BIM13_SHUdepartsOn Sunday the SHU students gathered for breakfast, still excited from their big day with reef fish, dolphins, stingrays and sharks yesterday. But, after nearly two weeks on Bimini, they took just a short bit of their morning to give back to this wonderful, welcoming island and did a beach clean-up on Radio Beach. Thankfully, there actually wasn’t all that much litter (although the bags collected still meant too much!), but they collected what they found and then cooled off in the Bimini blue sea. After final packing, photo swapping and lunch, it was all too suddenly time to head to the airport. Onto the water taxi they went, retracing their steps back to the South Bimini airport. The flight was delayed, but at least everyone made it safely to Fort Lauderdale, where many parted ways.

It was absolutely fantastic to have this group of students, from a variety of schools across the US (and a recent grad from the UK!). Their enthusiasm, awe and kindness had them standing out from the crowd. I look forward to the next course from Sacred Heart University!

Until next time,

Kel

On Saturday, we started with our last dolphin survey. We snorkeled at “3 Sisters,” specifically the big sister, on the way. We saw a butterfly fish, puffer fish, an eel, parrotfish, some of us saw the sea arch through the rock. We weren’t used to the snorkel time before dolphins, so lots of us got sunburned by the end of the trip! We were searching and searching, with the waves increasing, and thought we would go back to shore without dolphins. Then, just offshore, some of us saw it – a dorsal fin! We thought it was a bottlenose, but had a hard time finding it again to be sure. While looking for it, we saw 4 spotted dolphins! We did not have much time (again!), but were able to get in for a great underwater encounter. Tina (#14) was there, and we were all so pleased that we were able to make a re-identification in the field! The female calf was very interactive with all us and as we departed, she came to the bow and then the stern wake.

BIM13_SHUwSharks_AS7396After a quick lunch break, we were on the boat again, this time for our shark experience. For the first time, we went far in another direction – and were surprised when we arrived at Honeymoon Harbor. We wondered if sharks would be so close to the beach and then we found out that we were going to experience interacting with southern stingrays! There were at least 15 different individual stingrays, and they were all over our captain, Al! There was a giant female – at least 4 feet across, if not more. We also saw two nurse sharks, one of which was fairly big and came quick close to us, even at the surface. Some of us made sure to never put our feet down; despite being a little afraid everyone had a good time.

We thought that those nurse sharks might have been the main attraction, but then we headed to see the Caribbean reef sharks, and a single sharpnose. We preferred to call the sharpnose “the baby,” but we were corrected. Because the water visibility was not great, it made it feel like the sharks were sneaking up on us! On the boat, two of us had a chance to throw fish to the sharks (away from the swimmers of course). After everyone was on the boat, Al threw larger pieces of fish to the sharks and that drew out even larger sharks. In total, we saw at least 4 reef sharks, plus the sharpnose, and even more from the surface. It was cool to watch them eat the chunks of fish! We were all so close, even with our Sacred Heart heart! Thanks for the photo, Captain Al!

We had a finale dinner at the marina before going out to Sherry’s Beach Bar. We got to hear some junkanoo drumming and local music before heading to bed. We had lots of laughs on our last night! Can’t believe we have to leave tomorrow, but many of us are already planning to find out how to come back! After all, the song does say, “once is not enough!” Tomorrow morning we’ll wrap with a beach clean-up near the hotel.

Thanks for following!

“Bobby & The Bimini Babes” (SHU 2013)

BIM13_T12_TinaID14Our Thursday morning began with a discussion on interspecies interactions, specifically between the spotteds & the bottlenose of The Bahamas. We covered two articles and Kel went into more details on her work here in Bimini, including watching video clips from earlier this week. It was interesting to see the different observations and conclusions that came out of both studies, and the different approaches to interpreting aggression and sexual behavior, and the overlap of each. Research certainly evolves over time.

During our afternoon break, we went to The Dolphin House. Some of us had fairly low expectations, but it really was cool – you could stay there for a week and still discover new things! The owner’s style was definitely eclectic – hopefully we can help him finish his license plate collection. We also used our break to work on our assignments and/or go for a beach walk, despite the swells!

Since the weather was still bad in the afternoon, we worked on photo-ID from our morning trip on 4 June. We were much more successful today! We confirmed Tina (#14), Lil’ Jess (#35) and, possibly Niecey (#48). It was really exciting to confirm #14, who is pictured here. There were two borderline calf/juveniles and a juvenile, the latter of which we nicknamed “Tassel” because of the obvious tassel barnacles on the fluke. There was also an adult female that was either pregnant or nursing, but we were not able to match her to an ID in DCP’s photo-ID catalog. Yet. The afternoon showed us how photo-ID is like a challenging puzzle; it’s fun and rewarding, but sometimes the hard parts can be frustrating. It takes a lot of hours to process just one day’s photos and videos! In addition to reviewing the still photos, we reviewed video; it was really cool to watch video that we were actually present for the recording! And, having multiple cameras, video & still, made it interested to see multiple angles of the same event.

We had a BBQ chicken dinner and settled in for the first half of “We Bought A Zoo.” A bit Hollywood, of course, it was a nice way to spend the evening and it has good conversation starters for discussion on captive animal enrichment. We can’t wait to finish it tomorrow!

Until then,

“Bobby & The Bimini Babes” (SHU 2013)

On Friday, we had the morning off – we spent the day at the beach and wandered through the straw market. Some of us got a few braids in our hair and we all ordered lunch at CJ’s, the food stall on the beach. Although we were planning to eat at the picnic tables, the flies had us running for the hotel!

In the afternoon, we had a long, good discussion on ecotourism. We covered two articles from the peer review literature and then discussed ecotourism in general and specific to Bimini’s dolphin tourism.

Later, we found bottlenose ID matches (Tt14, 31, 35). There were also two other individuals that were very distinct. After dinner, we enjoyed ice cream and finished last night’s movie. Overall, the movie was a big hit in this group, and even got us thinking about animal ethics.

Until tomorrow,

“Bobby & The Bimini Babes” (SHU 2013)

Wednesday was as another morning dolphin trip, but in our roughest water yet. It was nearly 3 hours into the trip before we saw our first dolphin – and at first, we couldn’t find it again! But, luckily, we found it again, and wasn’t alone! We watched this group of bottlenose from the boat; the group was fairly large, with at least a dozen individuals at first, and they were very active. We did not have much time, so half of our group got in the water to observe them, unsure if they would stay. They did and we all actually felt a bit intimidated! There were so many dolphins (at least 21 at one point) that were very (very) vocal and very active. They frequently swim straight toward us and then turned away at the last minute, seemingly never actually very interested in us; they just carried on doing their own thing. Their own thing included feeding – and playing – with fish. It seemed they were stunning the fish with their tails and then retrieving the stunned fish. The noise this created was very loud and we heard lots of brays! At times, one dolphin would quickly chase another dolphin; this was seen from under the water and from the boat. Once, a dolphin was jawing as it was swimming away and then we realized that it was being pursued by another. There were four nurse sharks in the group and at one point, a dolphin was poking a shark in the head! There was also at least one calf in the group, so amidst the rest of the activity we were able to observe mother/calf behavior. At one point the calf was being held on the sea floor – could this have been discipline?

Kel collected lots (over 800, although not all useable) of still photographs (many hours of photo-ID ahead for DCP!) including photos of the injured bottlenose pictured here. Its rostrum and melon appear damaged, as is the dorsal fin, peduncle and fluke. Wonder what happened to it....This dolphin was not observed once the humans were in the water, but we did see other individuals with scars from sharks and dolphins that were missing/had damaged pectoral fins. At least one was an individual that we had seen previously during our course: a re-sight!

From the boat we saw lots of surfing and even some leaping. It was time to head back to shore, so we left the dolphins and headed in. We were on a “dolphin high” with growling stomachs, so it was time for lunch!

After lunch we took a break and then discussed coefficients of association, female behavior and other observations specific to Atlantic spotted dolphins. Then it was time for some photo-ID, but it was very challenging because we couldn’t find a match for a tricky juvenile! But, we all ID’d Tilly (#87)! It was exciting to look at both video and still photos that had been collected. Soon, it was time for American Thanksgiving dinner – yum! With Harold the manatee discussions to pass the time, we ended the night with a sad documentary. It covered research and anecdotes into animal emotion, including grief. It had perspectives of researchers and photographers, and personal stories in between. But, it got us thinking about areas of research into animal behavior and emotion. At least we were laughing about our sadness…

Until next time,

“Bobby & The Bimini Babes” (SHU 2013)

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