Today was great. The dolphin boat was a little late leaving the dock, but there were no complaints as we came upon a scattered group of Atlantic spotted dolphins early. In the mix was White Blotch (#29), but most of the dolphins seemed to be moving west to the deep water. We followed two older calves for a bit in the other direction, but soon they were gone. We were hopeful there would be more dolphins and we were not disappointed. A group of 6 energetic juvenile and young adult spotteds were soon on the bow. In the group were Split Jaw (#22), Lil’ Jess (#35), Billy (#64), Tim (#69), and un-named #78 and #87. After a busy 30+ minute swim, it was back to boat and then home! 

Thanks to the dolphins and the passengers for a great day! 

Until next time,

Kel

The winds finally diminished today, but unfortunately, that did not bring dolphins. It was not for lack of trying though! We had a very enthusiastic group of passengers who kept their spirits high even though the dolphins did not make an appearance. Luckily, we have another opportunity tomorrow! 

If you have just begun tuning into the 2009 Bimini field reports, click on the following links to learn more about this island and research site.

 Until then,

Kel

 The seas were calm, the sun was shining and the water was clear and blue. It feels like summer is here! We headed to the “dolphin grounds” eager for a big sighting. We had a very brief sighting of a single adult Atlantic spotted dolphin. It is very unusual to see only one; it is possible there were others close by, but this individual didn’t seem keen to stay by the boat, so we were on our way in search of others. We weren’t disappointed as we soon came upon Finn (#09), Romeo (#10) and a young juvenile. Everyone got a quick glimpse of the group under water. Back at the boat, we continued to watch Finn and Romeo who were then joined by Tina (#14). After they swam away, and were headed back toward the island, we came upon a group of 5 bottlenose dolphins. A great day!

 

Until tomorrow,

Kel

 Today’s dolphin trip began with a shark swim for the guests. I enjoyed the show from the boat, while scanning the sea for passing dolphins. None came through, but soon we were cruising to “the dolphin grounds.” The seas were calming down, which made it easier to see the two adult Atlantic spotted dolphins of the day. I wasn’t able to recognize the two individuals from the boat, but perhaps I’ll find matches in the catalog. They weren’t too keen on staying by the boat or the swimmers, yet somehow every time we thought they were gone, they would appear again!

 

Shortly after, we saw an active group of bottlenose dolphins. One was swimming circles around 2 swimmers for what seemed like ages. Another was leaping out of the water repeatedly. A great show! Unfortunately, light was low and the sea was still a little choppy, so we’ll see if I was able to get any photo-ID worthy shorts.

Another trip tomorrow,

Kel

Unfortunately, the wind has kept me from the dolphin grounds for the past two days. April is a tricky time of year in Bimini; there are flat calm, stunning days and then blowy, windy days like today. I’m optimistic the winds will calm down in time for tomorrow’s trip though. Fingers crossed!

 

Since I was land-bound all day, it was time to catch up on manuscript edits, grant applications and news in the outside world. That’s when I came upon the news of record high births among North Atlantic right whales. Now, don’t get too excited – record births still only means 39 new calves, but it’s a positive sign and positive signs don’t come too often for this highly endangered species. You can check out more on the story by clicking here or here. 

Cheers,

Kel

 

I’m happy to be reporting on the first two dolphin trips of 2009! YAY! On Tuesday, we headed to the “dolphin grounds” in search of our old friends. It took a couple of hours to find them, but we were greeted by a surprising group of youngsters. It isn’t often that we see calves unaccompanied by their mothers – so, although yesterdays group included un-named #84 (independent calf of Trudy), a second very young juvenile (only a spot or two) and 3 calves, we suspect that the mothers weren’t far away. The young group of 5 gave the human group quite the bow riding show, but unfortunately, did not stick around for an underwater encounter. A short time later we came upon a different group of 4 sub-adult Atlantic spotted dolphins, including Split Jaw (#22) and Lil’ Jess (#35). They spent a few minutes riding the bow and then a few more showing off their surfing skills in the boat wake – then they too were off! On the way home we also got a very quick glimpse of 2 bottlenose, but there was not enough time to take any ID pictures.

 

 

Wednesday’s dolphin trip was a bit less exciting. We spent the afternoon looking for dolphins, but they were a no show. Could this have been because we couldn’t see them as well in the rough seas? Tomorrow should be calmer, so hopefully we’ll have better luck. 

Until next time,

Kel

Harold (aka Kodi) the manatee is a free man! After being given a clean bill of health, the logistics of his release were thoughtfully sorted out. On Thursday, 19 March 2009, this manatee was released near Crystal River on the west coast of Florida. He is once again outfitted with a radio/satellite tag, which will allow researchers to track the adventurous animal’s movements. For a short time following the release, his movements were observed by boat. He appeared to be fine and soon met up with another adult manatee. A short time later he joined another, smaller animal. 

Thanks to US Fish & Wildlife, Miami Seaquarium and US Geological Survey (among others?) who were all involved in the successful return of this animal to the wild. I can’t wait to hear where he goes next! 

Cheers,

Kel

As many of you already know, in late 2008/early 2009, we observed an apparently healthy, male manatee off Bimini, Bahamas for 8 weeks. Manatees are not generally found in this area and so it was decided that, if possible, this ~1200 pound mammal would be captured and returned to its native Florida. Here, you can relive part of the 24 January 2009 rescue:
 

This manatee, first called Harold but renamed Kodi, is currently residing at the Miami SeaQuarium's manatee rehabilitation center. A release is expected in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for details!

 

 Harold Bimini manatee

Harold the manatee’s time in Bimini came to an end on Saturday. After much discussion with local Biminites, the Bahamian Department of Marine Resources, US Fish & Wildlife, US Geological Survey and Miami SeaQuarium, the decision to capture Harold was executed....

 

Here is Harold resting on his sling just before he was back in the shade.

 

My day began at approximately 7:15 a.m., with a call from the SeaQuarium Curator. He and his 6 person manatee rescue team were 2 miles off Bimini aboard the US Coast Guard’s Cutter, Kodiak Island. It was time for us to head down to the dock as our first task of the day was to meet the Cutter offshore and pick up the rescue team and their gear. We pulled up alongside the Cutter, loaded people and crew, received well wishes from the Coast Guard and headed back into Bimini. We arrived back to the dock at approximately 8:30 a.m. Gear was rearranged while immigration and permit paperwork was sorted out. At 9:30 a.m. it was time for a volunteer meeting. The curator outlined the day’s goals and individual instructions. Then, because the manatee did not conveniently arrive at the dock, it was time for the rescue team to head out in search of the “sea cow.” 

 The 7 member rescue team headed out the harbor with Al Sweeting Jr. behind the wheel. My task was to use the USGS radio receiver to find the animal. Harold was pulling his tag under water (where I cannot get a signal) for approximately 5 minutes at a time, but it only took us about 30 minutes to find him in a South Bimini canal. The site was assessed and the team determined they would try to deploy the net across the canal and then once the manatee was close, pull the net in the shape of horseshoe with the opening at the beach. If this worked, it would allow the team to pull the animal onto the beach so he could be loaded on a stretcher. Well, Harold wasn’t going to let the team off that easily – and he quickly swam under the net while it was being deployed. Photo taken by Keefes

The gear was pulled back into the boat and we tracked Harold the western beach of South Bimini. Volunteers lined the beach (thank you!) and the Shark Lab helped keep track of the animal from their boat (thank you!). Harold was hugging the shoreline so the team was able to try a second net set...but again, Harold was too quick (who’da thought a manatee was so fast!). He appeared quite calm throughout the ordeal and never fled the area. This meant that he gave the team a third chance for a horseshoe/beach net set. And apparently, with Harold, the third time is the charm! (Photo: Keefe family) 

Once the animal was the beach, approximately 8 people restrained him while he calmed down. He was continually kept cool with buckets of sea water. The vet was on-hand to monitor his condition. Shortly thereafter he was transferred to a stretcher. It took over a dozen people to carry the animal down the beach. The boat had been run bow into the sand. A dozen+ people then had the task of loading the manatee into the bow of the boat – one of the greatest challenges of the day, but again, they got through it! 

With the manatee onboard, it was time to radio the Coast Guard that we had “the package.” The boat, along with a second support skiff, headed back out to sea to meet the Cutter. The boat was positioned alongside the big ship, just as it had been only hours before. The onboard crane was lowered and lifted Harold, in his sling, with apparent ease. Moments later, Harold was safe inside his transport box, ready for his big ride back to Miami.... 

Preliminary mtDNA analysis, from the fecal sample collected by USGS in December, shows that Harold has the 410 bp A-haplotype.  This is found in all Florida manatees and has been found in 31% of manatees sampled from Puerto Rico (USGS). When further genetic studies are conducted, Harold’s genetic population origin should be determined. This will help to in selecting the location for Harold’s release back into the wild. For now, Harold faces approximately 2 weeks of quarantine at Miami SeaQuarium. Once he is given a clean bill of health, he will live with the other male manatees until his release site and date are chosen. 

I look forward to hearing any Harold updates I can – and will pass those along to all of you out there! But first, I must thank those who’ve helped along the way...From those who helped pass out flyers and spread the word, those who helped keep watch at the dock and reported sightings elsewhere; thanks to those who engaged in discussions about what might be best for this wayward animal; thanks to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission who connected me with the US Fish & Wildlife whose biologist coordinated communication between necessary parties involved; thanks to the Bahamian Department of Marine Resources and their fisheries officer who observed the capture; thanks to the USGS for their insight and tagging and tracking expertise; thank you to the Miami SeaQuarium for their resources and expertise in the rescue itself; thank you to the US Coast Guard for being so willing to provide the vital marine transport; and a big thanks to ALL the Bimini volunteers without whom the capture would not have been successful and safe for our new friend Harold. 

And thanks to everyone who listened to me go on and on and on about this manatee for the last 8 weeks! I guess I need to find a new obsession! 

Until next time,

Kel

I like the slogan “it’s better in the Bahamas,” but it is hard to tell if this applies to a manatee. Today marks the start of week 8 (as far as we know) of this stray male manatee’s visit in Bimini. Thanks to efforts by the US Geological Survey, he is now outfitted with a handy tag that provides a radio signal for real time tracking and a satellite signal for long-term monitoring. The tag only weighs about 5 pounds and since Harold likely weighs about 1200 pounds, we don’t think he minds dragging it around!

Data from his tag has shoHarold the Manatee 5 Jan 09wn us that he utilizes the main North Bimini harbor channel, human-dredged channels with the Bimini Bay Resort development, North and South Bimini marinas, South Bimini canals, some relatively shallow areas on the bank and has even been observed on several occasions on the ocean side of North Bimini - so, just about everywhere! His fresh water source is still a mystery; as far as I know he has shown very minimal interest in fresh water hoses. There may be fresh water leeching out of the Sea Crest Marina sea wall, but this has not been confirmed. He rarely goes more than 3 days without stopping by this sea wall...There are still discussions regarding a capture/transport plan between US authorities in Florida and Bahamian officials in Nassau. It was pushed off for the holidays after 2 scheduled rescues were cancelled in December. Concerns for the manatee’s overall welfare include fresh water and the lack of other manatees. He has shown a slow flee response to moving vessels - and there is also concern about a boat strike, particularly if he remains in the marina and canal areas into Bimini's busy summer season.

 

In the meantime, I’ll continue my observations, conversations with interested folks on the island and updating those off the island!

 

Until next time,

Kel

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