We decided to change our plans a bit due to the uncertain weather forecast and on Tuesday we had an early breakfast and departed on the boat at 9 a.m. By 10 a.m., we were with dolphins! First, we saw about six bottlenose, but they were evasive, so we left them. Soon we saw a group of spotteds and they were soon joined by two bottlenose. Half of us got in the water, but the dolphins were on the move. We popped Dr. Yeater in the water, in the hopes of getting at least a brief video clip for photo-ID, and she saw eight dolphins all of which passed by quickly. We followed them for a very long time and there were 3 mother/calf pairs – it was interesting to watch the two older calves go between the boat and the moms. The very young calf stayed with the adults. We saw the different positions of the calf relative to mom. When the mom and the calf surfaced to breathe, the mom always came up just slightly ahead of the calf. Several of the dolphins had tassel barnacles on their flukes and we were able to see this when the dolphins were riding the bow. The dolphins were traveling this whole time, but eventually they stopped. We found ourselves wondering why and then we realized they had met up with more dolphins – now there were at least 14. We weren’t sure if they would stick around, but we decided it was time to try. They were moving quickly, but we were able to keep up and collect video and photo data. There was “mating” behavior going on as the oldest dolphins shifted from the outskirts of the group to the center. We hope our video and photographs are useful to DCP!

We headed back to shore for lunch and a quick break when we were pleasantly surprised by being told we needed to be back on the boat at 3 p.m. ThisBIM13_T14_2Tt w SHU time we once again did not have to wait long; we saw a lone bottlenose dolphin that was not interested in us and difficult to keep an eye on. Soon after leaving this dolphin we found a larger bottlenose group and saw crater feeding for the first time – that was cool! The craters were impressive and as the dolphins were on the sand, we could see them headscanning. Someone even saw a dolphin catch a garden eel. We could really hear their echolocation and when they came to the surface to breathe, they would check us out. Some even came up to the surface in synchrony. One in particular, with a damaged pectoral fin, was quite inquisitive about us at the surface. There was lots of stuff in the water and we all got lots of stings – but it was worth it! Back on the boat we took one more spin to see if we could find anything else before heading in and…

We did! It was a mixed species group and they were very active at the surface. Their excitement showed in their pink bellies. This time, Kel got in the water alone with the MVA and we were able to observe, from the boat, the dolphins approach her. We look forward to watching the video data to see the mixed species behaviors; and even the bottlenose only – it’s Kel most interactive experience with Bimini bottlenose and one of the only times she’s been able to confirm females in a mixed species group.

On our way back in, we saw spotteds two more times; first a single dolphin, then two; however it was getting late so we had to keep going toward shore.

We ended the night with soft tacos and lots of laughter!

Until next time,

“Bobby & The Bimini Babes” (SHU 2013)

BIM13_T12_StudentwSfsOur Monday began with class time where we discussed studies on group living, pectoral fin rubbing and tool use in dolphins. We also looked over the video and photographs that we collected during Sunday’s dolphin trip. After lunch, we had a rain delay for our boat trip, but thankfully we were able to depart the dock by about 3:30 p.m.

We were hoping that after yesterday’s no-show dolphins, they would make it up to us: and oh, boy they did! But, they made us wait. First, we saw a large splash in the deep water, but never did figure out what it was. Then we saw a lone, young spotted dolphin, but it had no interest in our boat. After some surface observations we left this dolphin in hopes that we would find more on the way home. With the day’s light fading, we had to pick up the pace, but even though we were going fast, our Professor saw dolphins to the west. It was a large group of spotted dolphins, but because we were running out of daylight, we did not have time to observe the dolphins from the surface if we wanted a chance to observe them under water. We didn’t know if they would stay, they did! There were at least five dolphins, including two bottlenose dolphins, but soon there were only two young spotteds. They stayed near the surface and gave us all a chance to observe them quite closely. Tilly (ID#87) was there with another juvenile – we look forward to trying to ID her. We saw a lot of pectoral fin contact between the two dolphins; at times, it seemed the unknown juvenile was the initiator and the rubbee! They were circling Kel and the MVA and there was some playful mouthing between the juveniles. We heard some vocalizations, but overall they were pretty quiet. They were playing with a lot of seaweed and sea grass as they encircled us and at times this play was mutual with a single piece of sargassum; they certainly weren’t camera shy. At times, the dolphins approached from behind in different positions. With light fading, it was really time to go home – Kel and Dr. Yeater were the last to exit the water and Tilly (ID#87) gave them quite a show barrel rolling with a long piece of sargassum! Back on the boat, we were all so excited – including Kel and Dr. Yeater. It is good and okay to be excited about your work!

Back at the hotel we had a wahoo dinner and since we had gotten back so late and were excitedly reviewing all our video, soon it was time to get to bed!

Until tomorrow,

“Bobby & The Bimini Babes” (SHU 2013)

Our Saturday morning began with a guest lecture from College of the Bahamas Professor, Dr. Radhika Makecha. Dr. M talked about dolphin play and personality and connected it to other species – you could say it was a potpourri! Then we visited the Bimini Museum and the local straw market. After lunch, it was time for the boat!

We waited very patiently, because it took a while…and we were sad when we reached the point in the path where we would turn around. But, that’s when we saw bottlenose dolphins! There were at least six dolphins, likely more, but none was particularly interested in us or the boat. We did get some good dorsal fin views and at one point, there were quite a few all riding the bow. After we decided to leave the bottlenose group in search of other dolphins, we almost immediately saw Atlantic spotted dolphins! We watched the spotteds from the boat for a bit, and enjoyed their bowriding. There was a minimum of 14 dolphins, including several calves. Suddenly, Kel said: “Okay, it’s time to go in.” Once we were in the water, we were amazed at how close the dolphins came to us without actually ever touching us. We noticed several rake marks on their bodies – the clarity and color were impressive. We saw pectoral fin contact under water and lots of surface activity from the boat, including rubbing in seaweed. Back under water, we saw lots of social interaction – and at times it seemed like human Bobby thought he was a dolphin. In the midst of the dolphins, we also saw a lone sea star. It was also really cool to hear the clicks and whistles – even when they were out of sight! When the dolphins were gone, we headed back to the boat expecting that we would be done for the day. But, we (well, okay our captain, Al) found them again! We were able to get in the water again. This time, we saw more mouth to body interactions – not quite a raking, but clear contact. Once again our underwater observation ended with bottlenose coming through the group. They appeared to be pursuing the spotteds and then suddenly both groups were gone. Those of us on the boat were able to see at least six bottlenose come out of the water, in near perfect synchrony, during their pursuit of the spotteds.

We are still absorbing all that we saw today! From our amazement at how the mother dolphins brought their calves so close us, to see both species, so many age classes – it was amazing. Then back in the harbor, we saw a nurse shark and more yellow rays!

Until tomorrow, “Bobby & The Bimini Babes” (SHU 2013)

On Sunday morning we headed to the South Bimini Nature Trail – we rode in a funky painted old school bus. We walked along the trail, learning all about the plants & animals. The highlight was holding the Bimini boa – well, for most of us. Luckily for the students uncomfortable with the snake, there were plenty of people to hide behind. The snake’s musk was hard to miss and we were surprised by the quality of its skin. There was also a large iguana and several small lizard species, including anoles and curly tails – the bright green lizard with bright red dewlap was really cool, as was the fight between two anoles. They seemed to be competing for a prime sunspot! Like most Bimini tours there was also cool pirate information along the way. After the Nature Trail we headed to the SharkLab. The staff & volunteers had been working on a field project for the last 15 hours, so most were resting, away from our tour. This tour was really interesting and we got to see a baby lemon shark up close. The researchers think the shark was less than a year old, although you cannot age a shark while it is alive. Shark birth is like ours and very different all at the same time – individual umbilical cords, multiple fathers; and the researchers are studying their genetics. In fact, researchers at the Lab are studying all sorts of things, including basic personality (behavioral responses) in lemon sharks, which tied in nicely with Dr. M’s talk yesterday. So far there seems to be a difference between age classes, but less so at an individual level. We were able to touch the young lemon: Its skin was very cool – smooth in one direction, and rough in another. We had all been in the sun for a long time, so we climbed back aboard the ferry and headed back to North Bimini. After a chance to cool off, we had lunch and prepared for the boat.

We departed the dock at about 14:30 and more students learned the DCP data sheet. Although we looked very hard, the dolphins were nowhere to be seen. On the ride home, going into the wind, things got wet on the bow – but anyone who heard our laughter knew we were enjoying it. It was the sunniest day we’ve had yet, so some of us returned for dinner with more sunburn than we’d planned. After dinner, we reviewed our Bimini Museum trivia. Although we enjoyed the conversation the questions prompted, we would have failed if it were a quiz! It was cool how a lot of the stories include family stories from our captain, Al.

We headed to bed early and are staying positive that we’ll see more dolphins tomorrow!

Until then, “Bobby & The Bimini Babes” (SHU 2013)

We started our morning by talking about ethograms, with DCP’s as a reference, and our ideas for our individual projects. Our special guest arrived mid-morning: Dr. Radhika Makecha. After welcoming her, we practiced our photo-ID – it is exciting to think that even we might be able to recognize a few individuals, when we finally get to meet them! We’re being patient…

During our morning break, the girls headed to the beach to enjoy the sunshine that had finally emerged. We did not get rained on! As we’re exploring the island a bit more each day, we are meeting more locals (one of whom inspired the title of this report). We left the dock and looked for dolphins on our way to snorkel “The Bimini Road” (aka “Atlantis”). Most of us think that it is natural (“just some rocks”), but some of us are open to the idea that it might be manmade. The highlight of our snorkel trip was a turtle – possibly a hawksbill turtle (visibility wasn’t so great) – and we also saw a barracuda, grouper and a southern stingray. As the boat was preparing to dock, one of us saw an eagle ray leap out of the water and we all turned in time to see the splash. Plus, we saw a float plane land in the harbor – right next to the boat!

Dinner tonight was a cookout at the marina followed by ice cream and the film, DOLPHINS.

Until next time,

“Bobby & The Bimini Babes” (SHU 2013)

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Dolphin Communication Project
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