It was another stormy morning early Thursday in Bimini, but luckily the skies cleared enough for another lovely day on the boat. Nat and I started our morning once again with some work and a large pot of coffee before beginning our prep for the boat.
Our day started a little earlier than the previous few days and we were able to stop and snorkel “The Bimini Road,” a famous snorkel spot off of North Bimini. It was the perfect time for a much needed swim break as well as the first time for us to see the popular snorkel spot. We dove in and immediately saw a barracuda under us and later saw a gorgeous angelfish swim past us. As Nat took a minute to free dive with a school of fish, I came up for air to clear my mask a little. After a minute or two, I went to go find Nat under water and was surprised to see a wide-mouthed remora swimming right at me. It was my first time seeing one under water and was almost a little nervous it was going to attach to me. I kicked back immediately and it switched directions- heading straight for Nat! Thankfully Nat surfaced and it swam away.
After a 30-minute snorkel trip, our hunt for the dolphins was on- and luckily short! First, we got some quick glimpses of passing bottlenose dolphins – Nat even recognized one from our efforts sorting bottlenose dorsal fin photographs by individual and Kel noted that it was probably Tt057. Soon, a total of 23 spotted dolphins came right to the bow of the boat. One of these was our dear boy, Split Jaw (#22)! We have seen Split Jaw the past six days in which we sighted spotted dolphins! It is always a pleasure to see him doing so well. We also saw Niecey (#48), with her calf, Vee (#101, pictured here), Sulfur (#102),Inka (#93) and un-named #107. I was able to hop in the water with them for a split second, but they were on the move, and fast moving dolphins are a bit difficult to swim with. After they rode the bow for over 30 minutes, it was time to depart from this pod and try to find other more playful dolphins. We were able to spot some more dolphins, but they seemed to be on a mission as well, and we were not able to see them underwater. After the boat trip, we said goodbye to the guests and went back to our cottage for leftovers. Then it was another must needed lights out!
-Frankie & Nat
After getting a feel for what the educational talks were like on Tuesday, I was extremely excited for our talk Wednesday morning on the Shedd Aquarium boat. As a Chicago native, I was raised going to the Shedd- I even brought my favorite Shedd hat to Bimini! Nat and I woke up early to make some breakfast and coffee before meeting up with Kelly and jumping on the skiff to head to Coral Reef 2 (CRII).
CRII was an absolutely gorgeous boat and all the kids were super excited to have us on board. After Kelly’s talk, the high school students turned to Nat and I and asked us about how we got the internship and if we have any tips on pursuing marine biology careers. We were able to tell them how lucky we felt to be able to intern with DCP but also to just keep searching for opportunities and to not give up. It was so fun to be around so many kids who were all just as passionate about the ocean as we are and we all left the boat with smiles on our face.
Nat and I were then able to get another two hours of work in before prepping to get back on Renegade for the afternoon. We were both very excited for this trip because Kelly was able to join us as well.
We got on the boat and began heading north, however sadly after a few hours of searching and numerous swim breaks under the hot sun, we couldn’t find any dolphins. While it was a quiet day dolphin-wise, Nat and I were still able to ask Kelly a lot of questions about possible future career pursuits or other research interests. Luckily we have another day with Kelly on board and are looking forward to what Thursday brings us!
Nat & Frankie
This past Tuesday was another great day on the island! Frankie has been settling in well as the newest intern and has already grown accustomed to island life (cockroaches and all). We have grown to become quite the intern team, and she has already grasped the ropes of all the data processing, photo sorting, and data entry that goes on behind the scenes at the DCP. On Tuesday we helped Kel give a small presentation/ discussion to the guests at the Sea Crest. They were all so interested in the dolphins that live just off this coast, and they all loved to learn the names of the dolphins we have in the DCP catalog. We listened as Kel explained how to tell a female and male dolphin apart and how to tell how old an individual spotted dolphin is. I love hearing all the presentations because each one reinforces my knowledge on the Atlantic spotted dolphins. It was so great to have such awesome support from these visitors – thank you!
Soon after the presentation, it was time to board the Sea Crest boat for the afternoon boat trip. It was another gorgeous day and the water was just as clear as ever. Even before leaving the marina we saw two bull sharks circling the docks. We knew right then and there that it would be a good day for spotting marine life. Sure enough, as soon as well came out of the harbor we saw a group of over 12 bottlenose dolphins. It was Frankie’s first time seeing the bottlenose dolphins that inhabit Bimini’s seas and she was so excited. I showed her how to use the surface camera to take pictures of the bottlenose dolphins’ dorsal fins. She picked it up right away and was snapping pictures left and right, trying to get a good picture of every individual dolphin in the group.
Later we were both able to have our time swimming with spotted dolphins. Some hours after the bottlenose dolphins we came across a massive group of spotted dolphins. They were in a mating ball, so although they were quite busy, we were able to hop in the water next to them to record underwater observations. As Frankie was in the water for the first and second encounters, I was on the bow trying to count all the dolphins in the area and to see if I could recognize any of the individuals. I was able to find Sulfur’s (#102) dorsal fin as she surfaced for breath. I was also able to count at least 28 dolphins in the area around the boat. It was the largest group of dolphins I have seen so far during the internship! After the encounter was over and it was time for the 3rd encounter, Frankie and I switched off so I could have a turn recording the dolphins underwater and she could have a turn doing surface observations from the bow. Underwater, I was able to spot Split Jaw (#22) and Lil’Jess (#35)! Eventually the dolphins moved on and it was time to head back to the boat and start heading home, but our dolphin adventures were not over just yet. While we were heading home, two young spotted dolphins came for a joy ride and rode the bow of the boat for at least ten minutes! Frankie and I both watched them play and were both shocked to see that they were both calves. We kept looking out into the distance to see if mom was nearby, but there was no other dolphin we could see. Eventually, moms must have called the two young dolphins back and they departed from the bow. Soon enough we were back at the dock and it was time to go back to the cottage for leftovers and some late night data entries. Then it was a quick lights out for Frankie and me after a long, successful day.
-Nat & Frankie
Monday was my fifth day on the island and I feel completely at home. So far, I have biked to get my groceries, seen a bull shark and stingray from the dock, and killed two cockroaches. Nat taught me how to enter data from different trips and tricks on how to ID bottlenose and spotted dolphins from pictures. After spending a few days doing computer work, it was finally time to have my first boat trip and get in on the action. Even though we weren’t getting on the boat till 3, I woke up at 6 am ready to go. I got some work done, was given a tour of the boat, and then began prepping for our trip.
Once on the boat, all data sheets I had been inputting finally started to make sense. After recording the time we left the dock and passed the sand bar, I looked at Nat and asked what we should do next. She told me it was time to just look and wait- then she bragged a little about how she was the first to spot dolphins on her last few trips.
We drove around for an hour with no fins in sight, but the group on board continued to ask us questions regarding the species we were looking for and good ways to spot them. It was exciting feeling like the expert on board and also knowing they were just as excited to see them as we were.
After seeing a splash in the distance, we geared the boat East and finally found some dolphins. However, since they were feeding, they wouldn’t be interested in playing with us, so we just hung out on board and watched them chase fish. After a half hour of this, the group decided it was time for a swim break. Nat and I jumped in as well and she pointed out a small barracuda swimming under us.
We hopped back on board and decided to start heading back towards shore, while still looking for dolphins on the way. About an hour into the ride in, I saw something jump in my peripheral view. I immediately jumped up and screamed “DOLPHINS” and just when everyone was turning, three spotted dolphins leapt out of the water.
While Nat got ready to get in the water, I went to the front of the boat and watched the dolphins bow ride. I was able to point out to the group up there with me which ones were calves and which were the full adults. I stayed up on the front and watched part of the group get in the water and the dolphins swimming right between them. Nat kept free diving and was able to get some great footage of a few of the dolphins. After 10 minutes the dolphins moved on, but Nat jumped on board with the biggest smile on her face and yelled up at me “#22 and #93”- she was able to identify two of her favorites- Split Jaw and Inka.
On the way back into shore we were both giddy with excitement, but also overcome with hunger. We discussed what we could make for dinner for around twenty minutes- but it basically came down to just ramen.
We got back to our place just in time for an amazing message; Kelly had leftovers. In the pitch black we biked to her place (almost falling a few times) to grab a meal with a little bit more nutrition than ramen. We ate in bed and discussed the day; we had originally planned on doing another hour of work, but after a 10-hour workday, we just wanted to go to bed.
Nat and I are super excited to see what a full week of boat trips bring us. We also started planning to do a shark dive on one of our mornings off and taking an hour or two break one day to snorkel a shipwreck off the island.
Frankie & Nat
Saturday sure was a busy day! It was the last day that we got to join Behind the Mask out on the Sea Crest boat for fun dolphin searching. The day before I was able to finally meet the new intern, Frankie, and help her get acquainted with Bimini. I’m so excited to get to work with her and show her all the ropes of the DCP!
I think Captain Al can agree when I say, we got extremely lucky about the boat traffic on Saturday’s boat adventures. It was a little crowded getting out of the harbor, but once we were out searching for dolphins, there wasn’t a boat in sight! What were in sight were two dolphins! Within an hour we saw two spotted dolphins straight ahead. After recording the coordinates of our location with the GPS, I ventured to the bow of the boat so I could get a closer look at any distinct spot patterns. Low and behold, Leslie (#80) was waiting patiently for a bow ride alongside a C2 individual (her calf, perhaps?). The water was so clear that I could easily see Leslie’s constellation of white spots on the right side of her peduncle that configure into the shape of a flower. While I was taking videos of these two dolphins, Al was able to spot two more spotted dolphins in the distance. Once we got closer I could easily tell that we were visited by Tina (#14) and her calf. Tina and her calf are dead giveaways because of the distinct notch in her calf’s dorsal fin. They also came to the bow in hopes of a bow ride and Leslie’s calf gave us quite the show. On the little calf’s side was a huge remora, and the calf definitely did not appreciate the extra weight. The calf tried desperately to knock the remora off its body by swimming at full speed then propelling itself four feet into the air! It didn’t seem like any of the calf’s attempts were successful, however, and we could still see the remora on its belly. When we departed from Leslie and Tina, the calf still had its remora suctioned onto its stomach, and we hoped it would get the annoying fish off its little body soon enough.
We continued our search for more dolphins since we still had an entire afternoon ahead of us. A couple hours later we came across a group of 12 spotted dolphins. The film crew was quick to enter the water and start filming the playful dolphins. I was able to spot Sulfur (#102) from the surface. She is so easy to spot because of the two round notches in her dorsal fin! Soon the dolphins departed and the film crew was able to shoot their dream shot. Everyone was excited about the luck of the day and how playful the dolphins were. We started to turn around to make the long journey home and not too long afterwards, we came across Split Jaw (#22) and a C3 individual! They stayed on the bow for quite a while, giving me a good look at Split Jaw’s split rostrum. It was definitely a great day full of dolphin identifications! Soon enough we were back at the Sea Crest dock and ready to turn in after a long day out on the boat.
-Nat (& Frankie & Kel!)
Summer intern Nat and I are thrilled to welcome DCP’s 2nd 2018 Short Field Experience Intern to Bimini! Frankie arrived on Friday and will be doing some blog writing over the next ~2 weeks. While Frankie was busy with flights, a “bus” and a water taxi, Nat lead the surface data collection mission with the Behind the Mask team and Bimini Adventures. During the sunny trip, she was able to ID Tina (#14) and her distinct calf, Split Jaw (#22), Inka (#93) and Sulfur (#102). I’m super proud of Nat for recognizing those dolphins on her own! Now, enjoy Frankie’s first impression of Bimini!
Waking up at 3 am to start my travel day from Chicago to Bimini was easier than expected. I was too excited to sleep the night before, sleep on the flight to Miami, or the final flight to Bimini. I told myself I would nap for an hour when I got to my accommodation in Bimini so I could be ready to start some work that night. However once I saw the beautiful turquoise water I immediately put on my swimsuit and went to the beach.
I was lucky enough to spend the last few months in Australia studying biology at a university on the ocean there; however I was still in awe when looking at the water here. I sat on the beach for about twenty minutes just admiring all the different shades of blues (also hoping to see some fins in the distance, but to no avail) before finally diving in.
After swimming for a little, I dried off and sat on the steps to wait for Kelly to come pick me up. To my luck, a very friendly curly-tailed lizard even came and sat with me for a little. Kelly and her two adorable kids then showed me around the gorgeous island of North Bimini. I knew I would love the island, but I did not think I would fall in love this quick- between the beautiful beaches, friendly dogs, and even friendlier people- I couldn’t keep a smile off my face. I was able to learn a little bit more about Kel’s journey here and what my job would be for the next week and a half.
I then finished off my night meeting the other intern, Nat, who even invited to a lovely dinner with her parents who are currently visiting.
I can’t believe it’s only been a day here, it already feels like I’ve been here for a week! I am so excited to be able to enjoy this beautiful island while learning more about field research and the local dolphin population.
On Thursday, we were once again able to join the Behind the Mask team in their search for dolphins off Bimini. You may have caught their story on Facebook announcing their project here…..drum roll….
They are filming free divers using “Seabob” scooters while swimming with dolphins! It’s been very interesting to watch – sometimes the dolphins are totally in to it, seemingly waiting for another turn while the divers catch their breath. Other times, the dolphins swim off and show no interest. And many times, it’s somewhere in between. It’s been great working with a team that actually cares about how their interactions might be impacting the dolphins – and are actively working to minimize any negative impact. We even discussed, at the end of the day, what average folks who might want to interact with dolphins should do. Ultimately: be respectful. Back off when dolphins are feeding or resting or seem agitated. Don’t touch the dolphins. Don’t feed the dolphins. Do be inspired by them.
We departed the Sea Crest at 11:00 a.m. sharp and headed to South Bimini where the crew was waiting with their gear lined up on the dock. The seas were so flat and there was actually more sunshine than the last two days, so everyone had high hopes for another awesome day. And, the day did not disappoint.
It began with at least 5 bottlenose dolphins, less than one hour into our search. It seemed to be two mom & calf pairs, plus an unknown dolphin in the distance. The dolphins were traveling so after some dorsal photographs we did the same. It wasn’t long before we were with Tina (#14) and her calf. A bit strange for the pair to be on their own, but we soon realized that no dolphins were on their own today! Every time you looked around there were more…
For Nat, it is always such a treat to see spotted dolphins that she hasn’t seen before - and she got to “meet” quite a few. After the first two sightings, we saw a group of over 24 spotted dolphins! Within that group was Inka (#93), SplitJaw (#22), Prince William (#64) and Vee (#101), which was Nat’s first time seeing these dolphins out in the open waters (besides just behind a computer screen): “I love being able to observe the dolphins first hand out in the field, because it helps me memorize and get a better first hand glance at their spot patterns and dorsal fin notches. Now that I was able to see them once, I’m sure I can spot the same dolphins again the next time they swim into view.” While Kel pointed out the different dolphins, including Sulfur (#102), a group of about ten of the spotted dolphins came right up to the bow of the boat searching for a bow ride. The water was so crystal clear and smooth that you could see the dolphins perfectly as they swam around the bow. It was a rare day when we will indeed be able to ID individual spotted dolphins from surface photos (like this one – Vee is at the bottom!) because the sea was just so calm. Eventually it was time to give the dolphins a break and head back to shore! Our day came full circle with our final dolphins of the day: Tina & her calf!
Nat & Kel
Man it was quite a day for spotting dolphins! Bimini Adventures was once again chartered by Behind the Mask (BTM) and this time, Nat got to join Kel for a full day of scanning the horizon for dorsal fins. Within just one hour of the boat ride, we came across two bottlenose dolphins. It was a gorgeous day, the water was crystal clear and smooth, so we could see and spot the dolphins clearly from a distance. We were quick to record the sighting and try to take some pictures with the surface camera while the BTM team attempted to film the dolphins. Alas, this wasn’t part of the dolphins’ plan, but the rest of the day included seven sightings of spotted dolphins! We watched as they took bow rides from the boat and played with the free divers. The group sizes were always on the small size, but there were lots of dolphins around today, including Romeo (#10), Tina (#14), Lil’ Jess (#35) and Leslie (#80, pictured here) – all with calves. We’re pretty sure Niecey (#48) made an early appearance with her calf and that soon-to-have-her-name-announced #112 was leading a group of young juveniles/older calves.
With scattered squalls, lightning and thunder, we were grateful to make it back to the dock with nothing more than a sprinkle on our skin. Photo download and blog posting is behind us – time for bed!
Nat & Kel
Happy Independence Day, The Bahamas! As the island of Bimini celebrated along with the whole country, Nat had another island-office day, working on photo-ID. Kel headed out with Bimini Adventures for an unusual dolphin trip…
I knew I wouldn’t be able to collect any underwater data, but I still packed my gear, just in case! Al and I departed the Sea Crest and were soon getting to know the awesome team from Behind the Mask. I’m grateful for their openness as I offer insight into how they can be the least invasive and the most respectful of the dolphins during their shoot this week. I did a short on-camera interview with them and then – we were off! It was a long ride with not much to see and as the clouds built, Al decided to take us closer to shore where the sunshine was. There were more boats seeking dolphins than we prefer, but everyone respected their space and soon, we were watching some bottlenose dolphins. They, unfortunately, had plans other than hanging with us. But, as the day wore on, a friend of Al’s said he was ok with the BTM team joining him in the water before he moved on. From the boat, I quickly saw Romeo (#10) and Lil’ Jess (#35) and what I assume were their calves. I also think I saw Paul (#99). The BTM team used up every ray of sunlight they could and boarded the boat with all smiles, thrilled with how Day 1 went. On the ride home we even got to enjoy a long bow ride from Lil’ Jess & her (presumed) calf. The calf, I noted, is getting its first spots….I wonder if we’ll be able to add it to the catalog before it leaves mom’s side!
Being able to work with and around dolphins is such an amazing experience, and being able to share that experience with others makes it all the more worthwhile and fulfilling. On Sunday morning, I was able to join Kel for a presentation about DCP aboard the Coral Reef II for the first of two Shedd Aquarium High School Marine Biology programs. The captain picked us up in Alice Town around 9:00 am in a small boat for a quick 15-minute boat ride to the Coral Reef II, where the students stayed for the program. Thank goodness it was a beautiful day and the seas were calm, otherwise Kel and I would have been soaked to the bone! We were able to make the trip with only a few refreshing splashes and were greeted with excited faces from the students and the crew.
In no time, Kel was set up and ready to talk about dolphins and DCP to the group of ten high school students in the program. She discussed what DCP is all about and how DCP conducts its research, and even brought the camera with its housing for show and tell. The students were very engaging and some even came up to the front of the classroom to take a closer look at the camera and the hydrophones that were attached. Kel taught them about why the hydrophones where important, and how it helps the video recording to pick up the different acoustics of the dolphins under water. Then Kel discussed the identification process and why it is important to ID as many dolphins as possible. The students asked great questions and were able to learn about how the identification process helps us to learn about and track the population size of the dolphins, estimate their life spans, study reproductive rates, and analyze their behavior. I was able to share a little bit about my experience with dolphin identification with DCP and some of my strategies for identifying certain dolphins, explaining how to look for certain notches in the dorsal fins, or certain permanent scars the dolphins might have. We were even able to introduce them to some of the spotted dolphins that we have cataloged, like Tilly (#87), Romeo (#10), and my personal favorite, Lil’ Jess (#35)! I was also able to share my journey finding DCP as well as sharing my college experience so far in marine science. I shared how I applied for the Dolphin Communication Project thinking how amazing it would be to work with such big and intelligent animals like dolphins. Being able to work with such smart and social animals has really been a treat and something I wish to pursue thanks to DCP! I hope that sharing my experience as an intern and telling them about my route in college as a biology major taking marine science classes, helps them in their endeavors as they pursue college and possibly studying marine biology. It was definitely a pleasure to share my experience for something I love and being able to hear Kel give an awesome presentation.
After our time with the students was done, we boarded the small boat again for a nice cruise back to North Bimini. The rest of the beautiful Sunday was spent snorkeling at the beach and doing a little more work on photo identification. I can’t wait to help with the next talk Kel gives!
PS: Do you want to come meet Kel and the dolphins of Bimini? Scoop up one of the remaining spaces on our 26 – 31 August 2018 eco-tour! A bucket-list worthy experience for sure! Click here for info.