Friday began with a sleepy start after breakfast and blog, going straight into lecture. We briefly recapped the topic of play before moving onto group living in cetaceans. We discussed the baleen whales in addition to the toothed whales. We learned that females are the best resources for males ;-) With time left before break, we worked to ID one of the photos we collected yesterday: the young subadult, who was associating with a calf, was….Noodle (ID#94)!!! It was so difficult to attempt to recognize the dolphins in the water, but with one still photo in front of us, it was much more feasible to see the details that would lead us to a catalog match. It was really cool to be a part of the research and add to DCP’s sighting history for Noodle.
During our break, some of us went back to the straw market, others went to the bakery for cake and Morgan took a powernap! We came back for lunch (which was delicious) and then got ready for the boat, taking our daily sunscreen baths. The boat departed at 1500, and we had a hot, slow start. We had a swim break partway to wake up and cool off. Christine was one of the last in the water and she saw some cool, funky fish. She called up to the boat and when she looked down there was one remora. Then another. And then Christine was racing (and screaming!) back to the boat. Dom and Tyler hopped in the water to look – and even they were zipping back to the safety of the boat! Don’t worry parents: the remoras can’t really hurt us!
We filled our bellies with snack and self-proclaimed “semi-retired” Captain Al spotted dorsal fins in the distance. There were more whitecaps than we’d seen in previous days so it was difficult for us to see the dolphins until they were very close to the boat. Before we got in the water, there were at least 13 dolphins in a very tight group. As we were getting our snorkel gear on, the dolphins were swimming at the back of the boat – it seemed like they were waiting for us! Though there were a lot of dolphins in this group, we felt calmer in the water, more collected than yesterday. With the mechanics of snorkeling more secure, we were able to take in more details about the dolphins’ behavior and individual characteristics. For some of us, it also felt like the dolphins were coming closer to us today and we felt more comfortable executing our movements around them, really realizing that they can control their movements around us.
To cap off the trip, Dom found his soulmate: as we headed back into the harbor, a woman on a yacht next to us was dancing. Dom began dancing “with” her and when she noticed, she danced “with” him too, even lassoing him! Back on land, we cleaned up and had dinner (yum yum curry chicken and amazing cake!). We reviewed our own photos (Morgan found a match to a dolphin just from memory!) and then watched the social episode of BBC’s “Inside the Animal Mind.” Full and sleepy, we went to bed to the sound of a street party.
“Sea” you at the wedding,
The Podfia (EKU 2016)
On Thursday, we woke up, had breakfast and wrote our blog, before watching a video and practicing using an ethogram. We had a lecture on play and then our morning break. Some of us went to the straw market and others got ready for lunch. Casey is our resident hair stylist, specializing in a-mazing braids that are perfect for snorkeling. What would we do without her? (Be very frustrated!). We returned for lunch and boat prep.
The boat departed at 14:30 today so that we could snorkel the Bimini Road, aka The Road to Atlantis. We saw some cool, colorful fish and lots of lobsters. Some of us could dive to the bottom, but others felt their heads might explode! Many of us think it does have enough design to suggest that it is human-made, others think it could be Atlantis – and some of think they are just some really nice rocks! Before we headed in search of the dolphins, two of us braved the seas once more in order to retrieve two pieces of plastic garbage. Then, it was time to search for dolphins…
To our luck, we traveled a bit, but did not have to wait long before we saw a scattered group of Atlantic spotted dolphins, which included Tim (#69) and possibly Cerra (#38). The maybe-Cerra was whistling up a storm, and we could easily hear these sounds from the bow. When this group split apart, we chose to follow Lil’ Jess (#35) and her calf. Half of our group got in the water, but Lil’ Jess wasn’t there! Instead we saw two juveniles (one checked out Kel and the MVA!), then an adult and a trio of dolphins cruised past us. We got back on the boat, caught up to Lil’ Jess again and the second half of us got to hop in the water. With Nicole recording with the MVA, we saw Lil’ Jess and her calf searching for something in the sand. Lil’ Jess bolted so quickly we thought she was swimming away, but really she was scanning the sand and then using her rostrum to circle in the sand. Hearing her echolocation was so cool!
We got back on the boat wondering if that would be all the dolphins for the day – and even if it was, we were thrilled! Still, we had plenty of time, so we continued our search. And then. There. They. Were. Captain Kat said it was “a crapload of dolphins.” There were at least 16 dolphins and they were all over the place. Now, we were running out of time, so our surface observations were short so that we could test out a swim. Mind explosion – “holy calf!” We saw juvenile dolphins swimming belly to belly and wondered if this was general bonding or a mating attempt. There was a calf putting its melon to an older dolphin’s genitals – was this a calf trying to nurse from its mom? We saw some head ramming, but it was fairly gentle and followed by body rubbing. Their movements were so graceful, at one point, two dolphins were vertical in the water and formed a heart! One of the young adults went down to the sand and just laid there, nearly perfectly still, slowly rubbing its fluke into the sand. Other dolphins eventually swam down to her and she rejoined the group. At one point, one of the adults swam by Veronica, following her with its eye. The dolphins swam off so captains and Kel looked at the time and we decided to head back to the boat. But no. The dolphins came back and we got to observe them for even longer! When we finally did get back on the boat and headed toward home, three dolphins were riding the bow. One kept corkscrewing and riding with her belly up – and sure enough, Kel told us that this dolphin looked a lot like Noodle (#94). We need to confirm this with photo-ID, but if it is Noodle, it seems she in fact did not give up this silliness from her younger years!
Back on land, we cleaned up and had pizza from Sara Lee! We really enjoyed our taste of local cuisine – we wish we could give her a big group hug! It was so filling…Tyler says 5 was a bad choice, but Dom enjoyed his 7. Or was it 8? (Don’t worry everyone, they were small slices!).
We really enjoyed looking at all the photos we collected today. There are so many photos and then, when we realized that we could actually hear the dolphins’ whistles, our excitement went through the roof, much to Dr. M’s amusement.
The Podfia (EKU 2016)
After our now-standard morning routine of deliciousness (aka breakfast) and blog writing, our Wednesday continued with a lecture about ethograms and different methods for sampling animal behavior. We revisited the Dolphin House and Mr. Saunders had us put up the tiles we brought him – he was really happy and we were honored to have contributed to the Dolphin House. Several of us met “Skippy” (some of us more than once!), a friendly local. We went to the Straw Market and got lots of good souvenirs – it was even fairly priced! Of course, we’ll be back.
After this busy morning, we came back for lunch and then had time to get ready because today was the day – we were headed for our first grand adventure to the open water!! We boarded “Renegade,” and it was beautiful to see all the different shades of blue. Some of us saw a turtle – it was either a green turtle or a very big hawksbill. We also saw flying fish taking air to escape the boat’s path. As we approached the notorious “U-boat,” we stopped the boat for a moment of silence for Dr. Stan Kuczaj. Dr. Kuczaj was Dr. M’s mentor and friend (and of Dr. Yeater’s too – who you might remember from SHU courses and the collaborator’s page), a long-time board member of DCP and a source of great information for us. A poem was read before we all threw flowers into the water and had a moment of silence. We then went straight into our “Dolphin Drill,” knowing that Dr. Kuczaj would be hoping we were all having a great time here in The Bahamas. During our drill, we practiced getting our gear on and getting on and off the boat. It was a good thing we had this practice because we were a bit slow! The water was so clear and we could see the details on the sea floor. It felt like the water was much shallower than it was – until we tried to dive down!
Back on board, we resumed our search for dolphins. At 17:30, we hopped into the water for a “swim break” and we spread apart so that we could “swim” in peace, even when it took some effort. Aside from “swimming,” it was also nice to cool off and re-energize for the dolphin search. Pretty much right after we were done, we saw dolphins for the first time! There were four bottlenose dolphins, including one that had a severely damaged dorsal fin and discoloration/damage to its melon and rostrum. We were amazed at how easy it was to see the dolphins, even when they were swimming at the sea floor under the boat! They weren’t very interested in us though, so after we all got a good look, we continued in search of other dolphins. The first two datasheet teams were hard at work throughout the day, especially when there were dolphins in view.
We saw more dolphins as we continued our search, traveling back toward home. First it was more bottlenose dolphins in the distance and then – suddenly – there were Atlantic spotted dolphins! Initially, there was a possible mother/calf pair that came to the boat. The older dolphin did not stay long, but we got some good looks at the calf. Still thinking there were just two dolphins, a juvenile appeared at the boat, bring the count to 3. And then – another (older) juvenile came to the boat bringing the group count to at least 4! One of the juveniles was swimming beside the boat; it almost appeared that it was showing us all of its sides! We were running out of time, so the crew said that we could give an underwater observation a turn. But, once we got it, it seemed like the dolphins said, “Oh, what’s that? You want to get in the water with us? Okay. Bye!”
Although we did not get to see the dolphins under water, it was good practice. We boarded the boat and headed toward home. Close to the harbor, we saw one more group of bottlenose dolphins. It was a little bit hard to be sure how many dolphins there were, but there were at least 3 individuals. Photo-ID might help us confirm this. It was an unusual observation in that the bottlenose dolphins rode the bow for a bit!
After this, we really headed back to shore and got ready for dinner. We mostly ate and then crashed, some of us still feeling like we were on the boat!
“Sea” you tomorrow,
The Podfia (EKU 2016)
PS: Production of “Over the Gulfstream” (Working Title) is on-going. Stay tuned.
When we woke on Tuesday, it was sad and dreary – but even before this, Dr. M, Dom & Ben braved the rainy skies and walked four miles! After breakfast and our blog, we discussed the assigned articles on photo-identification. After class, some of us went to the beach for a bit and played Cards Against Humanity. We had lunch (yum, yum, amazing Navy Bean soup – even the pickiest of us enjoyed it!) and then tried our hand at photo-ID, meeting Lil’ Jess (#35) and Trudy (#57).
Though our dolphin trip wasn’t going to happen (wind!), we waited with bated breath to find out if our harbor tour would set sail (with its motors). Whilst waiting, we created a Bimini version of The Wizard of Oz called, “Over the Gulfstream.” The rain passed and we boarded our vessel and headed north through the harbor. Nicole and Captain Al told us about some of the places we were passing – Big Game Club, the power plant, construction sites – before we reached the biggest resort (controversial Resorts World Bimini). We doubled back and visited “Pigeon Cay,” a small mangrove island. We saw lionfish, a baby lemon shark and other small fish. Lots of huge hermit crabs were wandering around the cay and what we think was a big conch. The finale of the boat trip was jumping off the boat into the water, over and over and over and over! With lots of laughs, and water up our noses, we headed back to the Sea Crest.
We showered and got ready for dinner, which was a BBQ on the dock with brownies! We had a quick dance party and headed back inside for a vicious, but riveting game of spoons. Veronica wasn’t so sure about it, but soon enough she was sucked in, though Patrick was the winner. We wound down and headed to bed with a lot of pent up rage (kidding).
The Podfia (EKU 2016)
Monday morning began with writing our blog, following by lecture. We got an introduction to DCP and the dolphins we will see off Bimini before learning about the DCP cameras and what we should aim to do in order to get good photo-ID pictures. After class, we headed to the beach to practice snorkeling. The waves were really strong and Captain Al mentioned that this was the first time in a long time that the waves were actually rolling and breaking on shore. So, we didn’t get much snorkel practice in, but soon we were having fun in the waves. We were also looking for shells and found conch shells and lots of hermit crabs.
After lunch, we broke into small groups and developed our own wild dolphin interaction guidelines – though we didn’t start a legitimate ecotour company of our own (yet!), one group proudly announced their “Cetacean Sensations: A whole lot of dolphun” initiative. Next, we went to the Dolphin House and got a tour from Ashley Saunders (after which, some of us shared the website with our families!). Many of us bought things from his boutique and he offered to make us ornaments from conch shells. Christine plans to write “Welcome to the Dolphin House” in Greek on one of his tiles to complement his collection.
We went back to the beach to look for tiles and beach glass (junk!) to bring back to Mr. Saunders. Most walked as far as the Galant Lady – aka “Big Tetnus” (photo courtesy of Veronica). As Kaelin was taking a photo, she put her back to the waves and got walloped! Don’t worry: it was a really nice picture. We came back for dinner and then watched “Racing Extinction.” It was heartbreaking, but also inspiring.
“Sea” you later,
The Podfia (EKU 2016)
I am very, very excited for this and the coming field reports! Last Wednesday, Nicole Danaher-Garcia (intern-Masters Student-research assistant-extraordinaire) arrived on-island and has been busy updating our photo-ID catalog and prepping for our current field course. Dr. Radhika Makecha (check her out in the collaborator section under the Research tab) arrived on Sunday with 12 students from Eastern Kentucky University (EKU). For the next 12 days, the EKU students will write our Bimini field blogs – we hope you enjoy reading!
(PS: If you enjoy reading about our field courses, please consider donating to our Double Down on DCP fundraiser – running until 30 June. The DCP board will match your donation!)
Some of us drove from Kentucky to Florida, beginning our journey at 5 a.m. on Saturday – it seems like so long ago! It seemed the entire state of Florida was in a state of torrential downpour, but our drive to reach Florida for this amazing trip kept us going! We arrived around 11 p.m. and then began Sunday early to meet up with our other classmates who flew in from Chicago, Philly and Kentucky. We had a long layover – with many delays – in Fort Lauderdale, leaving us more anxious to get here! We stayed occupied by eating cheeseburgers (expensive, but good), playing spoons and snorkeling on the airport rug.
Unfortunately, there was a fatal small, private plane crash on South Bimini – our destination airport. We were sad to hear of the two lives lost as we boarded our own plane, texting our families that we were okay and our airline was not involved in the crash. The flight was a lot of firsts for us: first time in an airplane, first time flying over such deep water and flying that low in such a small plane. We finally made it to Bimini, had a short zip through immigration and customs and took the water taxi to Sea Crest Hotel& Marina in Alice Town.
We love the views of the water! We can see water everywhere from our hotel – water to the east, water to the west! At the end of the night, we were amazed at how clear the water was; the moon on the water shone right through to the bottom of the harbor. We headed to bed and crashed.
We are feeling so enthusiastic about this trip!!
Until next time,
The Podfia (EKU 2016)
(And so you know, our group nickname started back in KY when we had our obsession with The Godfather and decided Dr. M was our Podfather and we, of course, are The Podfia!)
Marie Trone, Ph.D., is a DCP collaborator (see her DCP page here). She left on June 8 for Peru. Because internet access is sketchy in the jungle, Marie will send Kathleen updates about once every week or two for posting to DCP’s field blog. So, stay tuned for updates from the Amazon on Marie’s studies of the boto (aka Amazon river dolphin)!
Cheers - Kathleen
June 11, 2016
I made it! I am in the jungle now. I flew all night on Wednesday (8 June), and arrived in Iquitos on Thursday morning, totally, 125% exhausted. Then on Friday caught a boat down to Explorama Lodge (http://www.explorama.com/) where I am based for the summer. Internet is not reliable. I could not get on line Friday or this morning. It is also like dial up as far as speed. But, it does allow one to communicate without smoke signals and drums :-)
I don't have access to boats until Monday. I am grateful because I so needed to sleep. I have done a lot of that in comparison to normal, and I know I need it. I will put the two-hydrophone array together tomorrow. Thursday I plan to go back to Iquitos to get materials to build a four-hydrophone array. The additional hydrophones and DAQ should arrive with people from the Detriot Zoo on the 23rd.
Explorama has started building my lab space. They ran electricity and put in lights. They are making 2 work tables! So cool! Herve Glotin is considering putting out a full time hydrophone in the river to record 24 hours a day, but there are lots of logistical issues involved, like water levels chainging between 11 and 15 meters each year (low water and high water season), large debris flowing in the river, etc. We shall see on that one.
There are plans for me to go into the indigenous communities and work with the people there with the Adopt-A-School program, which is exciting to me! I also did a presentation on river dolphin natural history today for a school group from Michigan. All great stuff, and I LOVE doing it!
Anyway, that is all for now,
Smiles from the Equator,
Thursday was the last boat trip for the SMC group and everyone was hopeful it would be a great one, in part because high winds kept all of us on land on Tuesday and Wednesday. The wind was to our backs at the start of the trip, which was a good thing because the seas were still rocky! Thankfully, we did not have to go far to see the dolphins.
With a radio tip of a large group traveling, we stayed close to shore. But, boat traffic got a bit too heavy, so we opted to go our own way and look for other dolphins. I’m always grateful that the Captain Al agrees with limiting the number of boats interacting with dolphins at the same time. And this time, his choice still led to success! Soon, we were following a mother/calf group: Lil’ Jess (#35), Stefran (#82) and Noodle (#94,) each with their own calf in tow, were swimming with another adult who I could not ID from the boat. Despite our best intentions to avoid other boats, this dolphin group led us right back to the other boats! Captain Al maintained radio communication with the closest boat, ensuring safety for all.
Over the course of the next several hours, we observed at least six different subgroups, making up what was conservatively over 35 Atlantic spotted dolphins in the area, and very likely over 50 dolphins. Large groups like this are not common, so we get very excited when it happens! In the broad group, in addition to the mothers listed above, were a known, female juvenile (she’ll be added to the catalog soon!), Split Jaw (#22), Tina (#14, with calf), Juliette (#12) and Romeo (#10, with calf – and babysitting another!). The absolute highlight for me was observing Juliette (#12) under water. She is very pregnant and I could actually see movement of her calf (or, movement of her body, causing the baby to shift). I was ecstatic!! We’ll see what is obvious in the video and what other dolphins we can ID from video and stills.
So, a big thank you to the Saint Mary’s College of Maryland students and their professors, Dr. K and Dr. E, and the whole Bimini Adventures crew for a great start to 2016!
Until next time,
PS: If you are interested in supporting our 2016 research efforts, please consider a donation to our current fundraiser. Your gift will be matched by DCP board members if received by 30 June! Click here to learn more and to donate today.
If you donate $8 to DCP this month, the Dolphin Communication Project's board will match* it, turning your $8 into $16. Donate $22 and it becomes $44. Donate $107 and you really give $214.
DCP relies on the financial support of our supporters and now, you can have an even greater impact that you thought possible. Why does DCP need your money? DCP has just begun our annual research season studying wild Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins off Bimini, The Bahamas. Each year we record these dolphins - via photographs, video and acoustic recordings - keeping track of individuals, locations and behaviors. We host and collaborate with university courses and provide information to tourists seeking out these incredible creatures. We share our efforts, and the stories of individual dolphins, via our blog and turn our data into peer-reviewed journal articles and conference presentations. DCP has been following the dolphins off Bimini every single year since 2001. And we hope we never stop. But, this research requires equipment and supplies. So far, we have already needed to replace our hydrophones (the cool underwater microphones that record the dolphins' vocalizations) and restock our SD cards. Our student research assistant returns soon and needs a roof over her head. That's about $500 + $100 + $700. Ours is a labor of love. Unfortunately, stores don't take love. So, will you Double Down on DCP and donate before 30 June?
*matching funds of $1000 are available