Monday morning began with a visit to the students for a class on photo identification. Kel presented an in-depth lecture about the methods and uses of photo ID in marine mammal research. This was followed up by hands-on practice so the students could develop their skills using images of some of the Bimini spotted dolphins they will be encountering this week. It was great to watch how quickly they caught on to the intricacies of the task.
With the hopes that the day would be less windy than Sunday, we left the dock just after 1500. It soon became clear that, though calmer than yesterday, it would still be a rough ride. So we began our search. And we searched. And searched. And 3 hours later still had not seen anything. High winds not only make for an uncomfortable ride at times, they also make it more challenging to spot dolphins.
It was just after 1800 when Captain Audley thought he saw a splash to the west. We made a wide turn in that direction to investigate. Then we spotted them straight off our bow--dolphins! Sure enough, we had located three young spotted dolphins. It was difficult to get IDs, even age classes, with the big waves and the rocking boat but after a few moments of watching we noticed that there were other dolphins with these three. In fact, there were at least 2 bottlenose dolphins! As we observed this group from the boat they began to spread out, some heading east, some west and some staying by us. Suddenly, a bottlenose dolphin far off our starboard side started leaping out of the water! It performed so many consecutive leaps that it resembled a skipping rock!
As we continued observing the multiple groups of dolphins spreading out around us it became clear that we had to choose a group to follow. Captain Audley made the call and we ended up following a group of four spotted dolphins. These turned out to be Lil' Jess (#35), Stefran (#82) with her calf, and a second calf! We watched as these four surfed the waves and dove to the seafloor. We even saw two bottlenose dolphins who surfed right through the group.
After about 40 minutes of observing this group, Captain Al said it was getting late so we should either try underwater observations or head for home. We decided to give the encounter a try with just Dr. Kaplan, Dr. M and Nicole first--the students would join them if the dolphins stuck around. When we first got in the water, we saw Stefran below us. We were only able to observe her for a few moments before she started swimming away. Suddenly Lil' Jess was there! As we observed her floating head down in the water column, a calf swam through our group (was it hers?). Not long after, all of the dolphins were out of view so the boat picked us up and head began our trip home.
Back at the dock, the students headed up to their rooms to get ready for their BBQ at the marina! Even though they were not able to get in the water today, they are excited to see what tomorrow may bring! We all hope it includes less wind!
Nicole & Kel
We are happy to welcome Dr. Daisy Kaplan back to Bimini! This time, she is accompanied by Dr. M and students from Hunter College and Manhattan College. Just after lunch, Kel visiting the group and gave a crash course in still photograph for photo-ID. The students seemed eager to collect useful photographs for DCP! With a warning that the conditions would be windy, we departed the Sea Crest shortly after 1500.
We didn’t wait long to give the students their “gear check” swim – the chance to practice getting on and off the boat and to test their masks, fins and snorkels. The group did a great job, especially considering the challenging conditions. We then resumed the search for dolphins, but everyone’s expectations were low. Suddenly, one of the students was the first to spot a dolphin cruising right next to the boat! It turned out to be three young adult Atlantic spotted dolphins, including Split Jaw (#22), Prince William (#64) and possibly Tim (#69). As this trio came on and off the bow, the big group of dolphins was just ahead! With at least 14 dolphins in the group, it was soon time to give an underwater observation a try.
Throughout the rest of the afternoon we had four total water entries and saw Romeo (#10) and her calf, Noodle (#94) and her calf, Stefran (#82) and her calf, “the boys” (Split Jaw, Prince William, Tim and Speedy, #78) and un-named #75. Hopefully we’ll get even more IDs once we review the photos and video. We saw Romeo rub her fluke in the sand, Prince William take a break from the dolphins to cruise, whistling, through the human group and big, tight formations of adults slowly cruising through. It was a wonderful first day – despite the wind – for the visiting students and researchers!
Meanwhile, Nicole had been up since the wee hours of the morning making her way from New England to Bimini! The Kel-Nicole duo is back in action, just the way it should be. We’re ready for an amazing final four weeks of the 2016 Bimini research season! Keep following to hear all the fun updates!
Kel & Nicole
Wednesday and Thursday were land-based days for me, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t all about dolphins. On Wednesday I had the pleasure of meeting with the Bimini Adventures group for a casual discussion on DCP, dolphins and my specific observations here off Bimini. The group had fantastic questions; chatting with tourists always re-energizes me for more data collection and analysis! Plus, the group was immensely supportive of DCP – thank you!
Thursday began with a younger crowd: the first group of students from Chicago City Day School was aboard the Shedd Aquarium’s Coral Reef II. I have the honor of meeting with CCDS students every summer and as usual, the group impressed me with their knowledge, interest and thoughtful questions. Thank you to the students, their teachers and the CRII crew!
Just a few more days and Nicole will be back on-island. I can’t wait!
Tuesday was my second chance to join this week’s Bimini Adventures group. Our departure was delayed due to a strange squall that was developing immediately to the east. The rain was forming before our very eyes, yet the squall wasn’t actually moving! Eventually we decided we needed to risk the wet weather and get away from the dock. Though we had a late start, the dolphins appeared very early in the trip, yet again! The first dolphin group we sighted was somewhere between six and ten individuals; they were so scattered it was hard to get a firm group count. But, in the mix were Paul (#99), two other juveniles, an older calf/young juvenile and several adults. With a frigate bird overhead, the dolphins appeared to be feeding; but on what, we could not be sure. After observing this group for over 20 minutes, we continued on our way in search of more playful dolphins…
Not long afterwards, un-named #102 was up ahead, along with another juvenile spotted dolphin. We got a few looks at this pair and again continued our search. The next dolphins to make an appearance were bottlenose dolphins! The group of five, including one or two youngsters, may have been feeding on the sea floor, but the poor water visibility made this hard to confirm from the boat. As the passengers gave swim a try, I stayed onboard to collect more dorsal fin images for photo-ID. We soon left these dolphins with hopes that we might get one more chance at spotteds…
And yay! Just before 1900, there they were! A group of Atlantic spotted dolphins who let us observe them underwater. In this group were Tina (#14), Inka (#93), an un-catalogued, but known juvenile and 4-5 other dolphins. I was able to record video, so am looking forward to seeing if I can ID more members of the group. Over 30 minutes later, a boat full of happy campers was on its way back to the dock. But, before we could reach shore, another group of spotteds was on the bow! I was up top at the start of the bow riding, but was able to ID Split Jaw (#22), Noodle (#94) and likely her calf as the final three dolphins to say hello to us today!
It was an unpredictable day, but a great one!
Until next time,
On Monday, I was able to get back on the water in search of dolphins, after a few weeks on land. It had rained on and off all morning, but despite the still overcast skies, the seas were very calm. Immediately out of the harbor we saw a turtle swimming just below the surface and everyone was optimistic it would be a great first day. Because it was the first day, a “gear check” was planned for about 30 minutes into the trip. This gives Bimini Adventures’ guests a chance to test their snorkel gear, practice getting on and off the boat, and get a feel for open ocean swimming. Today, however, the dolphins had other plans!
Before the crew could even call for the groups’ gear check, the dolphins were in view. A group of eight Atlantic spotted dolphins were on the move! Though they were traveling, they spent a great deal of time at the surface, occasionally playing sargassum, riding the bow of the boat and interacting with other. In the group were: Split Jaw (#22), Prince William (#64), Tim (#69), Speedy (#78), Noodle (#94) and, presumably, her calf. After watching them from the boat, it was time to do that gear check after all. Though the dolphins did not stick around, the passengers seemed to enjoy the practice. Back on the boat, we continued the dolphin search and very quickly came upon the same group. By now, however, the dolphins were scattered and some of them seemed to be feeding. Having spent a nice time observing this group, we opted to continue in search other dolphins.
With bad weather looming to the west, and some unfortunately boat trouble, we searched for the dolphins again while headed back home a bit early. Still, spirits were high and grateful for the great dolphin observations we did have. For me, I was thrilled to see familiar faces and fins and am looking forward to other day on the water tomorrow.
This is a (very!) belated post from late July. Apologies for the delay!
It’s been a land-based week or so here in Bimini. Nicole wrapped up her first 2016 session and headed back up north, while I remain in Bimini to hold down the figurative research fort. In between day-to-day DCP responsibilities, I’m working to incorporate Nicole’s photo-ID efforts into our Bimini catalog so we have a more up-to-date catalog to reference going forward. And today (Thursday) I was able to join the second session of Shedd Aquarium’s High School Marine Biology program aboard the Coral Reef II. This group has been handling weather challenges like champs and I was thrilled to make it to and from the vessel between gnarly squalls. I shared background on DCP and lots of information about using photo-ID for our work studying the bottlenose and Atlantic spotted dolphins off Bimini. The students had great questions and graciously laughed at my corny jokes! A big thank you to them, their instructors and the Coral Reef II crew!
Back to data I go,
I spent the week of July 16-23 on board the riverboat, La Estrella. This ship is operated by International Expeditions, an eco-tour travel agency. During this week, I had the opportunity to spend a morning recording dolphins in the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve. The conditions in the Ucayali River are optimal for recording dolphins. To record the dolphins, we navigate a small motor boat about 200 meters past the animals, up-stream. We turn the motor off and drift with the current past the dolphins while recording. The Ucayali River is generally 7 meters or less in depth, and not more than 50 meters wide. The current is slow and the dolphins seem to favor this area. After doing one to two passes with the hydrophone array, we do a pass with the HumminBird side scan sonar system. One of our data images from the side scan sonar is shown below.
This coming week, we will have scientists from the U.S., France and Chile in the area collaborating on research on river dolphin acoustics!
Smiles from the Equator!
P.S. in the image - in the black area in the center shows upper left and right images that are suspected mother/calf dolphin pairs. The image on the left below these two pairs is likely an adult dolphin casting a shadow to the left.
Sunday morning was less eventful for DCP than Saturday had been. Kel and Nicole spent the day in the office working on photo ID and other data processing. At 1500, Nicole set off on the boat with Captain Al and his two guests. This time, the pair wanted to stop at "Bimini Road", or the road to Atlantis, for some snorkeling. They loved the spot as much as they did "Three Sisters" on Saturday. After enjoying the sights for a bit, they climbed back on the boat.
Given the amazing and unbeatable dolphin encounter we had the day before, Captain Al decided that we should head towards another, less-visited snorkeling spot instead of spending the entire day searching for dolphins. This unique spot is part of our regular searching trajectory anyway so we could be on the look out and stop if we found a group of dolphins, but if we did not find any at least we would see some other cool creatures. Just as we were making our way in that direction, one of the guests spotted dolphins at 10 o'clock! It turned out to be a group of at least 30 Atlantic spotted dolphins including Romeo (#10), Swoosh (#36), Cerra (#38), Leslie (#80), Stefran (#82), un-named #102 and lots of calves! We observed these dolphins for almost an hour from the boat, taking surface photos and watching them play and leap around. They were being quite social at the surface! We even saw some dolphins playing with orange leaves that had drifted into the open water from North Bimini.
At this point, we decided to try some underwater observations. When we entered the water we saw a group of about 15 dolphins and Nicole noticed that Buster (#04), Inka (#93) and Noodle (#94) were also present, as well as at least one White Sand Ridge male. This encounter lasted about 10 minutes before the dolphins swam out of sight. Back on the boat we thought we were going to take a break and observe from the surface for a while. Captain Al surprised us by suggesting we jump right back in, even though the dolphins might swim away again. And it's a good thing we did! Back underwater we saw a group of about 15 once more. Shortly after we got in, most of these dolphins swam away. Inka (#93) and a young juvenile male stuck around, though, and swam with us for almost 30 minutes! This was another incredible encounter, but amazing for different reasons than the one on Saturday. This time, these two dolphins were as interested in us as we were in them. The young male seemed fascinated by making one of the guests spin in circles. And Inka seemed to find it interesting that Nicole would follow her to the seafloor when she dove down to rub her flukes in the sand. They both seemed to enjoy swimming circles around us as we free dove and then came back up for air.
After this amazing experience, we climbed back on the boat only to find a giant rainbow arching over North Bimini. What could be more magical? The only downside, however, was that the rainbow meant rain, which began to fall shortly after we had started on our way home. We raced home to try to avoid the large squall but were still pelted by raindrops. We never stopped smiling, though, after the most incredible dolphin encounters over the past two days.
DCP is sad to see this tourist pair go but we are extremely grateful that they let us share these experiences with them. And as always, we are thankful to Bimini Adventures for including us during their dolphin excursions. DCP researchers will have a break from boat trips for a while but we look forward to sharing them with all of you later in the summer!
Until next time,
Nicole & Kel
Marie’s letter below is in the first person. We include some of her photos, too.
I did a presentation at the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana (http://www.iiap.org.pe/). The lead photo shows me after my presentation with team members. I submitted an international grant with groups from Peru, Chile, and France to increase the exchange of technology. Our team has offered to ground truth our acoustic data with drone robotics! Also, we may employ some infra-red cameras to explore cavitation, record individual fish in tanks in an attempt to identify fish species in the river, and automatic data uploads to a server!
Rain is HUGE hazard to electronic recording equipment here (and indeed anywhere!). But, the rainbow is promising a possibly sunny afternoon in the rain forest.
Our research team is developing new ultra-high frequency recording equipment, capable of taking up to 2.5 million sound samples per second and processing it into a .wav file in real time! It can record up to 4 channels simultaneously taking 1 million sound samples per second. Here, I’m becoming accustomed to the prototype equipment.
My research group is also doing a bird biodiversity index based upon audio recordings. We are collecting recordings for an international competition for the development of algorithms that automatically can detect species. Currently, up to 500 species can be identified this way.
Plus, we took the “Flat Stanley Cup” to the top of the canopy (almost 40 meters) to record at sunrise. I’m still accustomed to my night teaching schedule, my face shows it!
Here is an orphaned chachalaca baby bird being cared for and fed by a Trumpeter. My environmental science textbook discusses chachalacas as an alternative food source in the biodiversity chapter. I love saying this little bird’s name, students crack up!