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!)
The DCP Intern “Trio” has assembled in Bimini and we are ready to go! Kaiya and Patrick, who participated in past DCP university field courses on Bimini, arrived on Monday, and share their travel and arrival adventures below. After Tori & Nicole’s boat trip, it was a DCP family reunion of sorts and we are more excited than ever to get moving on this summer’s work!
Kaiya: Waking up in upstate New York, it didn't seem quite real that later in the day I would be back in Bimini and working with DCP. However, after a long day of travel that included meeting up with Patrick in the Ft. Lauderdale airport, I found myself on the beach gazing into the crystal clear, turquoise waters of the Bahamas. After two years, it is incredible, and surreal, to be back! Patrick and I took some time to explore the apartment, unpack, and unwind before being treated to a fun and lively dinner with Kel, Captain Al, Nicole, and Tori. It was great to see them all again! I am so excited to be a part of the DCP team for the summer and look forward to our first day of work tomorrow.
Patrick: I started my Monday by flying from the Cincinnati airport to Fort Lauderdale at 8 am. Once I got to Fort Lauderdale's airport I met up with Kaiya at baggage claim, whose flight coincidentally landed at the same time as mine. We passed to time until our flight to Bimini by reviewing some dolphin ID pictures to try and refresh ourselves on some of the individuals we will be seeing over the next few weeks. We finally got to board the plane and we were off! When we neared the beautiful island I was amazed that I was actually coming back and would be living here for a few weeks. When we landed on South Bimini we got through customs and waited for our shuttle ride to the water taxi. After the short ride to North Bimini we walked the short distance to our new home. Once we unpacked and relaxed for a bit we traveled upstairs to join Kel and the kids as she began making us dinner. Al, Nicole, and Tori joined us when they got back from their boat trip. It was nice to see Kel, Nicole, and Al again after such a fun trip with EKU this time last year. We had a fun night catching up, eating dinner, and playing with the kids. I'm extremely eager to get going on Tuesday and get out on the water and see some dolphins!
Tori: Today was another beautiful day in the Bahamas for dolphin observations! We left the dock around 3 pm, and had our first dolphin sighting within the hour. That makes two days in a row where we’ve found the dolphins in under an hour! (Thanks to Captain Al and Captain Audley) For today’s boat trip, I was charged with staying on the bridge and perfecting my documentation skills and filling out the “Sighting Sheet,” while Nicole worked as the spotter on the bow, and then was able to get in and record video under water.
Today we had so many familiar dolphins in attendance! Split jaw (#22), Lil’ Jess (#35), Paul (#99), Stefran (#82), and Prince William (#64) all made an appearance! There was one group of about nine dolphins, and multiple sub-groups in the area, all demonstrating behaviors ranging from resting, to active socio-sexual behavior. We also had the pleasure of witnessing a fairly large female bottlenose dolphin swim through the area with her calf, and another group of about six bottlenose which we passed on our way back to the dock. It was yet another productive research day aboard Renegade!
We are thrilled to welcome Tori to the Bimini field team! Tori is one of three summer field interns (Patrick & Kaiya arrive tomorrow). Keep reading for Tori’s first impressions and stay tuned for lots of updates from the interns!
-Kel & Nicole
What can I say? My arrival on Bimini on Sunday was an incredible way to kick off the summer of 2017 with DCP! After months of planning, coordinating, and communication, I was finally able to meet Kel and Nicole in person, and hit the ground running, for what I know is going to be an incredibly productive summer. After some mid-morning connections, and a run down of the accommodations, Nicole and I shared a quick bike ride down to the Sea Crest for a brief introduction to Captain Al's boat, the “Renegade,” otherwise known as the “Hatteras” (since she went years without her name painted on!). After that, it was back to Kel’s for a welcoming lunch with my new DCP associates, and before I knew it, I was in my bathing suit and packing my bag for the afternoon boat trip leaving at 1500.
Back to the Sea Crest we go! Once onboard the Hatteras, Kel walked me through a thorough orientation, including boat safety procedures, as well as my new responsibilities as a DCP Field Intern. At last we were able to join the Bimini Adventures guests on their excursion, cast off the lines, and let Captain Al and Captain Audley take us out in to this picture-perfect, Bahamian day to begin the day's search for dolphins! About 45 minutes in, while Nicole was walking me through how to fill out the “sighting sheets,” and prepping me on use of the GPS, suddenly there appeared to be dolphins off the bow, (Stenella frontalis) and the effort began to gear up and get in the water. In a flurry of masks, fins, and eagerness, 13 of us slipped into the crystal clear water for my very first dolphin encounter.
Words cannot adequately describe the feeling one has, when swimming alongside these magnificent animals. Having spent the better part of the last eight months watching footage of them for the purpose of analyzing the data for research, it was truly mesmerizing to finally witness them in the flesh. And witness we did! In the crystal clear water, there appeared to be a wide range of social behaviors exhibited by the spotteds, including fin contacts, body contacts, and foraging behavior. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, guess who should make an appearance? None other than DCP favorites, Romeo (#10) and Noodle (#94), each accompanied by a calf. Camera in hand, while this group of five spotted dolphins swam amongst us (there was a juvenile with the mom/calf pairs), I snapped pictures to aid in identification, and as quick as they appeared, they were gone. We made our way back to the boat, and elated, I could only smile and revel in the thought of what amazing adventures lie ahead for myself and the other DCP interns once they arrive tomorrow!
As you may recall, this year marks DCP’s first time running our new program, the Volunteer Field Experience featuring 12 days at our Bimini, The Bahamas field site. Mathew and Garion were our first-ever participants and we hope you enjoy hearing about their final thoughts on their experience:
During the final day of living on Bimini and assisting DCP, I spent the day baking a cake as a way of showing my appreciation towards Kelly and Al, packing my bags and finalizing my work. Before you wonder any further, the cake was Devil's Food cake and had vanilla frosting with Oreo crumbs. I also added a homemade icing that had a smiley face and "DCP" written on it. All I could think about as my final day continued was what I achieved while working here and the people I had met.
As I put the cake batter into the oven and worked on my last two folders of dolphin photo-ID, I thought about how Nicole presented a lecture to Garion and me about how we are supposed to ID dolphins and what features we should be looking for. When I was sorting through the GoPro footage I sent over to Nicole to be analyzed, the memories I had with the students I met came flooding in: how we all swam with Caribbean reef sharks and swam right into groups of dolphins to get still photos. Also the time we went through rough seas, the boat rising above the waves, and pretty much everyone got wet. As I was finishing decorating the cake, I thought of how the students had already left the island and would be going home to tell their loved ones about this shared experience.
Finally, as I was packing my bags I thought back on how I had faced my fears and opened up to trying new things. This included cage diving with bull sharks, trying new foods, and living with people I had never met before. I felt so included during my amazing experience on Bimini; the locals are so hospitable. I even got to see the Bimini SharkLab, swim with wild sting rays and Caribbean reef sharks. Of course, above all, I got a chance to actually experience field research and wild animal studies while also capturing footage of them in their natural environment. I just want to thank DCP for letting me have this once in a lifetime experience. I will never forget it and it has certainly helped me understand how I can better myself as an animal behaviorist and field researcher.
This is Mathew O'Donnell, signing off.
As I sit back to reflect on my experience over the past twelve days, it can almost be overwhelming to process. Though my time here was short I utilized it to the fullest of my abilities and maximized the potential of the experience. What I found is that DCP’s dual purpose of research and education are just different sides of the same coin; both serve to help us as a species to understand and protect not only dolphins, but the world we live in. Mathew and I worked hard every day here at the DCP Bimini field site, and we also immersed ourselves in the culture of the island and grew to deeply care about protecting its local population, eco-tourism, wildlife, and environment. As a volunteer with DCP, my greatest overall impression was that this is in fact an environment and culture worth protecting; I can only hope that our work at DCP inspires you, our readers, to think the same.
Until we meet again,
Saturday marked the VFEPs’ final hours on the small island of Bimini. Mathew’s flight departed early in the morning so we bade him farewell at dinner on Friday night instead. Garion, on the other hand, was able to walk down the island and explore a few more nooks and crannies. He finally tasted red conch chowder—it was a religious experience! He departed on the evening Fast Ferry and left Kel and Nicole behind to prepare for our incoming summer interns. Tori arrives on Sunday and Kaiya and Patrick on Monday! Don’t forget to check back to read their posts as they begin the field portion of the summer internship!
Until next time,
Nicole & Kel
We departed on the Hunter/Manhattan College students’ and Garion/Mathew’s final boat trip at 1400. Before beginning our search for dolphins we made a stop at Bimini Road, a popular snorkeling destination famous for being thought to be the road to the lost city of Atlantis. The snorkelers enjoyed the clear waters and saw many interesting species on the reef. After enjoying the natural wonders of the reef for about 45 minutes we began our dolphin search. We quickly came upon a group of three bottlenose dolphins. This group seemed to be feeding and did not show any interest in the boat so after Nicole snapped a few surface photos we continued on our way. Not long after seeing the bottlenose dolphins we came across a pair of Atlantic spotted dolphins. Nicole easily recognized Seabeagle (#106) by her distinctive fluke. Once we had observed these two for a little while we entered the water to collect some observations and saw that the second dolphin was also a juvenile female. We will have to check the catalog to see if we recognize her! The two females were very interactive with each other, sharing a piece of sargassum and passing it between their pectoral fins and flukes. Our encounter lasted about 10 minutes before the dolphins swam away and we piled back on the boat.
Less than 15 minutes later we came across another Atlantic spotted dolphin, but this one was all on its own. It seemed to be travelling so we followed along its path and observed as it slapped its fluke against the water and leaped and splashed all over. From the boat it seemed as if the dolphin might be agitated and once we were able to see it underwater we quickly discovered the reason why—it had a remora stuck on its body! These suckerfish can be rather pesky and the male juvenile dolphin seemed to be trying to remove it. After a few minutes of underwater observations six dolphins joined us seemingly out of nowhere! The group included a bottlenose dolphin who came up to investigate Dr. Kaplan before swimming out of the human swimmers’ view. The end of the encounter was just the male with the remora and a juvenile female that Nicole recognized from previous field seasons. They were very interactive, with lots of pectoral fin rubbing. We wonder if the male dolphin was trying to get some help getting the remora off of him!
Once these dolphins finally swam out of sight we climbed on the boat and Captain Al brought us home. Despite some rough weather and days without dolphins over the past two weeks, we could not have asked for a better last day! We are so appreciative of everyone’s help and enthusiasm. The Hunter and Manhattan college students will make their way home on Friday but we hope you’ll tune in to the final thoughts from Garion and Mathew after they head back to the States on Saturday.
Garion, Mathew, Kel & Nicole
Thursday morning began with Garion, Mathew and Nicole joining Dr. Kaplan, Dr. Maust-Mohl and the Hunter/Manhattan College students for a beach cleanup on Radio Beach in Alice Town. DCP feels it is important for students and island guests to gain an understanding and appreciation of the natural environment and community on Bimini, not just the dolphins that live in its waters. Picking up trash along the beach is a great way to give back to the community that has provided so many wonderful experiences over the past two weeks. This time we had a lovely treat—three Bahamian gentlemen joined our cleanup, sharing stories with the students and volunteers and impressing upon us the importance of choosing more sustainable products (one gentlemen had particularly strong feelings against the widespread use of straws, much like Nicole).
This was just the morning! Stay tuned for boat trip details,
Garion, Mathew & Nicole