Bim09_ASweetingJrSaturday morning’s class discussion on was on DCP’s video/acoustic system, the MVA.  We’d seen Kel with it on the boat, but today we headed to the beach and each of us got a chance to “use” the MVA. On the beach, it was very heavy – and it is wide! It was less intimidating in the water, but challenging. We protected the hydrophones while the other class members pretended to be dolphins (there was even some “pec rubbing” observed!). After a short “free swim” at the beach, it was time for photo-ID. From the photos, we confirmed sightings of un-named #78 and 89 and Leslie (#80). We also confirmed that Leslie (#80) is female and #78 is male. There are still photos from that trip that we will need to review later in the week.

The dolphin survey began with a snorkel stop at the “Bimini Road” (aka Atlantis). The group consensus is that the rock formation is natural and we were all a bit more interested in the fish than the rocks! We saw more barracudas and possibly school master and yellowtail snapper. The boat trip was the choppiest we’d experienced so far, but there were 5 dolphin sightings. We collected some surface video and got a chance to see both species, the spotted and bottlenose dolphins, although they did not appear to interact. From the boat, we saw several aerial displays and lots of bowriding. We had one underwater encounter and although they did not stick around very long, we saw 9 individuals. We followed the safety recommendations of our captain and kept the group sizes small while in the water. We also needed to take extra care getting back on the boat today.

We were back to the dock close to 20:00. After dinner, we watched the first half of the film, “Why do dogs smile and chimpanzees cry?” This allowed our conversations on animal behavior to expand beyond just dolphins and presented the challenges of measuring emotion in non-human animals.

More tomorrow,

The SHU Crew
Friday began with a discussion of group living in cetaceans, including the use of pectoral fin contact in dolphins. We were able to review some of our photographs and made a positive ID of un-named #84. ID #84 has a crescent shape scar on the left side of her body. She also has some white scarring on her right side and now has scattered spots (she is a juvenile).  We were also able to add a new dolphin to DCP’s photo-ID catalog! This animal will be given the ID #91. It is a very young, female juvenile readily recognized by a major notch in her peduncle. We found out that she received this injury last June, but we are not sure from what. The third animal seemed to be a calf when we first looked at our photos, but when reviewing video, it looked like it might be getting its first belly spots.

We were not able to head on our next dolphin survey because of high winds. But, we were able to get into the water anyway! Our boat captain took us across the harbor to a mangrove cluster. We were able to walk completely around this circular patch in about knee deep water. We saw a lot of young fish, including grunts, conch fish, minnows, juvenile foureye butterfly fish and a barracuda, giving us a glimpse into how important mangroves are as a nursery for fish species. We also saw a live conch, blue crab, hermit crab and southern sting rays. Looking at the root systems, we could see how vital mangroves are to absorbing storm surges. We finished up our exploration just in time to walk home in the rain.

We finished the day with chicken tacos, DOLPHINS movie (very entertaining – and educational) and ice cream sundaes! We’re hoping for calmer weather tomorrow!

Until then,

The SHU Crew

Bim09_waterspoutDuring this morning’s discussion (Thursday) on behavioral ethograms, we dispelled misconceptions that an ethogram is a complicated machine...We also watched some of the surface video that was collected on Wednesday.On today’s dolphin survey we saw two patches of rain in the distance, each of which had a developing water spout! For most of us, it was the first we’d ever seen. Early on, we passed an ecotour boat that was observing a group of dolphins. In an attempt not to crowd the dolphins, our boat kept its distance. Then, we had almost given up hope, but at 18:36 we saw a group of Atlantic spotted dolphins. There were 11 animals in this group, including White Blotch (#29) and un-named #84. There was a lot of petting between individuals, bowriding and some possible mating or socio-sexual behavior. We were able to observe a subset of the group from 18:51 to 18:57. This was a group of 2 juveniles (1 was just beginning its spot development) and 1 calf.

In this photo, you can see bubbles coming from #84. We heard a lot of whistles underwater and were amazed at the way sound travels under water. There were times when we could hear the dolphins, but not see them. As the youngsters were playing, there was a lot of chasing, with only a little bit of pectoral fin contact. Shortly after we got back on the boat, it was time to pick up speed and head back to the dock. But, our work was not over and at 19:03 there 10-12 animals, with nearly all riding the bow. Within a few minutes, only White Blotch (#29) and a young juvenile remained. The juvenile may be White Blotch’s 2004 calf and is getting speckled on the belly. The juvenile was much more active than White Blotch, barrel rolling and swimming belly up. The juvenile was surfacing to breath more often than the adult and was the last to leave the bow at 19:16.Back on land, we had a stirfry dinner and were able to venture out for a brief glimpse of local nightlife, including a small local band. There was a keyboardist, a bassists and a third man alternating between playing a saw and the maracas. Some of us even had the opportunity to have a turn playing backup with the maracas. As is local custom, we left our mark and signed the wall.

After our morinng discussions on research methods and photo-ID work, we headed to the boat. We met two British tourists and because of their addition, we completed our dolphin survey on a larger vessel. We saw our first group of spotted dolphins at 16:29. There were 12 animals in this group, including Billy (#64) and Nemo (#76). We were able to get in the water this group and observe some mating behavior! These behaviors were among three juveniles, so is considered socio-sexual play. The dolphins circled us and it was the first time that all of us had the chance to see the dolphins underwater.  At 17:36 the dolphins had lost interest and we headed back to the boat.

Our second sighting was at 17:53 and included 2 spotted dolphins, but it was only a quick glimpse. As we began to lose some of the group to seasickness, we continued our search. Our third sighting was 18:11 and included 6 spotted dolphins, including Finn (#09), Lil’ Jess (#35) and 4 adults. At 18:23, three of us went into the water. It was amazing! We saw vertical hanging from multiple adults – it seemed like they were posing for us! It was a great opportunity for collecting still photos that we will work on ID’ing over the next week. We also observed some bottom-grubbing (aka crater feeding) and what appeared to be play as the dolphins were holding each other down on the sand. Our captain was also in the water and free-diving to the bottom. The dolphins seemed very interested in this and followed him throughout the water column. They stayed with us until 18:43. Once we were back on the boat, we thought we were done for the day. As we headed back to shore we had our fourth sighting at 18:52. This group did a lot of bowriding as we did not have time to stop to observe them. In this group, we saw Swoosh (#36), Nemo (#76) and Leslie (#80). There were two calves in the group so we’re very hopefully that one is Swoosh’s calf – that she had last year. At 19:00 they left us as we continued to head home.

Back at the hotel, we had a nice BBQ on the dock and shared our stories of the day. The best part? It was mosquito free thanks to the east wind. We had worked up an appetite on the boat and made quite a dent in the food – even the giant mound of pasta salad.

More tomorrow,

The SHU Crew
Monday, we arrived safely on Bimini, after a long trip from Connecticut. For some of us, it was our first trip outside the US or on a small prop plane. From the airport, it was a short van ride to the water taxi – the latter was expertly driven by a boy who looked to be about 5 years old (of course, his father was supervising). We were surprised at how quick the water taxi ride is; North and South Bimini are so close you could swim between the two. That afternoon, we had a camera tutorial, but did not go out on the boat because of the squalls surrounding the island. Ah, the joys of field research!  After we settled in, it was time for snorkel practice at the beach. The water was very clear and we were able to see southern sting rays and a barracuda. There were a few “mask malfunctions,” but we got sorted things out.

On day two we had a morning lecture and photo-ID practical before our dolphin survey. First we stopped at the 3 Sisters snorkel site, getting more practice and observing parrot fish and sting rays. Dealing with the currents offshore was a bit of an adjustment. The seas were a bit choppy, but that didn’t stop us from being able to observe both Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins! First, we saw a group of 3 adult spotted dolphins, including un-named #43. This observation ended abruptly, but before the day was over we saw a second group, with both species. Here, we recognized Lone Star (#56) from the boat. Those of us taking underwater photographs, captured images, including bottlenose dolphin ID#23 (pictured above).

Looking forward to tomorrow (and hopefully more dolphins and a little more sunshine),

The SHU Crew

Bimini May 09 vet clinic

I spent the end of last week away from dolphin work and volunteered at the local vet clinic. Bimini has no resident veterinarian, so the pet owning community relies on visiting vets to meet their pet care needs. In addition to wellness visits, the vet team tried to encourage spays and neuters, although many people on Bimini do not yet see the value of this. But, they were up to the challenge and sterilized 14 animals, including the chow pictured here. Everyone on Bimini is grateful for the time taken by the vet to visit, the funds donated (local gov’t, Proud Paws and Palmdale Vet Clinic), local volunteers in organizing and assisting, and the Bimini pet owners for such a positive response.  

Until next time,

Kel

Hello from Bimini! I’m sorry it has been so long since I have written! Unfortunately, the internet has been down for over a week, but thankfully Bimini Undersea has service and is happy to share.... 

The UNB course was a huge success! We had a lot of firsts and I am sure the dolphins spoiled the students. In 5 trips, we saw mixed species groups almost every day! And the mixed groups were large with at least 10 individuals of each species. We saw un-named #25 with calf, un-named #24, Split Jaw (#22), Leslie (#80) and likely Vincent (#11). More ID’s will likely be made once the remaining photos and video are processed. 

The students were also able to see more than just dolphins. They snorkeled at “3 Sisters” and “Bimini Road,” observed two loggerhead turtles mating and experienced southern sting rays at “Honeymoon Harbor.” With lectures and photo-ID labs each morning and films in the evening, our days were very busy! The group departed on Thursday morning and will be missed. Thank you all! 

On Saturday another dolphin trip surfaced, but unfortunately no dolphins did. The weather was absolutely fantastic though, so it was a nice boat ride! It may be a slow couple of weeks for boat time, but I’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, be sure to keep tabs on Kathleen in Roatan! 

Until next time,

Kel

Tt surfing in BiminiWell, it was a busy week! The weather wasn’t on our side, but we were able to see a second set of bottlenose dolphins on Tuesday’s boat trip. They put on a nice surfing show! 

Mid-week was spent preparing for our first university-level field course. Today (Friday) I was joined by 14 students & their professor from the University of New Brunswick. It was a busy day settling in, getting orientated and then heading out to the dolphin grounds. There was still a chop on the sea, but the conditions were much more favorable. Soon, we were observing a group of 8 Atlantic spotted dolphins, including Split Jaw (#22), Lil’ Jess (#35), Billy (#64) and (I think) newly named Tilly (#87). All in all, a good day! 

More work tomorrow,

Kel

Today was a dolphin-less boat trip and the strong east winds kept us from “the dolphin grounds” again. But, we did cruise the length of the island hoping for another chance to observe the bottlenose. We were not so lucky today, but it was still great to be out searching.  

Until next time,

Kel

Bimini Tt w smack boat 2009 Today we dealt with 20-25 knot east winds in Bimini, which kept us from exploring “the dolphin grounds.” However, we did brave the seas for some snorkeling on the west side of the island. As the guests paddled about, I kept my eyes peeled – and saw something! A group of approximately 10 bottlenose cruised past! I took some photos and soon the boat was headed in their direction. They were very active/social at the surface, which is not typical of the bottlenose here. We observed them for well over an hour and I filled up the camera’s memory card! Here you can see a bottlenose passing an anchored “smack” boat, a Bahamian commercial fishing vessel.

 

 

Until tomorrow,

Kel

Yesterday’s boat trip was calm and sunny. It was also dolphin filled, although I was not able to capture any underwater video. The dolphins were spread out and behaving in a fashion atypical for our observations in this area. But, it was a great day observing from the boat. It was calm enough that I may even be able to make some IDs from surface photos – a rare occurrence for the spotted dolphins here.

It may be a quiet week, so, until next time,

Kel

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