Kelly Melillo Sweeting
Kel is DCP's Bimini Research Manager, and all around awesome scientist.
October is normally a very quiet month for DCP on Bimini. Research summary reports are drafted. Permit applications are prepped. Data are attempted to stay organized…This October brought a spike in activity. As you likely saw on social media and in our latest issue of The Dolphin Gazette, DCP ID#104 (also WDP’s ID “Lamda”), was found stranded in late August, far from Bimini. The report came into BMMRO and they called upon the rescue team from Atlantis. They assessed his condition and got him back in the water and off he went. But not for long. He soon re-stranded; so the rescue team flew him to their rehab facility where was carefully monitored, medicated, fed and tested. The outlook was grim.
But #104, nicknamed “M&M” (Modern Miracle), rebounded! He put on weight. His tests came back normal. He got feisty! Soon, conference calls were happening, planning his release. Where would we do it? How would we do it? Would he get a tag? Who would handle permits with Bahamas Department of Marine Resources? All the ducks lined up and he was flown – by sea plane no less – to Bimini, then transferred to a boat which took him close to the area where we’d previously observed him. He zipped and zoomed and though he didn’t swim anywhere near where we thought he’d go, he was on the move and sticking to the Great Bahama Bank.
Everyone involved was thrilled when #104 started making his way back to Bimini. We watched the daily satellite tracking data from Mote Marine Lab and hoped he’d not only return to Bimini, but stick around once he did. Well, he’s finally back. And it was time to try to lay eyes on him.
So, on Saturday and Sunday, Al and I headed in search of #104. We looked in the areas where his tag had reported him in the few hours prior. On Saturday – with rough seas and overcast skies – we had no luck. A few bottlenose dolphins cruised past, but no sign of spotteds. On Sunday – with rougher seas but sunny skies – we saw more bottlenose. And 14 – 16 different Atlantic spotted dolphins. But, none of them was #104. I didn’t focus on individual IDs (which would have been difficult in the waves), but rather aimed to get a good view (& ideally, photo) of the base of every dorsal fin. No tags.
I came back to the dock pretty disappointed that I wasn’t able to confirm #104’s well-being. How did his body look? How was his behavior? Was he alone or with a group? If a group, was it the same individuals he’d been seen associating with over the summer? But, we know he’s out there. And we know other spotteds are too. So, I’ll go back to hoping he’s doing well and waiting for the next chance to search for him.
A huge thank you to Dr. Randy Wells for providing location data during each search and to Dr. Diane Claridge for helping me stay in touch and get those data while at sea. And to Al for donating his time for the search!
Stay tuned for more updates – I hope! – on this guy!
Until next time,
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Time to get reading!
Whether you need a mid-day or late-night break, The Dolphin Gazette is a great to get your DCP updates. Be inspired by Kathleen's eco-tour summary, excited by Kel's Bimini update (including the release of a rehab'd Bimini spotted dolphin!), proud of DCP becoming a Conservation Partner with REEF....and grab your t-shirt before they're gone or sign-up for a Bimini Eco-Tour or RIMS program today!
Click here to download your copy now. Happy Reading!
Yay for October dolphin trips! I don't get a chance to in search of dolphins very often post-September, but on Friday and Saturday, I was able to join a visiting film crew. Though I knew I would be unlikely to collect any video, acoustic or photographic data, I was still eager to search for the dolphins and share info with the visitors. On Friday, the seas made us work for every step on the boat and we only saw a few passing bottlenose dolphins. Still, the film crew was able to get some productive shots and we said goodnight eager for what tomorrow would bring…
Saturday began with a cruise along the shoreline and a break for an interview. Then, the serious searching began. We had to wait a bit, but around 1540, the large splashes in the distance could not be denied. Dolphins were jumping. And it was a lot of them. We got closer and saw the Atlantic spotted dolphins were scattered and feeding. We assessed, careful not to interrupt their meal, and then entered the water. Though I hate missing out on data, it was, dare I say….really fun to be in the water without a camera! It’s so rare for me. There was a lot going on with the crew and their goals, but I was able to see Tina (#14) and her busy-body older calf, Juliette (#12), another older adult and several juveniles. During the second water entry, which included just Tina’s calf and 2 juveniles, there was a large school of ocean tally (aka ocean triggerfish) mid-water column. The dolphins occasionally gave them a bit of attention, but mostly they just floated around. What an unusual site!
We slowly cruised home, and nearer to the island we saw more leaping dolphins. It appeared to be a mix of bottlenose and spotted dolphins; one adult spotted came for a quick bow ride before zipping off in pursuit of a fast fish. We continued on our way, finishing the day with an absolutely beautiful sunset (again).
Thanks so much to this visiting crew and to Bimini Adventures for once again supporting DCP and our efforts.
Until next time,
PS: Intrigued by our research off Bimini and the dolphins themselves? Come check it out for yourself! We are now recruiting for our 30 June – 5 July 2019 eco-tour. Spend 5 nights with us on little Bimini, learning about dolphins, searching for dolphins, swimming with dolphins…and, supporting our research! Click here to learn more and email us now at info[at]dcpmail[dot]org to reserve your spot!
The off-season means a lot of things: data, writing, resting. But, it also means recruiting for our Bimini field courses! We’re excited to have three courses lined up for Spring/Summer 2019. University of New Brunswick Saint John is already full. Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) and Sacred Heart University (SHU) are now accepting applications. Contact us at info [at] dcpmail [dot] org for more info, or go ahead and contact the Professors/Schools directly!
EKU: Field dates 12 – 24 May 2019. In-person class sessions during Spring 2019 semester followed by 12 nights in Bimini, The Bahamas. Click here for more info.
SHU: Field dates 31 May – 6 June 2019. On-line component prior to field session means this is a great course for non-SHU students (though all students must sign up through SHU). Click here for more info.
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Poppy McVie (DCP ID#112) is a juvenile, female Atlantic spotted dolphin. We've been observing Poppy off Bimini, The Bahamas since 2015 as she swims along with friends like Paul (#99), Tina (#14), and Lil' Jess (#35). She has just received her name from DCP supporter Kimberli A. Bindschatel in honor of her literary character, Poppy McVie. You can be among the first to adopt Poppy - click here!
And, check out Kimberli’s upcoming book, Operation Dolphin Spirit: A Poppy McVie Adventure, inspired by the dolphins of Bimini!
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This issue is filled - and we mean filled - with updates from the field: Bimini, Roatan and the Amazon! We've got a lot of data processing ahead of us! Also check out news from Wanderer Bracelets and meet our newest Adopt-A-Wild-Dolphin, Poppy McVie!
Shortly after breakfast on Thursday morning, Kel and the DCP guests met for a discussion on ecotourism. Kel was able to share the voluntary Code of Conduct that Bimini Adventures, Captain Al’s ecotour company, and the other consistent dolphin ecotour group operating out of Bimini agreed upon to define the appropriate way of observing the dolphins around Bimini. (Click here to see the guidelines yourself.) Generally, the document describes when it is appropriate to observe dolphins, it defines resting and foraging behavior (which are the times it is always inappropriate to follow the dolphins) and provides the best practices for driving boats and swimming with the dolphins (e.g. drive slowly, no sharp turns; do not touch, feed, or chase). The conversation with the guests also delved into the importance of hiring local people as much as possible and trying to minimize any impact on the environment while on vacation. It was a great discussion and it was nice to hear everyone’s opinions, especially given the diverse backgrounds of the guests.
In the afternoon, after our last lovely lunch of the week, we departed the dock at 1400 with every intention of first stopping to snorkel at Bimini Road before searching for dolphins. Those clever dolphins had other plans for us, though! Less than 15 minutes into our journey, we came across a large group of foraging bottlenose dolphins. Crater-feeding is the one foraging behavior we are able to observe off Bimini, and over the years DCP has not detected any behavior indicating that our presence disturbs the bottlenose when they are feeding in this manner. This group was very cooperative, permitting Kel and the guests to observe them underwater, as well as surfacing plenty of times for Nicole to collect surface photos. Upon returning to the boat, the guests were marveling at the crater-feeding foraging technique the dolphins were using. They really dig into the sand with their rostra, which must mean the treats their fishing out are yummy because the sand here is rough!
Eventually, it was time to leave the dolphins to their feeding, so we resumed our course to Bimini Road. As we approached, however, Captain Kat noticed that a squall to the East was approaching and might cross right over our planned snorkeling destination. To avoid it, we instead searched for dolphins for a while, allowing the squall to move off. We did eventually end up back at Bimini Road and the guests were able to enjoy seeing many different species of fish and invertebrates, including lots of sergeant majors, stoplight parrot fish, and angelfishes!
Once everyone was satisfied with their observations and back on the boat, we set off to look for dolphins once again. Though the squall never actually reached us, it left lots of wind which made the ride a bit bumpy. We had no luck finding spotted dolphins in the “usual” areas, but as we headed back towards home, Captain Kat made sure to pass through the area where we had seen the bottlenose earlier in the afternoon. Sure enough, they were still there! While we didn’t see as many of them as the first time, the ones we saw were definitely some of the same individuals. They must have found a really “juicy” spot for foraging! We snapped some more surface photos of this group and then continued toward the harbor. The bottlenose “waved” us off with their flukes—a wonderful end to a great week for our guests. And a nice way of ending the DCP Bimini field season. We’re already looking forward to sharing with you our adventures with the Bimini dolphins again next year!
Until next time,
Nicole & Kel
After breakfast on Wednesday morning, Kel, Nicole, and the DCP guests headed to Radio Beach to collect garbage and recycling. It was a lovely day, but we were fortunate that the clouds gave us a break from the blazing sun while everyone worked hard to pick up as much trash as they could. If it had been a bit cooler, we would have kept working all morning! But as you can see in the photo above, we were very effective in under an hour. Once we had rinsed the sand off and had some water, we re-grouped for Kel’s presentation and discussion about photo-identification and the dolphins of Bimini.
The boat departed from the Sea Crest Marina at 1500, just after the wind had picked up. The morning had been so calm we were hoping we’d have a smooth ride all day, but squalls to the West created quite a blustery afternoon. The waves and wind didn’t prevent us from finding a group of spotted dolphins early into the trip, though! Captain Al spotted a group of what turned out to be eight dolphins, including Niecey (#48), Sulphur (#102), un-named #107, and possibly Cerra (#38). The dolphins were riding the swells and waves and seemed to be quite social. After about 30 minutes of surface observations, we tried a couple of underwater encounters. Though the surf-play was slower than previous days, the dolphins weren’t really staying in the same spot, so the swimmers only had brief views of a couple of young dolphins as they cruised by. We continued observing a lingering group of three young dolphins, still including Sulphur and possibly newly-named #110 (stayed next month to learn her name!). The juveniles were riding the waves and then the bow, giving the guests a great show.
Over an hour after finding this group, we finally lost sight of the remaining dolphins and continued on our way. Soon, Captain Al saw more dolphins leaping in the distance! As we approached the spot, we were surprised by a group of 10 dolphins from the East. From the bow, Kel recognized Inka (#93) and Vee (#101). Strangely, we only saw these dolphins for just over five minutes before we lost sight of them abruptly. It’s possible they were engaged in social behavior below the surface as we moved off from them. At any rate, we continued our search, but to no avail. By the time we were close to the island again, the wind had calmed significantly, but that didn’t help us spot any more dolphins on our way back to the harbor.
Back at the dock, everyone was pleased and smiling about the dolphin adventure of the day. A great dinner and long conversation later, we all headed to bed to re-energize for the group’s last day on the island. We can’t wait to make the most of it!
Nicole & Kel