Kelly Melillo Sweeting
Kel is DCP's Bimini Research Manager, and all around awesome scientist.
On Wednesday, I was lucky enough to join a Bimini Adventures charter. The small group of guests was upbeat, friendly and excited for dolphins. As we cruised the shoreline, the sky was filled with clouds and rain came down in the lightest of sprinkles. We searched and searched and just after the boat hit a turbulent trough, there they were: four Atlantic spotted dolphins! Four turned into six turned into eight turned into at least 12. Over the course of three swims, we Buster (#04), Split Jaw (#22), Prince William (#64), Tim (#69), Speedy (#78), Inka (#93) and un-named #107. Plus, I’m confident that I’ll recognize even more once we review the video. There was so much going on – the guests were thrilled! We saw social tactile behavior including pectoral fin rubbing, we saw mating (particularly between Split Jaw and #107) and we watched the dolphins surf the waves, circling us with ease.
After more than a week on land, today was a great day of data collection. Can’t wait until tomorrow!
PS: Interested in experiencing this for yourself? Grab one of the last remaining spaces on our August Eco-Tour – before they’re gone! Click here for more info.
Hope you enjoy Short Field Experience Intern J.P.’s final blog post! Keep checking back for new posts throughout the summer from the rest of the 2018 team!
It’s Sunday, and my bags are packed and it is my last day in Bimini. I am filled with mixed emotions as I am excited to go home again but will also miss this island. I console myself with the thoughts that this will not be the last time I come back here. I finish up any last minute work I can as I clean up the efficiency and pack anything I left out that I needed for the day.
I check my email and I have something from Kel about being with the kids at the beach near me. I go to say hi and we chat for a little and discuss how clear the water is here compared to New England. We discuss the travel plans one more time and I go back to finish things up.
As it is getting closer to the departure time I get a ride to the airport with Kel’s help. I arrive there hearing similar stories of the firetruck debacle. I get in line and board with a relatively small wait compared to the airport. I find a seat and store my bag waiting and watching the seats fill up around me. The whole time I hear how crazy it is that the airport was shut down for international flights. Several announcements come over the PA about removing bags from seats as we will need every seat this trip. After everyone boards we leave shortly after the anticipated departure time.
The ride is fairly smooth and fast for a ferry. I go to the back of the boat to check the view as we leave Bimini. There is a loud couple across from me watching the pink panther on their cell phone blasting the speaker, as far as I can tell, at full volume. I change out my earbuds for my noise canceling headphones and continue listening to music as we proceed on our trip. As we are approaching Miami the lighting changes and I turn to see the sun setting. With my big camera packed deep in my bag I grab my phone and head out to the rear deck area. I watch the sun dip behind the buildings and snap a photo. As nice as this sunset is I am still going to miss the view from Bimini.
Until next time,
On Saturday, I wake up knowing this is my last weekend in Bimini. Today I need to make new arrangements to make sure I get back home. Due to the airport snafu I have booked myself a ticket on the ferry which is filling up quickly. Since my phone has been acting up and the Wi-Fi keeps going out, I have had some trouble getting in touch with my airline to change my flight once I get back to the states. After getting somewhat stable Wi-Fi, I get my phone provider to help me fix my cellular service. Now that I can make calls again I get in contact with my airline and change my flight over. Since I will have to take the night ferry and not knowing how long customs will take it looks like I am going to have to stay a night in Florida and take a flight the next day.
With departure plans now in place, I grab a breakfast sandwich from the local eatery and get some work done. I am now in the last legs and trying to finish up anything I have left over. Balancing my cold and work proves to be more difficult than expected. I take breaks getting some fresh island air as needed to help the healing process. The helicopter and boat routine still seems to be going on today as I take one of my breaks to see if they are doing anything different. Nope, still just doing pass after pass down the shoreline.
As the day goes on I reach out to Nicole and Kel to get there opinion on some of the work I have completed while I finish up the rest. They give me welcomed feedback and I work on improvements the best I can.
Sunset quickly approaches and I grab a bite and watch the sun dip into the sea. I am going to miss this view…
Did you enjoy reading about the May Eco-Tour (aka Research Experience)? We have another opportunity for supporters to join us at our Bimini, The Bahamas field site – where we study wild Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins. There are only 4 spaces left!
Program start: 26 August 2018 (begins with lunch, so many guests are arriving on 24th or 25th)
Program end: 31 August 2018 (ends after breakfast)
Cost: $1875 (ask about $50 US check discount!)
Read all about this awesome program here. And email info [at] dcpmail [dot] org for more info and to save your space!
The latest issue of DCP's quarterly newsletter, The Dolphin Gazette is here! Kel has been busy at our Bimini field site, and still has spaces available for different experiences that bring you to The Bahamas to help study wild dolphins. Kathleen reflects on the upcoming 20-year anniversary of DCP and she too looks forward to supporters joining her in the field. Of course, you can always wind down with a fun activity on the last page...
Click here to get your free copy. Thanks for reading - and sharing!
On Friday, I wake up earlier than planned with a Bahamian head cold. Thrown off by a cold in the middle of summer and not able to sleep, I check my email. To my surprise I have an informative email about my airline and flights from Kel. Apparently the airport’s fire truck has malfunctioned and due to this development scheduled U.S. flights will be canceled until further notice. Kel has been kind enough to mention some options which I look into briefly before trying to go back to sleep. I manage to catch a few winks but unsettled by the cold and news it looks like I am going to be having an early morning. I get some work done while I am up and some breakfast at CJs after it opens. I exchange some emails and find that everyone that was planning to leave via the airport was able to reschedule with the seaplane. Unfortunately that does not seem to be an option for me since I brought my scuba gear therefore luggage limits on a smaller plane seem too restricting but moreover they are sold out of flights for my departure date.
Today is Nicole’s last day and I need to get some work material from her before she leaves. She stops by and we say our goodbyes for now. I then head off to pick up some cold supplies to help expedite ridding this cold. On my way back I head to the dock to see how Al is doing with the boat repairs. Al is nowhere to be found but I run into one of the group members before she leaves for her flight. I wish her safe travels and head back to the efficiency to get some work done and kick this cold. The cold remedies seem to help with the discomfort as I get some more work done.
Lunch time fast approaches and as I am eating I hear some aerial action closer than I expect. I feel like it is right outside. I brush it off and continue eating then I see a boat and helicopter out of my window. I go investigate and it looks like the boat might be being pursued by the helicopter. The boat turns around and the so does the helicopter. After they loop a couple of times, I grab my camera and take some shots and come to the conclusion the boat is most likely being filmed/photographed. I get back to my work and continue on as I hear the hum by as they do pass after pass. As the sun is getting ready to set, I head to Sue and Joy’s to get another sports drink and run into Kel. We discuss the travel craziness and plan to catch up tomorrow.
So, until then,
The sun is out and the weather looks good on Thursday as I walk down to meet our group for our last boat trip. Today it looks like we are going to be on the big boat as there was a little engine trouble with the other boat. We board with purpose today since it is the last day and we have to adhere to a schedule as flights must be made. After the whole group has boarded we set off.
We approach the sand bar and it looks like a large boat may be stuck. They seem to be putting out some power but not going anywhere. As we get closer to them they seem to break free of trouble and start moving. It seems they are clear of any issues they were having. We set course hoping to see some action soon.
Not an hour in and Captain Al see some dolphins in our path. We continue on excited as they seem to be coming to us on the last outing. I break out the surface camera and snap a few photos as Nicole confirms they are Atlantic spotted dolphins. We take photos and observe them for a while. They seem to be on the move but more and more dophins are joining the group. We get a count approaching twenty dolphins! I continue snapping photos away as we hope they slow so we can join them in the water. After a little time goes by we decide we will try to get in the water with them.
We gear up and get in. There are a lot of dolphins but they do not seem to sticking around. We try to keep up but shortly after they leave us. We board the boat hoping to catch up to them and give it another go. Back in proximity of the group, we get back in the water a second time. This time we keep pace with them for a little before they leave us again. We board the boat knowing that this is not going to work. We catch back up to the group and decide to observe from the surface until we have to head back to port. We chat while taking surface photos and enjoying the view. We have some bow riding going on from time to time along with some feisty fluke slaps. I take my research hat off and just enjoy the view. I concentrate on the dolphins and their playful appearance and it transforms into a tranquil moment. We observe as long as possible and say our goodbyes as we leave the dolphins to head back to port.
Throughout the day, we are readily able to recognize Buster (#04), Romeo (#10, with a calf), Tina (#14, with a distinct calf), Lil’ Jess (#35, with her older calf), Niecey (#48 – with a calf?), Leslie (#80 – with a calf?), Paul (#99), un-named #112 and possibly un-named #117. Stay tuned for details on the addition of Tina’s calf to the catalog and – possibly – a name for #112. Ooooo, the suspense!
A final docking and we conclude our venture. We say our goodbyes and part ways, satisfied with our week of dolphin adventures.
The weather is warm and sunny as I head to the Sea Crest to meet up with the rest of the group. It looks like today will be the day we help the beach get a little cleaner. I arrive at the suite with the smell of cinnamon bagels in the air. Good mornings are exchanged as I grab a seat as we wait for the rest of the group to join us. After Kel gives a quick briefing we head out to the beach. Once we arrive at the beach outside CJs, we grab gloves and bags and start the collection process. We split into two groups to comb the beach. I go through the collection of beach matter and sort out what does not belong. I grab big and small items and toss them into the quickly filling with straws, plastic and Styrofoam. It is looking much better now. As my bag is almost full I double back picking up anything that I missed along the way. I grab another bag and start on the other side. You can definitely feel the heat of the sun today as sweat starts running down my brow. I start the other side and I am pleasantly surprised to find little cleanup to do. The beach is actually looking better than what I remember during my last beach cleanup in 2014 (during the awesome DCP field course with SHU). The bags fill up as we look to each other satisfied with our results. We tie off the bags and get them ready for proper disposal. Now that our morning task is completed and we have left the beach better than we found it, we disburse to get back to our plans for the day before our last afternoon boat session.
I go get some work done and time quickly passes as it gets closer to our boat outings. I meet the group at the dock as we are ready for our trip for the day. We proceed to board and release from the dock as we head out to our first stop of the day. Today we are heading towards the snorkel stop, Three Sisters. We arrive at the stop without an event and proceed to the water after we are briefed. During the snorkel session I see a giant rainbow parrotfish, big eyed john, and a flounder that was blending in quite well. After everyone had gotten there fill for the site we boarded the boat hoping to see some dolphins today.
We cruised the sea hoping to see some familiar dorsal fins as we chatted amongst ourselves. Some action is spotted in the distance. It appears that we have some breaching dolphins! We continue course looking to the horizon for more splashes. I have my camera out and ready hoping to catch a shot of the action. I capture a photo of a breach however the distance is too great to discern any detail. We keep our heading towards the splashes. We arrive to find no signs of dolphins. We monitor the area for a while but with nothing in sight so we continue to search elsewhere.
After a short while we come across some movement. It appears we have found our treasure for the day. There are bottlenose dolphins all around. I start snapping photos of every dolphin I can see. We observe their behavior and they seem to be staying in the area. We decide to get in the water and see if they stick around as bottlenose seem to be less curious of us humans. We slip into the water and observe and record their behavior. They seem to be foraging for food as they dive down making some noise and rustle up the sand. This is very similar behavior to what I saw back in 2014. The water clarity is less than ideal so I dive down a little to get some photos. They do not seem to mind us as we swim around them trying to observe as much as possible. After a little while they leave us. We wait for the all clear signal and then board the boat.
As it is getting later in the day we head back to the docks to find some spotted dolphins breaching the surface in the distance. We get closer and they seem to be chasing fish near the shore. Due to the time we could not stay long and continued to the docks. Once we were settled in the slip we left to go our separate ways knowing we had one final trip in the morning.
Until the AM,
Beach cleanup is on the docket for Tuesday morning but with the sudden burst of rain I am skeptical about if we will keep the schedule today. I hear a couple more showers with the water bouncing of metal and wood as I get ready to meet the others at the beach. Hearing no word of a cancelation I leave for the beach. Scanning and seeing no one in sight I make my way to the suite. I find that we are delayed but not canceled. I go to get some work done and get a little tunnel vision towards the end. I see the time and rush back to meet at the suite. I arrive to find that due to the weather we are cancelled today but will try again tomorrow. I head back to the efficiency grabbing a breakfast sandwich on the way.
I get some work done as time quickly passes and it is almost time for the boat trip. I get ready and head off to meet the group at the docks. I arrive and meet up with Nicole and one of the group members. Shortly after the rest of the group joins us and we find out that it is one of their birthdays. Kel and Al arrive and inform us that there is some bad weather rolling in but it should pass quickly. With dark clouds rolling above we are not sure if we are going to have to run for cover. After the clouds pass leaving us more or less dry it looks like we are in the clear. We board the boat and start the departure routine. The water is looking much calmer today and the sun is around. We get out of the docks and it looks like this is going to be the smoothest and driest trip so far. We set course to our snorkel destination, The Bimini Road. I have visited this site once before back in 2014 and read up a little on it yesterday before we went on the outing. It was predicted by a psychic to appear near Bimini and be the remains of Atlantis. On our way to the snorkel stop we all have our eyes peeled looking for the evasive dolphins we have been seeking these past couple of trips. A guest sees something off in the distance that does not seem like waves. We change course to investigate further. I focus in on the area in question and confirm that something is not moving like the rest of the water. Shortly after I can make out what it is, a dorsal fin, no two dorsals, dolphins! Nicole quickly is atop the bow confirming and counting as a guest and I grab our long lensed surface cameras in hope of snagging a shot. Nicole confirms two bottlenose dolphins. We all scan the area but cannot seem to locate the dorsals again or any other sign. As quickly they appeared they seemed to have vanished. Kel informs us that this is often the behavior of the bottlenose dolphins. We look around a little more but to our disappointment we can no longer locate them. We change heading back to the snorkel location and proceed with our outing. Everyone is happy we finally got to see what we were looking for but are now desiring more, as a taste is never enough.
We slow as dolphins are the talk around the boat. I look around in hope of seeing more dolphins but nothing is within sight. Captain Al informs us that we have arrived at The Bimini Road. After informing us the direction of the road we gear up, buddy up and get in the water. We spend some time exploring the road practicing our snorkeling and freediving. We come along some fish including angel fish. After we finish looking around and testing our free diving form we head back to the boat hoping to use the rest of our energy swimming with dolphins. The group boards and we set off hoping for a second sighting.
We pass the time searching the horizon having friendly conversation. Some of the group is trying to guess my full name so I give them some incentive that I will let them know if they spot some dolphins. Some afternoon snacks come out as people fuel up hopeful for a swim. As it has been the best day out on the water so far and we have had one sighting so far we cannot complain. It gets later into the trip and it looks like we are just going to be enjoying the open water until we return to dock. A group member says she saw something out in the distance and we change course. We are alerted to the area in question and everyone is on the lookout now. It is confirmed with the sight of multiple dorsal fins. Nicole get on the bow and counts as I do not waste a second this time to grab my camera. I get some surface shots as Nicole counts five spotted dolphins. We gear up excited to finally get a swim with the dolphins! Captain Al lines the boat up into the optimal position as we wait for the go sign. After receiving the sign we start to slip in the water. I turn my camera on and there are three dolphins right in front of me. To further fuel my excitement I recognize one from the distinct fluke! I try to get good footage of all of them but one swims off shortly after we got in the water. I proceed to focus in on the other two: un-named #114 and an older calf/young juvenile. Some of our group members dive down and intrigue them. You can hear there clicks in the water as we investigate them. Due to recent storms the water is a little murkier than normal but we do our best to keep them in sight. After about fifteen minutes it seems they left us. We head back to the boat satisfied with our encounter. The trip back is pleasant and calm. As we approach the dock we are happy with the birthday surprise we all got to participate in. We secure the boat and thank Captain Al for letting us stay out a little longer than usual. We part our separate ways hoping to have a similar experience on our next trip.
Until next time,
Monday starts with some work before I head over to the Sea Crest to hear about Nicole’s research. During the talk many of the group members ask welcomed questions that are happily answered. The talk ends and I am left wanting to hear more about interactions between dolphins. I will have to wait until Nicole publishes her research to quench that thirst. We discuss afternoon plans and agree to meet later with the expectation to go on the boat. I head off to eat a bite and continue my work for the day. As it gets closer to the outing time I get ready to meet back up with the group. I arrive and it is confirmed that we will go out today. I read a little on the island culture from one of the information filled binders in the suite before heading to the docks. I proceeded to the docks shortly after with one of our group members as Kel waits behind to make sure we get everyone. I arrive at the boat and ask for permission to board. I am granted and proceed to secure my belongings. Kel arrives shortly after with the rest of the group members and we get ready to set off.
Nicole informs me that since it is not raining I will be in charge of the logs. I internally panic as I had not mentally prepared to be the log keeper for the day. I start the log proceeding to forget everything I learned about logging last time I was on the island and moreover the information I had recently digitized. Nicole patiently helps me get through the basics and shortly after I am saved by boat duties. I proceed to the bow to remove the bow line. After a brief moment of being free from the logs I am again entrusted to the duties of the pencil and paper.
I log the start of our venture in search of dorsal fins as we head out. Shortly after leaving the dock we enter rough waters. Our captain informs us that due to the nature of the water we will only be viewing sightings from the boat today. With the surf at our stern we are constantly pushed faster than intended towards our heading. Again we gaze into the horizon looking for any signs of the playful creatures we seek. The captain predicts we are about a mile away from where they normally are seen during similar conditions. Some time passes and we approach that one mile mark. I see something on the surface of the water dead ahead of the boat. I alert the captain and we slow. It does not seem to be anything containing life but rather a large garbage can or plastic barrel. The captain informs us that large storms can cause such things. Without the resources or room to store it we have to proceed with our trip. We venture out and see nothing but whitecaps and birds flying above. We alter course in hope to change our luck. Hours go by and although our eyes are peeled with intent we are left to enjoy the ride and view without a dolphin sighting. I log our course adjustment as we head back to port hoping that adjustments will not be the only thing logged by the time we reach the dock. We arrive at our final check point prior to ending our venture and the most action we have seen today is at the end of the pier. A man seems to have a fish on the hook and is being cheered on by what appears to be his family. The birds above are hopeful to get a piece of the action. We pull back in the slip and I hand off the log as I am back on bow line duty. I miss the first catch but grab the second one and proceed to help pull the boat to the dock. I wait for other lines to be attached before proceeding to attach mine to the cleat. The group leaves the vessel and I follow as I think to myself, the logs are not that bad if you stay calm.
Until next time,