After almost six weeks on this island, it was difficult to accept that Saturday’s boat trip would be the last for Tori and Kaiya. The Renegade has been where we’ve spent almost every afternoon and evening this summer; it’s been our “office,” our vehicle of exploration, our means of collecting important data for the Dolphin Communication Project, and the very hub of our research efforts and relationship building. Aboard the Renegade, we’ve weathered rough seas and endured rain and squalls, thunder and lightning, days without dolphins, scorching heat and sun, and have genuinely loved every minute of it. We’ve witnessed joy and elation on dozens of eco-tour guest faces, after experiencing what it’s like to swim with dolphins in the wild, listened to heartwarming stories of conservation efforts, told jokes, discussed plans for our futures and plans to further protect these animals, as well as their habitat, aboard this vessel. We’ve learned about The Bahamas and all the wonders it has to offer, how to navigate the waters surrounding it, what’s in the turquoise waters, and what makes it such a special and wonderful place on this big, blue, planet…and we’ve learned it all aboard this boat. So many memories are now attached to the Renegade, that the thought of our time onboard coming to an end is as bittersweet as it gets.
Unfortunately, the dolphins we’ve grown to know and love this summer were not inclined to make any type of appearance on this, our last boat trip. We had one sighting of a lone bottlenose dorsal, and when Captain Audley pulled the boat closer, the dolphin retreated to depths in the distance. We continued on our search, spotting a large loggerhead turtle swimming at the surface, but still no further sign of dolphins ever presented itself. We never gave up hope as we all scanned the horizon, but as the hours ticked away, and the sun dropped lower in the sky, it became clear that perhaps saying good bye was just as hard for the dolphins as it was for us (well, so we might like to think!). Left only with memories, gratitude, and heavy hearts, we pulled back into the marina aboard the Renegade for the last time. With only a few short days left of our stay in Bimini, we now find ourselves faced with the new task of readying for our departures.
The Duo (& Kel!)
Friday morning offered a new and exciting opportunity for Tori and Kaiya to step into the education side of DCP's mission. After watching Kel lead information sessions for eco-tours and school groups throughout the summer, it was our turn to step up and take the lead. We did some preparation, then biked over to the Sea Crest where we met up with this week's eco-tour group. On top of it being our first DCP presentation, we had the added element of utilizing a translator as we were presenting to a group of native French speakers. It was so interesting to hear our own words and DCP's research in a different language! The guests were curious and animated about the information that we were sharing, making our job easy and enjoyable. It was a wonderful learning experience for us and, we hope, for the guests as well!
After a brief lunch at the apartment, we biked back to the Sea Crest for the 2 pm boat departure. Our first stop of the day was at Bimini Road for a brief snorkel. We saw some squirrelfish, Bermuda chub, parrotfish, and sergeant majors while cooling off in the clear water. The rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully as we searched the somewhat choppy water for signs of dolphins. At one point Captain Audley spotted a large tiger shark! It was swimming peacefully at the surface, allowing us to get a good view before it traveled deeper into the water. After more searching, and a much needed swim break, Tori saw dorsals in between the waves! Soon we had three adult spotted dolphins riding our bow. An underwater encounter was attempted, but the dolphins were more interested in the boat than the swimmers. Back on board and headed for home, we enjoyed the peaceful sun as it sank towards the horizon, marking the end of another great day in paradise. We are excited yet saddened for tomorrow as it brings our final boat trip.
Kaiya, Tori, & Kel
Thursday started off on a somber note, as it came with the realization that one of our Trio members was leaving us later that morning. The time had come for Patrick to say goodbye and head home to Kentucky, and after spending the last nine consecutive weeks together, it was heartbreaking to think that the time of the “Trio” had come to an end…at least for now. Having spent the night before celebrating his birthday, we were determined to give Patrick a proper send off, so when the time came for him to catch the ferry to South Bimini (and the airport), we walked him there, genuinely sad about his departure, and made sure to embarrass him with excessive good-bye waving. You’ll be missed, Patrick!
After losing a member, the Trio, became the “Duo”, and Tori and Kaiya went back to the office to spend some time working on ID’s and video logs before getting themselves ready for the afternoon boat departure and dolphin search. Once on board the Renegade, we set out with Captain Al and Captain Audley, determined to have an eventful day and locate some dolphins. It was about 90 minutes into the trip when we came upon a group of more than ten bottlenose. With Tori on the bow spotting, Kaiya sprang into action taking pictures with the surface camera, and after about ten minutes of them hanging around, Captain Al gave the go-ahead to get in the water. With Kaiya on the bridge, documenting everything on the clipboard, Tori grabbed her mask and fins and the video camera and slipped into the water with the eco-tour guests. Unfortunately, the bottlenose didn’t stick around that long, but Tori was able to get some footage of one crater feeding, before it left view. The group was picked up, but was told to keep their gear on because we were going to get dropped off again closer to the dolphins and continue our encounter. Once again, everyone entered the water, only to catch a few glimpses of some more crater feeding behavior, before Captain Al made the call to bring us in since it was getting late and we were pretty far out today. Leaving the dolphins once we find them is never easy, but it’s much harder to navigate a boat in the dark, so unfortunately that decision often has to be made.
On the way back to the marina, Tori caught sight of those tell-tale dorsal fins off the starboard side, and called out to Captain Audley who brought the boat right up alongside a group of four spotted dolphins, including none other than Lil’Jess (#35) and her calf, and an unidentified adult female with her calf as well. Since this was an ideal encounter, and we had made good time getting back, Captain Al let us get in the water for one last swim. This time, with Tori on the bridge, Kaiya was able to grab the video camera and get in to take some fun footage of this group. After about 20 minutes, Captain Audley said it was time to go, so yet again, we had to leave these incredible animals behind and call it a day. Today though, it wasn't so bad leaving, since we had multiple encounters, and the eco-tour group was highly satisfied and incredibly enthusiastic about the rest of week to come. Once back at the marina, Kaiya and Tori were off back home to prep for tomorrow’s DCP Information Session with the Sea Crest guests. It’s never a dull moment in the day of an intern here on Bimini…
Kaiya and Tori
The two species of dolphins found in the Peruvian Amazon are the pink dolphins (Inia geoffrensis) (front photo with this report) and the gray dolphins (Sotlaia fluviatillis) below. However, similar to beluga whales, pink dolphins are born gray, almost black, and loose pigmentation as they age. As can be seen in the photo, a large juvenile which is still gray in color, is swimming with its presumed mother displaying pink coloration with a touch of gray on the head. However, we are not certain of the family ties, which is part of the motivation to device a method to individually identify these dolphins acoustically…a voice recognition system! These pictures were taken during the first couple of weeks in July.
We also have documented what appears to be territorial behavior displayed by Inia towards Sotalia. Although these two species hunt for fish together peacefully at river confluences, the Inia prefer to have their resting areas free of Sotalia. We have documented the Inia actively chasing the Sotalia from the calm, shallow, protected from currents resting areas preferred by Inia on three occasions.
Maria (from Peru)
After a rough, short, dolphin-less day yesterday, we were very excited to get back out on the boat on Wednesday. We were even more excited because it was Patrick's birthday! Although, unfortunately, it was also his last day. After a celebratory lunch at the Bimini Big Game Club and a quick swim, we gathered our gear and headed to the boat for our 2pm departure. The sun was shining brightly and the ecotour guests were all excited that the clear weather also brought smaller swells, offering both a smoother ride and better visibility of dorsal fins.
Our boat trip began with a snorkel stop at Three Sisters, where we were able to see a plethora of life including parrot fish, angelfish, squirrelfish, a very large barracuda, and some schools gently drifting along the sea floor. Back on the boat and headed towards dolphin territory, all eyes were scanning the horizon. As we searched we kept spirits up by eating birthday brownie bites and taking lots of swim breaks to cool down. Fortunately, our patience paid off. A few minutes after 5:30, we saw a dorsal approaching the bow. We were soon surrounded by three juvenile spotted dolphins playfully circling the boat. Patrick was quickly able to recognize Paul (#99) by the distinct notch pattern in his peduncle and unnamed #108 by her damaged fluke. (Back in the office we were able to ID the third dolphin as unnamed #109.) As Kaiya and Patrick geared up with the guests to take video footage and still photos, Tori helped Captains Al and Audley keep the dolphins in sight.
The three dolphins were just as playful from the water as they seemed from the boat. They explored the swimmers by swimming circles around them, exchanged lots of tactile contact with each other, and picked up clumps of seaweed on their fins and in their mouths. Paul (#99) was observed twirling with a large piece of seaweed, causing it to encircle him and flow gracefully around him as he spun. It was a wonderful, light hearted encounter that the guests described as "magnificent." We had another brief sighting on the way back to the dock as three more spotteds joined us for a brief bowride.
Overall, it was a wonderful trip, especially for Patrick's birthday/last day. (Thank you dolphins!) As The Trio, we have been so fortunate to have this internship opportunity with DCP. We have truly enjoyed working with Kathleen, Kel, Nicole, and each other on this adventure of learning!
For the last time (until we're together again!),
The Trio (Tori, Patrick, & Kaiya)
So after a few days of poor weather conditions thanks to Tropical Storm Emily, and a few cancelled boat trips, The Trio was excited to get back aboard the Renegade on Tuesday for some field work! Unfortunately, there were still some squalls in the area, and some rough seas once outside the channel, but the Renegade was determined to give it a try for the sake of Bimini Adventures’ new eco-tour group and see if we could find some dolphins. Captain Al and Captain Audley found the group a nice, calm spot to jump in the water for an equipment check, after putting some distance between us and the rain. Once back onboard, and steady on course, it was becoming clear that it was going to be very difficult to locate dolphins in seas like this, despite the best efforts of the crew and researchers. With Captain Audley at the helm, navigating us through the weather (and waves), we began to make our way back to the safety of the marina.
Once docked, we were greeted in the marina by three, fairly large bull sharks, who took to cruising around the boat, showing off their size and maneuverability. So although today’s efforts did not yield any dolphins, we are not discouraged because the ocean is full of life and it’ll still be there, waiting for us tomorrow when we return.
Patrick, Kaiya & Tori
Saturday morning came and went in a similar fashion to most work day for DCP interns. We made progress on our usual tasks and also spent some time reviewing the underwater footage that Patrick took yesterday. This allowed us to identify more of the dolphins that were seen while simultaneously practicing our ID skills with the new spots that the dolphins may have developed over the past year, since they were last photographed. After lunch (leftover Bimini pizza!) Patrick and Tori got back to work while Kaiya prepped for her afternoon on the boat.
Tori and Patrick:
Our afternoon of bottlenose photo identification and video logging progressed smoothly. Partway through, we each made sure to take a break to get some fresh, salty air. Now that we are well past the halfway point of our time in Bimini, we want to take every moment that we can to enjoy this spectacular island!
I headed down to the boat for the 2 pm departure, excited for the afternoon ahead. Even after only a few days on land I was more than ready to get back out on the water! Today's trip began with a snorkel stop at Bimini Road where I was able to work on my free diving. It is always easier to practice holding your breath when you have tropical fish and beautiful sea fans to distract you! We then headed into dolphin territory. Neither the dolphins or the choppy seas made it easy on us. A few times we thought that we saw a dorsal fin or a splash, but it was simply the waves playing tricks on us. It was not until 17:55 that Captain Al saw dolphins for real! It was two spotted mother calf pairs surfing the large waves as they slowly traveled. Although neither of the adults got close enough to the boat to identify, everybody still enjoyed watching the four from the boat. One of the calves breached as it tried to remove a very large remora attached to its side. It showed us its pink belly over and over as it shot into the air and flopped down on the water's surface. We were able to try an underwater encounter, but it did not last very long. The calves circled us a few times before swimming off to join the adults, who were far enough away to avoid being seen. Although the afternoon was not full of dolphins, it was still a beautiful day out on the water!
As a team, we are excited to get back out on the water all together next week!
On Friday we woke up and worked on our usual ID’s and video logs, but then we decided to shake things up. We soon got ready and headed up the island to Edith’s Pizza for lunch. We arrived on our bikes, as they were opening and ordered our highly anticipated chicken wings and pizza. It was a much needed meal and change of pace for the day. We headed back home after eating our delicious lunch and enjoyed getting back to air conditioning after the long ride of blistering heat. While Patrick was gone on the boat, Tori and Kaiya spent their day at home making significant progress with their office work.
I met Al and his guests at the marina and we were quickly heading out to sea shortly after 2 pm. We headed straight for Three Sisters for a quick snorkel stop around the always interesting rock formation that is full of life. After about half an hour, we jumped back on board and headed in search of dolphins. Around 45 minutes later we spotted a lot of splashing in the distance. As we got closer we saw it was three juvenile spotted dolphins, who I realized were #s107, 108, and 112! We followed them for a bit as they chased fish and each other and splashed around. As we prepared to attempt to get in the water with them, we spotted more dorsal fins surfacing on the horizon. As we were watching them, we lost the original three in their quick, playful travelling. So, we decided to check out the new group. As we got closer we counted a rather large group of 16 spotted dolphins! They were also travelling but they would break apart into smaller groups, slow down and interact with one another and come back together again. From the surface I noticed Swoosh (#36) and Leslie (#80), I was excited to get in the water and see the rest of the group up close! Throughout the three encounters with this group we had spent about 20 minutes with them in the water. We saw quite a bit of interaction, seaweed play, and a few of the dolphins seemed to enjoy sneaking up behind us. I was able to ID Inka (#93) and Paul (#99), while Tina (#14), Prince William (#64), and Speedy (#78) may have also made an appearance (I also was able to identify Juliette (#12) and #109 from the video when I got home)! I was thrilled to be able to identify them as they were all interacting and being so playful together in such a large group. It’s always difficult to not get caught up in the dolphins and focus on the video and keeping track of who’s who, but being there in their environment with them will never get old in any way. But, we soon decided they were moving too quick and we should look for another group on the way home. In a few hours, when we were close to home, we spotted a few more fins in the distance. This time, it was a small group of about eight bottlenose dolphins. After snapping surface photos we enjoyed an encounter with them since they were staying in the same spot as they crater fed. Along with the bottlenose we saw two massive nurse sharks taking advantage of the apparently abundant feeding grounds. During the swim we saw some very interesting behaviors: At one point there were four dolphins chasing a small spotted eel; as they were seemingly toying with the creature, one individual eventually caught it and carried it off to play with and, I think, eventually eat it. Later on we saw a few instances of seaweed play and a calf attempting to nurse, as well. They had a few moments where they seemed interested in us, and would swim circles around us in-between their crater feeding bouts. Nearly every individual looked familiar to me, since I have been working on sorting bottlenose pictures for quite a while now, so I was excited to get home and see which individuals were there. After a near 45 minute encounter we called it quits and head home. It was another fantastic day in the office and I’m soaking up every moment I can before I leave next week. Hopefully the dolphins will grace us all with a few more great encounters before we all leave Bimini!
Kaiya, Tori and Patrick
When your office is next to a beach in The Bahamas, sometimes your lunch break includes a snorkel. (For which we are VERY grateful.) That was the case for us (Patrick and Kaiya), while Tori was on her boat trip. We grabbed our gear, jumped off the rocks, and cruised through the refreshing water towards the Gallant Lady, a sunken ship right along the rocks. It was fun to watch the fish (mainly sergeant majors of all sizes) drift back and forth with the incoming tide as they went about their business. As we came around the ship Patrick was shocked to find a very large stingray nestled into the sand! It was the first of three big stingrays that we saw as we snorkeled around North Bimini's southern point. We also saw a very large barracuda, a smaller barracuda eating a blue tang, male sergeant majors valiantly defending their nests of eggs, a needlefish opening its mouth (it looked like it was yawning!), as well as other awesome sea creatures. It was definitely a lunch break that we can put at the top of our lists. Afterward, with our heads clear, we headed back to the office for a productive afternoon and evening.
While that was happening with Kaiya and Patrick, Thursday was a pretty exciting day aboard the Dakota for Tori, with Captain Al and his guests. The trip began with Tori putting her new spotting skills to the test and locating a group of more than ten bottlenose dolphins in the distance. The group was split into three smaller sub-groups, and they headed north alongside the boat for almost an hour, providing ample opportunity to photograph them with the surface camera, for additional data for the ID catalog. After that, we headed over to North Rock for a quick snorkel stop, where the guests were able to cool off and explore for a bit. Once underway again, we had another bottlenose sighting, except this time it was only a group of two. Instead of lingering, we decided to push on in search of spotted dolphins, and it wasn’t long before we found them. Three for three with my new spotting skills, I was overjoyed to finally get back in the water with these familiar faces! Making an appearance was none other than Splitjaw (#22), Speedy (#78), Stefran (#82) with a calf, and Lil’ Jess (#35) with a calf. This wonderful cast of characters stuck around for about 30 minutes, giving us quite an exciting encounter. Once they’d had enough, we got back onboard the Dakota, and were off in search of some more dolphins. About an hour later, four more spotted dolphins appeared off the bow and were taking turns bow riding. Since they seemed to be in good spirits, we decided to get in the water and have a closer look at who it was. This time it was Romeo (#10) with a calf, and Leslie (#80) with a calf. So many calf sightings today! Unfortunately, right as things were getting good in the water, the video camera battery icon started to blink, indicating it was going to die, and my heart sank right there in the water. Eventually the camera shut off, and I made my way back to the boat with the intention of swapping out cameras, but once I pulled myself back onboard, Captain Al said the dolphins were starting to break away, and it might be time to go. The guests returned to the boat, and since it was getting late, Captain Al decided to head back to the marina, and with that we were calling it a night. There was sporadic bow riding for a little bit after we left the area, and as I chatted with the guests about what we’d seen that day, they couldn’t seem to contain their excitement over their lengthy and wondrous encounters, and honestly, it’s not something I ever get tired of discussing. As the sun set on another productive DCP day in Bimini, I’m overcome with gratitude for this opportunity and experience.
Until next time,
As DCP interns, we have settled into the rhythm of our days on Bimini. Wake up to the bright sunshine, make a pot of coffee (or two, or three), and settle into our morning office tasks. Apart from video logging and photo identification, we input the previous day's sighting log from the boat into the computer, make sure that all of the research equipment is charged and ready for the day's boat trip, write field reports, and update DCP's social media accounts (Did you know you can follow our dolphins on Facebook?! Simply search DCP followed by the dolphin's name!). Wednesday morning followed a similar pattern. With delicious coffee in our mugs and uplifting music in the background we completed a successful morning of work.
After lunch it was Kaiya's turn to join Captain Al and his guests on the boat. While she was gone, Tori and Patrick continued to work on daily tasks inside, away from the midday heat. Tori ventured outside for some relaxation on the beach, but only lasted about an hour before the sun's intensity chased her back inside. With a rerun of the Shark Week episode featuring Kel playing in the background, the rest of the afternoon was spent making progress on video logs and bottlenose ID projects.
My afternoon on the boat was fairly similar to Patrick's yesterday. Soon after emerging from the channel that separates North Bimini from South Bimini we came across a group of bottlenose dolphins. Unfortunately, they were spending more time under the water than at the surface, probably crater feeding, or searching for prey items in the sand. This made it difficult for us to track them and take photos of their dorsal fins for future identification so Captain Al steered us toward spotted dolphin grounds. As we continued on our way, we all kept our eyes on the horizon, searching for dorsals amongst the waves. Captain Al cruised for awhile before we finally found a group of spotteds playfully traveling. From the brief surface observation, I was able to count nine individuals, but then it was time to try an underwater encounter. We slipped into the water and headed towards the dolphins, but quickly realize they were simply traveling too fast for us to keep up. Once back on the boat, we were able to watch as they played with seaweed, rolled over (showing us their pink bellies!), and engaged in lots of pectoral fin contact. Though we did not try another encounter, we enjoyed watching them for the next little while, which allowed me to identify Split Jaw (#22 – here’s a photo from yesterday’s video), Leslie (#80), and Swoosh (#36)! We were also able to watch the playful interactions of two calves zooming around the adults and sub-adults. After awhile the group disappeared into the waves and we began to head back to the dock, enjoying the beautiful Bahamian sunshine (through many layers of sunscreen) and the turquoise waters all the way!
Until tomorrow (and Tori's adventures on the boat),
Patrick, Tori, and Kaiya