but very rewarding day for us. We went home and then remembered the Bimini Junkanoo summer festival was getting underway in Alice Town. The Trio decided to go check it out and get a genuine Bahamian experience. We enjoyed conch fritters and a Kalik, while watching the watermelon and pineapple eating contest, the fashion show, and live band. It was a very full and fun weekend and we’re extremely excited to get back out on the boat with dolphins on Sunday!
Kel and the Trio, signing off.
Sunday started early for the DCP team (Kel, Nicole, Tori, Patrick, and Kaiya) as we were met on the beach at 8:15 am by a small, inflatable boat that delivered us to the Coral Reef II, Shedd Aquarium's research and education vessel, that was anchored offshore. Though we arrived jostled and wet, we received a warm welcome from the students that are currently calling the boat home. Everybody gathered around tables inside while Kel presented about DCP's work in Bimini, The Bahamas. The students were able to learn about our methodology, past research, future goals, the local populations of bottlenose and spotteds, and how we use photo ID to catalog the dolphins. The students were very knowledgeable and engaged and Kel was impressed with their high level of curiosity and astute line of questioning. They were particularly interested in the scientific process of using a photo ID catalog as opposed to other methods of identification and classification of individuals, such as tagging. It was awesome to see different students relating and comparing knowledge that they already had of other species to DCP's work with dolphins. After this experience, we are even more excited to talk to another group of students on the Coral Reef II in a few weeks.
The rest of Sunday was spent in the office working on updating the bottlenose ID catalog, creating video logs, and completing other necessary tasks. Because we have a week off from boat trips and data collection, our schedule has added flexibility. Along with office work, the interns are hoping to explore some new snorkel spots, observe Bahamian Independence Day celebrations on July 10th, and take a trip to the shark lab on South Bimini. We are all hoping for a quiet and productive week. Unfortunately, this week also brings Nicole's departure. We are all sad that her current time on Bimini has come to a close, but we know that she will continue to work closely with DCP as she makes progress on her master's thesis. We also know, without a doubt, that she will be back to the island soon.
Until next time,
Tori, Patrick, Kaiya, Nicole & Kel
We woke up Thursday morning and immediately began working on some of our video logs and bottlenose ID. After knocking a large portion of our work out, we took a break for lunch and to get ready for the boat. Meanwhile, Kel and Nicole led a discussion this morning about ecotourism and the island with this week’s guests. We have had small exchanges about this topic, so it was nice to have a formal talk about this very important matter. We then made our way to the marina and boarded the boat. Unfortunately, today was our last day with this group and Nicole on board. Given the circumstances, we were hoping for a fantastic send-off for everyone’s last day. To the extreme delight of some, Captain Audley set our course straight to Triangle Rocks to swim with sharks! We made the short trip south and Captain Al prepped everyone on board for the encounter. Everyone got in the water and was greeted by an abundance of wildlife. There were a few Caribbean reef sharks, at least three nurse sharks, a sharpnose shark, huge brightly-colored parrotfish, and many other tropical fish around. After a few photo-ops with the sharks we got back on board and search for some dolphins. We headed back north, past the island, with our eyes peeled the whole way. A little over an hour later we saw our first dolphins! About three bottlenose popped up in front of us but they were travelling and focused on their mission. They weren’t the least bit interested in us, so we didn’t stick around too long. We continued on our way to find some spotted dolphins. As we searched, we got a little tip from another operator; they were in the water with three spotted dolphins, but the humans were heading home. This allowed us the opportunity to take their place, after a discussion about whether or not they thought the dolphins needed a break, which worked out well for everyone. We made our way there and shortly after we arrived, seven more joined in. We quickly got ready and hopped in the water. Among this group, which stuck around for over half an hour, were: Niecey (#48) and her calf, Leslie (#80), Paul (#99), and unnamed #108 and #112. They were very active, enjoying bowriding, surfing the waves, and jumping out of the water in groups. They eventually lost in interest in us, but it was time to head home anyway. I believe everyone agreed that this was a great send-off for their last day. We got back to the dock and said our goodbyes to the group. We’ll especially miss Nicole as both co-worker and friend! We learned so much from her, and her positive attitude made every day better. Thank you for all you have done for DCP and we will all miss having you around for the rest of the summer!
See you next week,
Patrick, Kaiya, and Tori
Wednesday had a different start than our days so far on Bimini. We met DCP's eco tour guests near the Sea Crest for a morning of beach clean-up. We all grabbed our trash bags, put on our gloves, and spread out along the sand in search of debris. As we worked, we discussed with the guests our conflicting feelings about the morning's activity. On one hand we were happy to be helping pick up the garbage in order to maintain a healthy environment, both on and off the shore. But on the other hand, we were disappointed that there was so much trash to be picked up in the first place. We could tell that much of the trash had washed up onto the beach in the waves, reminding us that we all need to do our part, no matter where in the world we live or visit. One thing that everyone can do is say no to disposable plastic items, such as drinking straws and plastic bags, and opt for reusable ones instead!
Once we had more than five full bags of trash, a bag of recyclables, a tire, and multiple cardboard boxes, it was time for a quick dip. The water felt amazingly refreshing after a morning in the hot sun and humidity, motivating us to finish the rest of our morning tasks. After a few more hours of office work for the DCP team and different adventures for the guests, we were ready for our 3 pm departure. Though the seas were calm at the marina, the open ocean was a different story. The large swells and 95 degrees temperature (which the forecast said felt like 106 degrees, thanks to the humidity) made for an interesting afternoon. We pushed through the waves (and drank lots of water) as we continued to search for our elusive friends. A little after 4 pm, Captain Al saw a small group in the distance. To our delight, we were soon watching four bottlenose and a single juvenile spotted frolicking around the boat. After a little while, the bottlenose disappeared and the spotted led us from sargassum patch to sargassum patch as it playfully traveled amongst the waves. Kel was able to get a brief underwater encounter, but the dolphin did not stick around long enough for anybody else to see. However, it provided the perfect opportunity for us to cool off with a brief swim break.
To everybody's delight, this was not to be our only dolphin encounter for the day. Two hours later, we found ourselves surrounded by six spotted dolphins with some very familiar faces among them! In the group was Lil' Jess (#35), Swoosh (#36) and her calf, Tim (#69), and unnamed #102 (she is waiting for her name)! After a brief observation from the boat, Captains Al and Audley decided we could try an underwater encounter. To our satisfaction, some of the dolphins were willing to stick around and swim with us for over half an hour. Kel was able to get some great video data while the dolphins delighted the ecotour guests with their antics and acrobatics. Overall it was a fabulous day out on the water and we cannot wait for a wonderful Thursday as well.
Kaiya, Tori, Patrick, Nicole & Kel
The Trio awoke to a stormy Tuesday morning, but that didn’t stop us from getting down to the Sea Crest for Nicole’s presentation of her Master’s project, to the DCP Eco-tour group eagerly awaiting her. After a rainy morning of scientific research discussion, enhanced by all the brilliant minds in the room, we went into lunch motivated and enlightened from such a wonderful educational experience. We were determined to make the best of this 4th of July, regardless of the weather, so we headed home to grab our gear, and then it was back to the dock for our 3pm boat departure.
To everyone’s delight, the rain held off for a while, and we were presented with a beautiful afternoon (double rainbow included). We made the rounds through dolphin territory, but unfortunately, we were unsuccessful in locating any. Everyone remained in good spirits, and the swim break definitely helped with that, as this group is eager to get in the water and stay there. There were a few times when Capitan Al thought he may have caught a glimpse of some splashing in the distance, but it didn’t reappear, and it would seem as though the luck we’ve been running on, has run out for the moment. But not to worry, because although we weren’t able to locate or sight any dolphins today, we did encounter a big tiger shark, swimming lazily at the surface, while heading back to the dock. Was the tiger shark’s presence the reason behind no dolphin sightings? Hmmmm….
We returned to shore for a lovely group dinner, thanks to Chef Bob, as well as Julie and her hospitality. It was a great evening of swapping stories and getting to know one another, while the fireworks display could be seen in the distance. Tomorrow is another day and another chance for us to find some dolphins, so we’re not letting the rain and absence of our illusive friends dampen our spirits, and we’ll be back on the boat and back at it after tomorrow morning’s beach clean-up.
Happy 4th of July to All!
The Bimini Team
PS: We're so synced that we all wore red shirts without even discussing it!
Our Monday began at the Sea Crest with our current ecotour group. Kel led a morning information session about the dolphin population around Bimini and photo-ID techniques to demonstrate how the DCP team identifies each individual. Those who were interested in helping us with the bottlenose ID, that we have been working on for the past few days, stuck around to get a few pointers from Kaiya and Patrick; during this, Tori worked on getting software for her computer to help us all continue to efficiently make progress. Nicole also supplied a birthday pastry to help the DCP team and the group to wish Kel a very happy birthday! After doing some work of our own we headed back home for a quick lunch and to get ready for the boat. It was a 2 pm boat departure, which left us enough time for a snorkel stop at Three Sisters before heading out in search of dolphins. The snorkel trip was full of bright and interesting creatures. We all saw plenty of parrotfish, damselfish, hogfish, blue tangs, a large pufferfish (much to Kel’s delight), the master of camouflage known as the lizardfish (Tori’s new favorite), and many more reef inhabitants. We boarded the boat and set our course due-north in hope for dolphins. Though it took longer for our first sighting, the group was rewarded for their patience. Out of the waves came a group of nearly 20 bottlenose dolphins. We were able to observe them from the boat demonstrating a wide range of behaviors such as crater feeding, socializing, and travelling. When Kel, Patrick, and the ecotour group got in the water, only two of the dolphins decided to hang around while the rest preferred to continue travelling.
After a short encounter with the bottlenose we were on our way in search of spotteds. During our search we did get a surprise loggerhead ‘birthday’ turtle appearance before it quickly swam to the bottom. We finally found a large group of at least 16 spotted dolphins thanks to Nicole’s practiced eye. After a brief observation from the boat we decided to give the encounter a try. The group, Nicole, Tori, and Kel had a total of about 30 minutes of swim time with the dolphins. Many of the dolphins were grouped together and swimming in tandem with a lot of the younger dolphins speeding off and back again. We saw a few noticeable dolphins, such as, Swoosh (#36) and Cerra (#38) and her calf. There were a large number of younger dolphins and a few other cataloged dolphins that we recognized. Kel and Nicole were also able to identify a couple of dolphins originally from the northern Bahamas. Unfortunately we had to leave this great encounter to head home as it was getting late. Once at the dock we returned home to quickly get ready for dinner. We were fortunate to have some delicious lasagna and key lime pie and to celebrate Kel’s birthday. We ended the night at home, slightly exhausted, but with full and happy bellies. We finished up some work for the day and got ready for tomorrow. We’re looking forward to another dolphin-filled exciting day tomorrow!
Trio, singing off,
Kaiya, Patrick, and Tori (& Kel & Nicole, of course)
Friday, June 30th, began the weekend for the DCP team. Working half days allowed us (Patrick, Tori, and Kaiya) to begin to explore the island that we are currently calling home. On Friday we took a break from the water to bike north to restock our groceries and hunt down our first round of Bimini Bread. Apart from Patrick's flat tire, it was an enjoyable and productive day. However, by the time Saturday rolled around, we were itching to get back into the water. After diligently working on our office tasks, we took a snorkel trip around the southern tip of North Bimini. To our extreme delight, a squadron of four cuttlefish appeared out of the blue. We watched as they changed their coloring from a deep maroon to a translucent silvery, white. While we are technically on the island to study the dolphins, it is a wonderful treat to be able to observe the other species that inhabit this area.
On Sunday it was time to welcome DCP's new round of ecotour guests who we have eagerly been awaiting. The entire group, including Kel, Nicole, the interns, and all of the guests were able to gather for introductions and an overview of the week before heading out on a 15:00 boat trip. After a brief search, our afternoon quickly became one giant sighting as we were able to observe first hand why dolphins are said to live in a "fission-fusion" society. Over the course of two hours we hung around as different groups of Atlantic spotted dolphins came and went, continually changing who they were interacting with. While we only saw some individuals once, we continued to see others repeatedly throughout the afternoon. By the end of the day our tally of identified dolphins included Romeo (#10), Split Jaw (#22), Lil' Jess (#35), Swoosh (#36), Tim (#69), Paul (#99), possibly Sea Beagle (#106), and other recognizable dolphins, including some calves. We were even able to spot some individuals that were only added to the catalog yesterday!
Just as it is fun to identify the individual dolphins, we also enjoy observing their behaviors. Today was no exception. The dolphins put on quite a show as they played with sargassum, bubbles, and each other. They were also chasing mackerel, riding the bow, and exhibiting highly social behaviors, including lots of tactile contact. All in all, it was a wonderful day for all things spotted dolphin! This week's DCP guests, both returning and new, took today's wonderful encounters as a good sign for the rest of the week’s boat trips. Hopefully we will have just as much activity and excitement over the next few days!
Patrick, Tori, Kaiya, Nicole & Kaiya
We kicked Thursday morning off by starting our newly implemented DCP work routine of photo ID sorting and data entry. To the delight of the Trio (Patrick, Tori & Kaiya), Kel joined us for an increased group work effort, and answer any questions we might have at this point. After a quick lunch break, it was off to the dock for our afternoon boat ride in search of the dolphins.
Once aboard the boat with Nicole, Captain Al, Captain Audley, and the eco-tour guests, Thursday turned out to be quite the day for dolphin encounters! Our journey began with a snorkel trip to Bimini Road, where everyone was delighted with their experience in the crystal clear water…it was so inviting, even Captain Al jumped in with us. After the snorkeling, we headed north in search of the familiar splashes which tell us we are on the right track. It wasn't long before we found a small group of bottlenose who were chasing ballyhoo and playfully feeding. Although we didn’t get in the water at that point, we would soon have our chance with four spotted dolphins-including the one and only, Seabeagle (#106)! Seabeagle’s group of dolphins was also joined by five bottlenose, for an encounter with both species. With Kaiya on the bridge in charge of the sighting sheet, and Nicole on the bow taking surface photos, Patrick and Tori were able to get in the water to capture still shots and video. After that eventful encounter with approximately nine dolphins, we were back on the boat and continuing our search, while the captains did their best to steer us clear of the squall heading in from the northeast.
In the distance we could see the telltale flash and splash of bottlenose dorsals on the surface, but Captain Al’s experience led us in another direction-right into the path of multiple groups of spotted dolphins, totaling 10+ individuals. Over the next hour, and during two additional underwater encounters, we were able to identify Paul (#99), Lil’ Jess (#35), and Romeo (#10). Due to them swimming in somewhat of a large group, we’re excited to check the footage later to see who else we might recognize! We were very pleased with our last boat trip of the week, and thankful of the opportunity to share such incredible dolphin encounters with this Bimini Adventures eco-tour group. According to several of the guests, it was the perfect send-off and end to their week as well. As for the Trio, we’re ending the week on a high note, but cannot wait to continue this journey on Sunday.
Tori, Patrick, Kaiya, Nicole & Kel
Patrick, Tori, and Kaiya started their Wednesday with an early AM snorkel off the “Galant Lady.” Getting in the water first thing in the morning was something we’ve all been eager to do, and this was the perfect morning to do it! Among the highlights of the snorkel were an apprehensive barracuda, a stingray, some split-crown feather dusters, some comb jellies, as well as an assortment of colorful fish. After that, it was time to get some coffee and get to work.
After working on some of the Bimini dolphin photo-ID logs, and data entry for a few hours, it was time to break for lunch and then head over to the Sea Crest, where Kel was hosting a DCP information session with this week’s eco-tour group. It was a great opportunity to connect with the guests we’d been accompanying all week, and it also gave them a chance to get to know more about us and what exactly the Dolphin Communication Project is all about. It was also fun to introduce them to our Adopt-A-Dolphins. Thank you to everyone for your great questions, stories and support!
Once the guests were ready to go, Nicole led us down to the dock for our boat departure, and we were off in search of dolphins. Once under way, we were able to rotate between positions and responsibilities, each spending time with the sighting sheet and surface camera, and Patrick and Kaiya were able to get to get in the water during the only encounter of the day. Kaiya was able to test her skills with the DCP video camera and try for some focal follows with a group of crater-feeding bottlenose dolphins, with one spotted dolphin in amongst them. With both Patrick and Kaiya in the water documenting the activity, Tori was on the bridge snapping pictures with the surface camera. Though it was the only encounter of the day, it was quite eventful, with the bottlenose exhibiting some aggressive behaviors towards each other, such as jaw-clapping.
As it started to get late, the captains opted to start heading back in, in the hopes we’d find some spotted dolphins while en route to the dock. Instead of the spotted, however, we had a brief sighting of 2 more bottlenose (thanks to Nicole’s keen eye), one of which was riding our bow, just as we entered the channel in the homestretch. All in all, it was another glorious day at the office, made even better by the guava birthday pastry given to Kaiya for her 23rd birthday today! (Happy Birthday Kaiya!) Hopefully tomorrow we’ll spot some spotteds.
Patrick, Tori, Kaiya, Kel & Nicole signing off.
Tuesday marks The Trio’s first full day in the field! Our morning was spent with Nicole dropping by to outline our goals for the summer. We began working on yesterday’s data entry and some bottlenose photo-ID. The morning quickly passed and we made ourselves some lunch. We then immediately went to the boat for our introductions and a quick overview of our boat regulations and protocol. We were introduced to the eco-tour group that we will be joining this week. Our trip began differently than usual by heading to Triangle Rocks for a quick shark dive (to Tori’s extreme delight!). We hopped in and saw a few reef and sharpnose sharks. Most swam by rather quickly but one was quite inquisitive and stuck around for a bit. We snorkeled a little longer then got back to the boat to begin our search for dolphins.
It didn’t take too long to spot a group of three bottlenose dolphins which hung around just long enough to take surface photos, but we didn’t get to get in the water this time. We passed a few vessels with their own groups of dolphins but we travelled on to find our own. We were fortunate enough to have four underwater encounters throughout the day. Kel was able to get into the water to capture some amazing video data. Patrick and Kaiya were able to practice some surface photos and identifying dolphins from the bow, while Tori was perfecting her sighting log skills from the bridge. We saw a few spotted dolphins that were easy to recognize, such as Romeo (#10) and her calf, Inka (#93), Seabeagle (#106), and #102. Noodle (#94), #101, #107, #108, and some calves may have made an appearance as well. We’re excited to review the footage and pictures from the day to hopefully confirm more. After an extremely productive day with lots of sightings and activity we headed for home!
While docking we saw three massive bull sharks, a nurse shark, and a stingray snacking on some freebies that were being thrown in the water by some fishermen cleaning their catch from the day. We then hopped on our bikes and made a quick stop to get some groceries. Then we were heading back home to clean up, eat dinner, and finish work for the day. We can’t wait for another productive and exciting day tomorrow!
Trio, signing off.
Tori, Patrick, and Kaiya (& Kel & Nicole, of course!)