Sunday started out as a storm. Not a metaphorical storm of work and effort but a literal one. We stayed inside the majority of the morning, like most other mornings, working on our photo IDs. Mathew also uploaded his GoPro footage from Saturday’s trip (from our swim with crater feeding bottlenose dolphins).
The afternoon was unusual because headed to the boat for what we thought was an early departure, but just as we were going to leave, Captain Al told us that we would be waiting 15-40 minutes for a large squall to pass. Mathew and some of the students decided to have fun with the situation and make it a contest—the last student to hold out on the bow through the rain and wind was the winner. It came down to four people (Mathew being one of them) and they decided to call it a draw. About an hour later than our original/early departure time, we took to the seas and began looking for dolphins. We saw no bottlenose dolphins but we did come across Atlantic spotted dolphins. The first group we saw was three that Nicole recognized as adults from a spotted dolphin group previously found in the northern Bahamas but that have been frequently seen around Bimini over the past few years. They were bow riding for about fifteen minutes before they continued on their way and we resumed our search. About five minutes later, we saw a new group of five spotted dolphins. They were surfing the waves so Student Team 2, along with Kel, Dr. Kaplan, Dr. Maust-Mahl and Garion, headed in to collect underwater data. Mathew stayed on the boat with the GPS and clipboard keeping our records of time and location. At first we weren’t sure the dolphins would stick around but lucky for us they did! Included in the group of five were Swoosh (#36) and her presumed calf (pictured together here) and young juvenile and a second mother/calf pair. It was great to see how the dolphins were performing their usual activities while also investigating the humans in their home.
With this successful round of observations and lots of data, we headed back to the dock. The forecast doesn’t look great for Monday or Tuesday but everyone is looking forward to what our next wildlife encounters might bring!
Mathew, Garion, Kel & Nicole
Saturday morning we awoke to a rain storm that lasted well into the afternoon. Being “forced” to stay indoors provided the DCP team plenty of time to work on photo IDs, data entry, and field reports. Unfortunately, the presentation we expected to give to the Chicago County Day School students aboard the Coral Reef II was canceled due to poor weather. But the boat will be around Bimini for the next few days so we hope to have another chance to meet with them later this week!
Just after 3 PM, we departed from the Sea Crest marina and began our daily search for dolphins. It only took about an hour to spot a group of nine bottlenose dolphins crater feeding and we stopped to begin underwater observations of them. As Nicole, Dr. Kaplan, Mathew, and half the students entered the water, Garion stayed behind to log data on the event. The encounter lasted roughly half an hour before we exited and continued our search (with the hope of encountering Atlantic spotted dolphins). We were extremely lucky—only twenty minutes later we spotted seven Atlantic spotted dolphins crowded around the bow of our vessel! They were extremely interactive and rode in the wake of our bow. Unfortunately, our friendly group of Stenella frontalis left the area as soon as the humans entered the water, though Nicole was able to identify Prince William (#64) and Tim (#69) as they swam by. It turns out (from our few photos) that Buster (#04), Juliette (#12) and un-named #101 were there, too! That brief sighting concluded our day and we set course back to the harbor. The DCP team spent the evening wrapping up loose-ends and relaxing a bit with popcorn and a movie. Just another day in paradise!
Until the next one,
Garion, Mathew, Nicole & Kel
Friday was an exceptional day. Mathew began his day with a trip to the grocery store, to save himself from the past four days of ramen. Good thing the store had bread so he can make toast! Garion and Nicole also took advantage of the recent grocery delivery (the barge only comes to Bimini once a week!) and picked up some fresh produce. The rest of the morning was spent working on sighting sheets, sorting through photos and uploading photos from Thursday’s boat trip.
Friday’s boat left a bit early and began with a snorkel stop at Three Sisters. Mathew, Garion and the students and saw many interesting things, including many sea fans and a resting juvenile nurse shark. After everyone had made it back to the boat, we began our search for dolphins. Only thirty minutes into our survey we came across a group of five bottlenose dolphins! While Nicole stayed on the boat to take surface pictures and Mathew joined her to record data, Kel, Dr. Kaplan, Dr. Maust-Mohl and Garion got in the water with half of the students to record underwater observations. Just three minutes into the encounter, four more bottlenose joined the group, which, it turned out, was crater feeding (combing the seafloor for fish). They were very much preoccupied with feeding so we were able to observe them for quite a while. We even saw a pair of calves playing with seaweed! The second group of students, and Mathew, were even able to swap with the first and watch the crater feeding, too! Mathew got plenty of videos of their feeding behavior, which made him very happy. He also noted the lack of interacted with the nurse sharks that appeared to be eating the same food as the dolphins.
After leaving this group of bottlenose to their feeding, we continued to search for dolphins. We were very happy when we saw a small group of Atlantic spotted dolphins almost immediately after we left the bottlenose. Some of the students saw one of the spotteds perform a “cartwheel”!!!! Mathew had never thought something like that could happen in the wild but he and Kel saw it from not even five feet away! Garion and Nicole were a bit upset they didn’t get to see it, too. We attempted underwater observations of two dolphins but they seemed to have other plans. Perhaps they had the same idea as us—go home before it became too late. With that we headed back to shore with enough time to watch bull sharks eating the scraps of fish tossed into the harbor by the fishermen at the Sea Crest. What an exciting day, full of sea creatures!
Until next time,
Mathew, Garion, Kel & Nicole
Early in the morning on Thursday, the Bimini team woke up and accomplished a few hours of data entry and photo-ID work. We ate lunch together and then left for the docks to go on the boat trip for the day, departing an hour earlier than normal at 2 PM. At precisely 3:17 PM a group of 16 bottlenose dolphins was spotted just to the left of the bow. Garion jumped up so quickly that he almost forgot to start logging data for the sighting. A few minutes later, Kel, Dr. Kaplan, Dr. Maust-Mohl, Garion, and half of the student group entered the water heavily armed with video cameras and enthusiasm while Mathew stayed on the boat to record data and Nicole took surface photos. It was Garion’s first time ever swimming with dolphins, and he said it was one of the greatest things he had ever done in his life! They swam for nearly 30 mins while the dolphins were crater feeding below, and there were several close “fly-bys” from which everyone managed to get detailed photos for ID. Later in the trip we came across a group of four Atlantic spotted dolphins, including Juliette (#12), un-named #101 and #102, as well as a juvenile female that DCP saw during one of the boat trips with Sacred Heart University. (Want to be the lucky one who gives #102 her name?? You can!) Kel and Garion recorded data on the boat while Nicole, Dr. Kaplan, Dr. Maust-Mohl, Mathew, and the other half of the student group entered the water to film and take pictures. The spotted dolphins seemed far more accustomed to humans and were much more inquisitive of the humans and playful with each other (much to the jealousy of the students on the boat). At one point, the students scored great video of them riding the bow! After about 25 minutes, the group of dolphins left the humans behind so we climbed back on the boat and headed for home, thrilled with our day.
Once back at the dock, Mathew and Garion rode their bikes to a nearby high school to sit in on a town hall meeting. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the creation of a Marine Protected Area in Bimini. Roughly fifty people showed up, including Captain Al, and it was an incredible cultural experience for the VFEPs. Bimini is an incredibly beautiful place, it hosts a vast range of wildlife, and it deserves to be protected. With their first dolphin swim under their belts, Mathew and Garion ate their celebratory mac n’ cheese, as they promised that they would save it for the day that they first saw dolphins. Mac n’ cheese has reportedly never tasted so good!
Garion, Mathew, Nicole & Kel
Wednesday was a fine day. Mathew woke up and went for a brief walk along the coast to take in that lovely Bimini morning breeze. He and Garion then filled their morning working on data entry. Nicole gave them a brief explanation about how to sort through photos of the bottlenose dolphins found around Bimini. Shortly afterwards, Mathew and Garion joined the Hunter/Manhattan College group to watch an organized photo ID lecture with Kel. It was a ton of fun and everyone participated and learned a lot from it. Unfortunately, they would not be practicing their skills on wild dolphins. After heading out at 1500 and searching for about 4 hours, we saw zero dolphins out on the water, despite the relatively calm seas. Nevertheless, Garion and Mathew, and we hope Dr. Kaplan’s and Dr. Maust-Mohl's field course students, are keeping their spirits up and are eager to see what tomorrow brings!
Until next time,
Mathew, Garion, Kel & Nicole
The DCP summer interns (Tori, Kaiya & Patrick) have been with Kathleen in the Florida office since mid-May learning about data analyses (video processing, confirming dolphin IDs, event sampling for behaviors and more). They depart at the end of June for Bimini to help Kel collect data on the Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins around Bimini, The Bahamas. But, before they cross the Gulf Stream for clear blue waters, they needed to learn how to handle the MVA and gain some tips on collecting video and still photos underwater. You can see they all did well ... though maybe they'll need to remember fins when in the ocean!
Here is what they thought about their experience:
Patrick: It was interesting to see how the MVA was designed and put together. And it was awesome to get hand's on experience with the MVA in the water before we head to Bimini.
Kaiya: Learning about Kathleen's (i.e., DCP's) process when in the field was helpful as we begin to prepare to head to the field ourselves. Getting to practice in the pool was an added bonus and I'm excited to see dolphins on the other side of the lens, though the beagles were very cute!
Tori: I had a wonderful experience with my fellow interns yesterday. We were introduced to the MVA system and learned how to assemble, maintain it, and got a chance to try it in the pool. I'm looking forward to using it in the pool.
Of course, no MVA training session would be complete without seabeagle supervision ... in this case the canine kind, not the spotted dolphin kind!
You can see Baloo providing oversight of the MVA use while Dixie rests on her laurels in the background!
Have a great day!
Kathleen, Kaiya, Patrick, Tori, Dixie & Baloo (woof!)
Garion woke up this morning and had a hearty breakfast of bagels and leftover chicken burrito (Yum!). He and Mathew then went for a bike ride and Garion showed Mathew a bit of the island based off what he could remember from his tour with Nicole. They then went grocery shopping and biked home. Once they were back it was time to get down to business with a few lectures from Nicole and starting office work.
At 1:30 the four DCP researchers met the college kids from Hunter and Manhattan Colleges who are here on Bimini for a field course with DCP Research Associate Dr. Daisy Kaplan. Kel gave everyone an introduction to the underwater cameras and explained how to take photo-ID-appropriate pictures of the dolphins. Next, Garion and Mathew met Renegade, Bimini Adventures’ forty-two-foot vessel from which DCP conducts dolphin surveys. Just before departure Garion ran to the nearest store to buy a few snacks for the boat.
We departed at 3 PM and began our search for dolphins. We cruised for the next four hours around the waters off Bimini looking for them, but unfortunately today we weren’t lucky and didn’t spot anything. We returned home around 7 and will probably wrap up the day with dinner, a bit more data processing, showers, and some down time. We are all confident we will see dolphins tomorrow!
Mathew, Garion, Nicole & Kel
On Monday, DCP welcomed its first-ever Volunteer Field Experience participants, Garion and Mathew! We are very excited to offer this opportunity this year and are eager to make the most of the volunteers’ 12 days on Bimini. For their first blog post, Garion and Mathew wrote about their travels to Bimini. Tune in over the next 2 weeks to hear about the rest of their experiences!
I woke up at 3 AM on Monday to begin my journey from my home in Stuart, Florida to Bimini, The Bahamas. I got a ride to the train station and then rode from West Palm Beach down to Miami International Airport and after successfully navigating the airport a friendly Lyft driver named Luigino drove me to the port of Miami to catch a ferry. Security was easy and I had no problems boarding the ferry. I got lucky and was spontaneously offered a place in business class with an entire row of seating to myself, six whole seats for me to take a nap on! The ride was smooth and I arrived in Bimini only an hour and a half after leaving Miami. I was then shuttled to the Hilton Resort and had to find my bearings on the island and get to the DCP apartment. I caught another shuttle that took me through a tour of the entire north island of Bimini, and got off right at the southern cemetery. After finding the apartment and getting settled in, Nicole, DCP’s Master’s student, showed me around the island by bike. I then explored, napped, swam, and went for a jog in the middle of the day (never do that) while waiting for our other volunteer Mathew to arrive. Now, freshly showered, I am with him and waiting to go upstairs to have chicken burritos and relax! The beauty of this place is beyond words, and the people are friendlier than almost any I’ve visited. I am not sure how I am going to be able to leave. I can’t wait to wake up in the morning and get start with the real work/play!
At the Fort Lauderdale International Airport, I was dropped off by my mother and I boarded a plane bound for Bimini. The plane itself was very cozy and quaint, with just a short twenty minute flight time (if that). After getting through customs, I got on a shuttle which took me to the water taxi that gave me a very short lift over from South Bimini to North Bimini. After that I went over to the Sea Crest hotel, where I met some of the hotel staff and Captain Al who generously gave me a lift to my lodging. I got situated in my room, which I will be sharing with the other volunteer, Garion. Kel and Nicole gave us a brief lecture of our itinerary and schedules for what we will be doing during these next twelve days. I am very eager to be a part of this program and I will be sure to give it my best effort!
Garion, Mathew, Nicole & Kel
Wow, did that Sacred Heart University program fly by! On Tuesday, we had some group class time and visited the Bimini Museum. We broke into teams and had an information “scavenger hunt,” searching for the answers to questions that DCP provided. We let our friendly competitive streaks come out before heading back for lunch and our dolphin trip!
The weather conditions continued to be challenging, Still, we were able to stop at “The Bimini Road” (aka “Atlantis” or “Road to Atlantis”). After a short backstory on some of the interest in this particular snorkel site, we hopped in the water…to find pretty murky conditions. It was hard to see the rocks or the fish unless you dove down, and even then the visibility wasn’t great. So, it was a bit hard to see what all the fuss is about. We didn’t linger and were soon aboard the boat in search of dolphins. At 16:29 we came upon three Atlantic spotted dolphins – Nicole got a good look at the adult and thinks it might have been Cerra (#38), with an older calf and juvenile. We observed this group for 40 minutes. With their surfing behavior combined with the rough conditions, DCP and Captain Al decided that just Nicole would get in the water to see if she could get just enough video to help with photo-ID. But, before she could even get her gear on, the dolphins were gone.
As we traveled toward home, still searching for dolphins, we were surprised by a bottlenose dolphin surfacing just next to the boat! Kel didn’t have time to grab the surface camera before the dolphin and its buddies were off in the other direction, but she does think that it was DCP ID#Tt06.
On Wednesday, we couldn’t believe it was our last full day! Mid-morning, we headed to a small mangrove island just on the other side of the harbor channel. The sand was mushy under our feet and some of us were worried about the current, but DCP was happy to show the students some mangroves and small fish species up close (mangroves were briefly discussed during the online portion of the SHU course). Back on land, we grabbed lunch and prepared for our final dolphin trip. Unfortunately, the day was not meant to be a rousing finale – we battled the roughest seas yet to do an up-and-back check of the coastline for dolphins, but found none. At least we tried! And saw that field work doesn’t always go according to plan.
Back at the hotel, we cleaned up and had a nice last night dinner: local pizza, fried fish, conch fritters and adult beverages! After a while, we headed to Big Game Club for another drink, braving some serious puddles do so!
We were so happy to have the entire SHU crew here. Thank you for your interest and participation in our program! We hope you all look back fondly on your fast week in Bimini. And, a big thank you goes to Dr. Deirdre Yeater for working so hard to make this course happen and the Captain Al and everyone at the Sea Crest!
On behalf of The Storm Troopers (SHU 2017),
Kel & Nicole
PS: Storm Troopers? Wondering where your blog post from Tuesday went? Ah! Computer crash!
On Monday we woke up early, nervous and excited about meeting the sharks – but soon after we left the dock, we saw a huge storm coming ahead. We were getting more nervous: sharks and lightning! We turned back toward home, stopping briefly to snorkel at “Shell Beach.” We saw an eagle ray, a blue tang, a barracuda, lots of parrotfish and lots of little transparent, white jellyfish. Only about 15 minutes after we got in the water, Captain Al called us back to the boat. The storm was moving too fast. We made it back to the dock….nearly. The skies opened up as Al pulled the boat into her slip and we ran back to the hotel to get dry.
Once we were dry, we met for a class session on photo-ID. This time, it wasn’t practice photos, it was the photos we took from our first dolphin trip! We were able to identify #102 by her spot pattern, dorsal fin nicks and peduncle scar. We were also able to identify her “friend” – another female, this one not yet formally in DCP’s photo-ID catalog! Nicole and Kel have some confirming to do, but they’ll likely give this dolphin ID#110 – and we helped that happen! We are definitely improving our photo-ID skills, or at least we’re feeling more confident!
The sun came out before lunch and we strolled to the straw market during our break. After lunch we had another break, but this time got called back early: Captain Al advised that we depart 30 minutes earlier than planned and instead of searching for dolphins, that we try for sharks again. So, we hurried along and departed the dock just after 1430, feeling super excited and super scared at the same time. As we headed south, the sun was trying to come out, and we could see blue sky up ahead!
As we pulled up to a small beach, Kel told us that we were actually going to see a surprise creature first: southern stingrays! We were at Honeymoon Harbor on Gun Cay (greeted by a friendly tourist). At first, we could see just a few stingrays from the boat and it was cool…then we got in the water and there were rays everywhere! They are not scared of people; in fact, they are sometimes too friendly! Swimming along our bodies, they were basically climbing on us! For some of us, it was too much and we got back on the boat. The conditions were fairly challenging, with a strong current to contend with. While the boat crew watched, fending off horseflies (known as doctorflies on Bimini), the rest of us stayed in the water, feeding the stingrays and watching three nurse sharks – even the nurse sharks came very close to us! Sometimes the rays and sharks were right behind us and we didn’t even know. There were so many, we lost track of the group size.
With our fill of rays and nurse sharks, we boarded the boat and cruised quickly the main attraction. We arrived at Triangle Rocks (cleverly named: three rocks making a triangle!). Captain Al set anchor and then gave us our briefing. Before getting in the water here, some of us were feeling more nervous than before the rays. Al threw a red and white rope overboard and some of the sharks tried to bite it! Most of us were then having second thoughts about going on…As Al was telling us about their moods and sizes, we were having 3rd thoughts…As he told us not to put our GoPros out too close to them, we were having 4th thoughts…But, all of us got in the water (yay!). Our fins kept hitting each other, and we’d freak out thinking it was a shark! Once we were in the water, watching the sharks, it was actually more fascinating than scary. Lots of the sharks had remoras on or near them. We saw both Caribbean reef and sharpnose sharks. The sharpnose were quite little, but not at all shy around us or the larger reef sharks. There were so many fish around, but the sharks ignored them, even as the fish stole the bait! We were surprised at how close the sharks came to us – but even those of us who were scared agreed it was really cool! The experience was so different from the dolphins. With the sharks, the boat was anchored and we could easily stay in place. With the dolphins, we need to drift and swim to keep up the dolphins as they slowly cruise (or lose sight of them, when they pick up the pace and swim away). Perhaps this was just because of the feeding element? It’s another thing for us to think about before our second eco-tourism conversation. As we all boarded the boat, Kel was so happy to see all of our happy faces!
For most of us, the rays were scarier than the sharks! Back onboard, we asked Al what the strange shape in the distance was: The Sapona. A WWI vessel that was then sold to private individuals/businesses, she ran aground south of Bimini during the 1926 hurricane. It was pretty surprising to see a boat made of concrete! Though it is clearly not sea worthy, we were surprised that as much of it was still intact as it was. We cruised quickly home and cleaned up for dinner.
Danielle, Courtney and Gianna went for a walk and met “Ginger,” a local dog (“pitcake” – mix of “potcake” and pitbull). Even though she was disheveled, she came right up to us and was very friendly. We were mostly exhausted from our big day and looking forward to tomorrow – back with the dolphins!
The Storm Troopers (SHU 2017)