Monday’s dolphin trip began with an extended snorkel stop for boat guests at the Bimini Road (aka Atlantis). I stayed on board, keeping my eyes peeled for the possible passing dolphin group, but saw none. Soon, we headed to “the dolphin grounds” where we came upon a group of what appeared to be 4 mother calf pairs, including un-named #25. As we were getting ready to get in the water, bottlenose joined the group with lots of aerial displays. We did not see them under water, but by the end of the day I filled thBimini 2009 Juliette ID012e MVA’s tape and recorded Juliette (#12, pictured here, photo credit: K. Mueller) and her calf (#93), Lone Star (#56) and her calf, likely Niecey (#48) and her calf (#92), un-named #43 and lots of Finn (#09), Romeo (#10), Tina (#14) and Lil’ Jess (#35). There was lots of seaweed games and at the end of the day the group brought by several young calves, including one with clear fetal folds!! We also saw a school of triggerfish and a large turtle that the dolphins ignored. 

More boat time tomorrow,

Kel

Bimini09_Tt from shoreAs I boarded the boat today, I jokingly asked the captain, “Can we please see dolphins early today?” Well, wouldn’t you know – bottlenose dolphins about 30 minutes into the trip! We observed the group for over an hour and the still camera’s memory card was filled. There will be a lot of photo sorting to do... 

Later in the day, we observed a group of four adult Atlantic spotted dolphins. They weren’t terribly interested in us or the boat (perhaps they had something more pressing on their schedule), but I was able to ID un-named #43. After a very quick underwater glimpse it was back to the boat. It seemed as soon as we dried off there were more dolphins in our sights. This time, we got to see White Blotch (#29) and her un-named calf (nickname: Lil’ Dot). Lil’ Dot is beginning to get her first belly spots and I am hopeful that we will be able to collected underwater video or a still photo before she leaves the security of mom. Today, she gave us a quite the bowride show.... 

Until next time, Kel

Well, our patience paid off. After a windy and nearly dolphin-less week, we had a great day. We saw bottlenose dolphins very early and I was able to collect quite a few dorsal fin photographs.  Later in the afternoon it was a scattered group of at least 16 spotted dolphins. In the mix were: Finn (#09), Romeo (#10), Juliette (#12) and her calf (who will likely be given ID#93), Tina (#14), Swoosh (#36) and her male calf, Lone Star (#56), un-named #25 (and her calf), 84, 91 and 92. Perhaps most exciting, however, was the very young calf who swam quickly through the group. I hope that I can ID the mother when I review the video, but I did note what appeared to be fetal folds on the calf! I have never observed a calf this young, under water, in Bimini before!

 

A couple of days off, then the start of a new “dolphin week” on Sunday,

Kel

Saturday’s dolphin trip was unexpected, but welcomed! We saw dolphins early (17:03) and the group of four became six and then nine. Lumpy (#17) and un-named #75, both adult males, were in the group. I also suspect that un-named #24 was present, but I’ll have to confirm when reviewing video. There was a single male calf in the group that had some shallow scratches and a very small injury to its lower jaw. It was a short swim, but I’ll take what I can get! 

Sunday’s dolphin trip was a bit rocky and with the heavy cloud cover it was a challenge to see the dolphins from the boat. But, luckily, they found us! Rushing to the boat we saw a group of three Atlantic spotted dolphins – two adults and one calf. The MVA and I didn’t get a chance to get in the water, but if we had, we would have seen a quick, close glimpse of the dolphins followed by a hammerhead shark – followed by a passing manta ray – all in under 3 minutes! A short time later, we came upon Nemo (#76) and a young juvenile. There was a bit of aerial behavior and surfing in the swells. Unfortunately, with sunset threatening, it was time to head back to the dock. Fortunately, another dolphin trip is scheduled for tomorrow! 

Until then,

Kel

Today’s dolphin trip was hot and calm – just the way I like it! Not far from shore, we saw a group of about 7 bottlenose dolphins. They were very uninterested in the boat, so we had our quick glimpse and continued in search of Atlantic spotted dolphins. We had to wait a little while, but then, we saw them... BIM09_female calf w dsl scar

It was a group of four dolphins, but I only recognized one. It is a young female who was first observed on 9 June. Here, in a picture taken on 9 June, you can see the major scarring to her dorsal fin. I’ll tentatively add her to the catalog, but she won’t officially be in until I get a clearer sense of what the final scar will look like. I definitely added to our underwater video and acoustic data for this one though! She was full of whistles.... 

Once we were back on the boat, we quickly came upon a mating ball of Atlantic spotteds. In this group were Romeo (#10) and Billy (#64). We didn’t want to interrupt their activities, so we continued on our way – thinking that we had our dolphin fill for the day. But, no! Soon there was a group including mother calf pairs. Trudy (#57) and un-named #25 were definitely there with their calves, but I also suspect that Juliette (#12) and her calf were there. And, we got a glimpse of Leslie (#80) and Tilly (#87) as they rode the bow. It was a great day! 

Until next time,

Kel

Wednesday’s boat trip was about as quick and easy as they come. We headed out with Bimini Undersea at about 1600. At 1705, we had our first of two sightings. White Blotch (#29) and un-named #43 were both riding the bow with two other adults and a young juvenile. I’m hoping I got some video footage, albeit it brief, of the juvenile who I suspect is White Blotch’s 2004 calf. She’ll be turning 5 years old later this summer and shouldn’t have too much more time with mom. This group was moving, so we headed to some splashes in the distance. The only ID I was able to make from the boat was Tilly (#87). I recorded some of Tilly under water, but the encounter was dominated by two young, male juveniles. These guys only had a few faint spots, but one had a relatively fresh injury to his peduncle (shark?). It will be very interesting to review this video! 

Tired and happy, we headed back to shore. I’m hoping for another dolphin trip on Saturday! 

Until then,

Kel

Thursday morning, Kel described this past winter’s Bimini manatee. We learned about the steps that were taken in the community and between the US and the Bahamas. We also watched a video of the capture day. We are having a hard time imagining a 1200 pound animal on the bow of our research bow! During photo-ID we confirmed Split Jaw (#22), Swoosh (#36), Niecey (#48), Nemo (#76), Leslie (#80), un-named #43 and 84.

This afternoon’s boat trip was a break from dolphins. It was our first time on the boat early in the afternoon and the sun is much stronger. The water was still calm and clear and we saw a sea turtle on the way to our snorkel site. Once we arrived at “Triangle Rocks,” there were only a couple of sharks. We were a quite apprehensive at first, but overall it was a great experience observing Caribbean reef sharks. Our captain entered the water to assess their behavior and we threw some small fish heads. Once we entered the water with our snorkel gear, we saw as many as 6 different sharks, ranging from 4 – 6 feet. Kel threw in the last snapper head (away from us) and we were able to watch the fish go after the head and the increase in activity from the sharks. Once we back on board, our captain threw large dolphin (fish) carcasses in the water and we were able to watch as many more sharks came SHU_rays_ASweetinginto the area and went after the fish.

After our shark observations, we had a surprise trip to “Honeymoon Harbor.” The water was so shallow, clear and warm that it felt like we were swimming in a pool. The big draw here is the southern sting rays that are habituated to human presence and feeding. We observed 3-4 different rays, including a large ray (roughly 3 feet long, not including the tail). It was a great day, seeing a different side of Bimini’s marine ecosystem (and eco-tourism).

Tomorrow we wrap up with final photo-ID work and data wrap up. We’re sad to be leaving Bimini, but we’ve all had a good time. A big thank you to everyone who has been keeping tabs on us through our field reports...and of course, thank you to our captain, Al, Kel, Dr. Dudzinski and DCP!

-The SHU Crew

Our morning was photo-ID filled! We had a ton of pictures to work through and by lunch we were able to confirm 7 individuals. Split Jaw (#22), White Blotch (#29), Niecey (#48), Billy (#64), Leslie (#80) and un-named #78 and 84. Niecey was ID’s once we looked at the underwater video data, a twist since we normally start with still photos. We were also able to add another animal to the catalog! That’s two in one week! DCP ID#92 now belongs to an older calf with a serious shark bite scar on and around both sides of the dorsal fin. She made sure that we saw her up close and personal – she was very inquisitive. The scar seemed relatively well healed and she appears to be doing just fine.

We left the dock at 15:25, after Kel had a meeting with some tourists off-site (it was great talking with you!). This was the last dolphin survey for our group and we were greeted by very calm seas and hot, hot sun. We first saw the dolphins from quite a distance as they leapt from the water in pursuit of fish. We’ve seen lots of foraging behavior this week, but today was the closest we got to the action. All of the dolphins were chasing the needlefish and ballywho and some even tossed them. In the boat, we ID’d Swoosh (#36), Leslie (#80), Tilly (#87) – and a male calf. Kel thinks (and hopes) this male calf is Swoosh’s, who was first seen last year. We also saw two bottlenose dolphins interacting with this spotted group, one of which was an older female. Later in the day we saw Split Jaw (#22), Nemo (#76) and un-named #43 and 84.

We had another dockside BBQ, “taking” the picnic tables from the visiting fishermen. We’ll continue to review photos and video during our last two days on Bimini. And, we’ll make time for some sharks...

Until then,

The SHU Crew

Our morning class time was spent discussing interspecific interactions, particular between Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins in the northern Bahamas and here in Bimini. It was nice to hear about a specific study that was going on right here at our study site. When reviewing our pictures from Monday’s boat trip, we confirmed a re-sighting of Cleopatra (#41). It took us some time to get the ID right, but by looking at our very recent pictures (instead of the photo-ID catalog) we were able to confirm it. The rest of our photographs were of calves, with no re-identifiable markings.

Our boat began with a second visit to “3 Sisters” and we saw a sea turtle as we approached the rocks. The tide was lower this time, which gave us a closer look at the huge schools of fish. The weather was very calm and we enjoyed our time, even if one of us returned with a battle wound ;-). We saw parrot fish, a blue tang, doctorfish, schoolmaster snappers, a banded butterflyfish and an unidentified purple fish.

We headed out to the “dolphin grounds.” What do we say next? Our sighting began at 17:09 and didn’t end until 19:07 – when we left the dolphins, cold, tired and with memory cards full. We had five different water entries, all with dolphins in view. From the boat we were able to ID Split Jaw (#22), White Blotch (#29), Billy (#64), Leslie (#80), Tilly (#87), un-named # 78, 79, 84 and possibly Tina (#14). We saw lots of object play, especially among the juveniles. They passed seaweed between them and chased the remora! Of course, before we knew the remora was a remora, we were a bit concerned it was a mysterious shark! We also saw lots of active pec rubbing and even heard a jaw clap! As usual, there was sexual play and we were intrigued by a group of younger dolphins investigating the belly of a possibly pregnant adult. One calf/juvenile in particular, with major scars on the dorsal fin, was very curious about us. By the end of the day all of our memory cards were filled up, and were worn out (one sunburned) so we have a lot of pictures to sort and video to watch tomorrow.

Back at the dock, it was time for our Thanksgiving dinner and sleep.

One dolphin to go!

The SHU Crew

Monday morning’s discussion was all about eco-tourism – pros, cons and challenges. After experiencing interactions with wild dolphins first hand, for most us, our opinions did not change, but were strengthened. Research in collaboration with eco-tourism is important and should inform the managing bodies. An overall passion for protecting the marine environment was evident and this protection should be the priority with tourism second. The conversation then took a broader turn as we discussed our personal choices and those of our towns, universities, etc. We are now determined to instigate constructive conversations on reduction and recycling with our friends and professors when we return home.Bim09_peccalf

Our photo-ID time resulted in a successful ID of Juliette (#12). The calf in our photos (with the distinctive pec injury, pictured here) may have been her calf. There was a third individual present, but we did not capture a clear image for photo-ID.

Back on “the little boat” we were pleased to have calm sea conditions, although the sun was very strong. We saw a nurse shark as we exited the harbor, but were soon in the “dolphin grounds.” We tried to stay clear of the other 3 eco-tour boats and the groups of dolphins they were observing. As we observed dolphins throughout the afternoon, they were quite dispersed. We were able to ID Lone Star (#56), Trudy (#57), Stefran (#82), Leslie Bim09_SHUsurface_sm(#80) and un-named #25, 75, 91. We saw lots of tactile and aerial behavior and possibly even “scout” behavior as one dolphin appeared to leave the group to investigate the boat. One dolphin group also appeared to be a nursery group with 4 adults (3 confirmed female) and 4 calves. At the end of the day, we were rushing back toward the island to avoid an approaching squall, when dolphins suddenly were sighted leaping toward the boat! It was the fastest our captain had ever seen dolphins approach a fast moving boat, so carefully slowed the boat. These dolphins were scattered, and we were distracted by the squall, so we were unable to get a good count.

After dinner we watched the 2nd, and sadder, half of ““Why dogs smile and chimpanzees cry.” With some of us missing our pets back home, we had a nice discussion before heading to bed.

Two more dolphin trips to go!

The SHU Crew

Sunday morning’s discussion covered more on group living in dolphins. We discussed coefficients of associations, the role of kinship and trends among first time dolphin mothers. During our photo-ID lab, we ID’d Tina (#14), Cleopatra (#41), Nemo (#76) and un-named #25 from yesterday’s trip. There are still three animals that need to be identified from our photographs. As we heard the wind howling outside our classroom, we were all concerned that we would not be able to head on our dolphin survey.

But, at boat time, we were greeted by the calmest conditions thus far for the Sacred Heart University course. We definitely felt the strength of the sun, but the glass flat water made it worth it. Our first sighting was of a lone (or what appeared to be) bottlenose dolphin. We got dorsal fin shots, but also an image of a serious peduncle scar. Tomorrow, we’ll work on seeing if we can find a match with an animal already in the catalog. Later, our first signal of more dolphins was a leaping mackerel! We saw foraging behaviors, including fast chasing and leaping. We even saw a couple of the dolphins catch the fish. We saw one animal regurgitate, with its head down and body wiggling and what appeared to be a whole fish. There were some big aerials and fluke slapping and fluke out dives. We saw White Blotch (#29) and a young female juvenile we suspect is her older calf (aka Lil’ Dot). We also saw Romeo (#10) and possibly Cleopatra (#41). Our surveys thus far have been filled with several resightings of dolphins, but different overall group composition.

Our evening was pretty quiet, but we enjoyed another dockside BBQ. Most of us enjoyed the fresh dolphin – even one of us who tried it for the first time!

More tomorrow,

The SHU Crew

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Dolphin Communication Project
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