Wednesday started bright and early for Kel and the Trio as we began our day with an 8:30 am inflatable boat pick-up by the Captain of the Coral Reef II, the research vessel for the Shedd Aqaurium, and we were taken back out to sea where the ship was anchored and awaiting us. On this particular morning we were scheduled to do a DCP information session with the High School Marine Biology program students currently on board, and as usual, Kel delivered an enthralling presentation, and these awesome students were absolutely engaged, knowledgeable, and inquisitive. (We love this!) The Trio shared their different educational backgrounds and paths, career plans, and how they came to be interns for DCP, and fielded any questions the students had.
Once back on dry land, Kel and the Trio headed down “the Pit” (DCP workspace) for some collective work-time and each tried to get as much done as possible before heading over to the Sea Crest for another information session with this week’s Sea Crest group. We thoroughly enjoy these information sessions as well, as it provides us the opportunity to get to know each group personally, and share with them our passion for DCP and its mission. After a lovely chat, the trip boarded “Renegade” and got underway in our search for dolphins.
There was a flurry of animal activity while leaving the channel today, and we were fortunate to have a bull shark and multiple rays bid us farewell as we headed out into open water. With Patrick on the bridge, and Kaiya and Tori on the bow, the Trio was ready for another day’s adventure. A massive squall could easily be seen to the NW, but fortunately for us, we weren’t going that way, but we still kept our guards up while watching the lightning strike in the distance. Pretty soon, those tell tale fins were spotted, and we found a group of at least two bottlenose dolphins. In times like this, when the dolphins appear to be a little hesitant to get close to the boat, we’ve got a surface camera at the ready (with a great zoom lens), and Kaiya quickly began taking pictures of them to assist with our photo-ID catalog. They kept their distance and eventually left us, so we pressed on and continued our search.
After about thirty minutes, dolphins could be seen leaping in the distance, seemingly chasing after fish, so we approached cautiously, as not to completely disturb their feeding. Before we were able to get close, these spotted dolphins could be seen breaching the water and slapping around the fish they were feeding on, and a sub-adult was seen approaching the bow with a fish in its jaws. Though it was just a pair of dolphins, one juvenile and one sub-adult, their willingness to stay close to the boat and bow ride gave everyone on board the opportunity to marvel at their beauty and graceful swimming yet again. Eager to get in the water with them, everyone began donning their masks, fins and snorkels, including Patrick, who was ready with the DCP video camera. Unfortunately, these two dolphins seemed to be more interested in feeding and didn’t stick around long enough for an encounter, but the passengers jumped in the water anyway for a much needed swim break. The spotteds could still be seen leaping and flipping in the distance, chasing after fish, so we opted to leave the dolphins to their meal, and start making our way back towards Bimini. Regrettably, those were our only sightings for the day, and we headed back towards the dock, hoping that tomorrow (the last boat trip of the week) will bring one last incredible encounter for this group.
Kel and the Trio signing off after a long day…
We began our Tuesday morning with the usual office work of video logs and bottlenose ID. Except, this morning we were joined by Kel! We used the joint work time to get some questions answered and to confirm some new catalogue changes. We were very excited to be making significant progress on the bottlenose pictures and we’re hoping to keep updating the catalogue. Our morning of work passed and we had our lunch, then we got ready for the boat. We settled in with the guests on the boat, and we made our way out of the marina a little after 2 o’clock. After a quick sun-baked ride to Three Sisters, we were excited to hop in the water to cool off with a snorkel stop. We saw a few cuttlefish right off the boat and continued to explore the reef. We saw the usual, yet always interesting, fish all around the rocks and a yellow stingray also made an appearance. The guests enjoyed the hour of exploration and casual swim. We boarded the boat and made our way to search for dolphins. As we looked and looked all day, without any luck, we headed towards home. On the way a rather large raincloud was coming over the island and right towards us. We tried to evade it but instead of getting too off course we decided to wait out the rain. This allowed for us to have a nice swim break and we got to practice our free-diving in the 30 foot waters. While we got back aboard, and got rained on a little bit, we continued our quest to find dolphins. When the rain passed, an amazingly perfect rainbow appeared over the island. Then, right under the rainbow, we finally saw our first dolphins of the day! Unfortunately, they only surfaced a couple of times and then disappeared in the deep. While we didn’t get to see much of them, it was a very magical sight to see them appear directly under the rainbow. Then we continued on our way home. We returned to the dock and everyone parted ways. After an amazing first two days, the guests weren’t too discouraged by the lack of dolphins today. Everyone is already looking forward to our very busy day tomorrow!
After such an awesome boat trip on Sunday, the DCP crew was very excited to get back on the water on Monday, after a morning of office work, of course. With a successful amount of work done, we, the interns, headed to the boat for their first solo trip, without either Kel or Nicole. However, thanks to their excellent teaching, we felt confident and ready to go. Once everybody was aboard the boat, we pushed off for a prompt 3pm departure. Unlike yesterday, we did not see dolphins as soon as we came out of the channel. Instead, after a long search, we were greeted by a group of spotted dolphins that included three juveniles, a sub-adult, and an adult who were all ready to bow ride. The dolphins amazed the eco-tour guests with their antics in front of the boat, gliding along and occasionally showing us their white bellies.
After about ten minutes of observation from the boat, Captain Al gave the signal for swimmers to get ready with their masks, fins, and snorkels. Without Kel or Nicole on the boat, it was our job to make sure to capture good video footage, something that they make look easy. Today it was Kaiya's turn and she geared up with the rest of the guests, video camera in hand. The underwater encounter began with two of the juvenile spotteds. We observed as they swam through the water together, exchanging rubs with their pectoral fins and playing with sargassum. They also began to play with a large piece of plastic that they found floating in the waves. One swam with the impromptu toy draped over its fluke before passing it to the other, and back and forth. After about twenty minutes the two dolphins were joined by other dolphins, most likely those that we had seen at the beginning of the sighting. The swimmers were able to watch this larger group for a few minutes before it was time to head back to the boat. Overall, the swim was a wonderful observation of object play and tactile contact.
As the boat turned south and headed towards home, we could hear the animated voices of the guests as they described what the dolphin swim was like for them. Two days in a row, this group has lucked out with what they have described as "magical" experiences! Though we were headed home, we were not yet done with dolphins for the day! We passed another group of bottlenose as we motored parallel to North Bimini's shore. Though it was too late in the evening to stop for a swim, we were able to have a brief observation from the boat. It was the perfect ending to a beautiful, Bahamian day. Hopefully tomorrow will be the same!
Patrick, Tori, and Kaiya
If the first trip of the week is any indicator of how the rest of the week’s dolphin trips will go…then we may be headed into a phenomenal week. Sunday’s trip kicked off the initial tour for this week’s Sea Crest group, and it was quite the experience on the water. Before we could even get out of the channel, exactly ten minutes after leaving the marina, we intercepted four, very large bottlenose dolphins, who to our amazement, decided they were in the mood to bowride our vessel, giving all of us a little unexpected thrill. After that brief, and somewhat unusual sighting, the guests, crew, and DCP researchers were all excited for the rest of the trip, and we didn’t let the storm clouds and squalls in the distance dampen our spirit for the day’s adventure.
After making our way through some of the darker storm clouds unscathed, Captain Al decided to stop for a quick swim break and gear check, allowing the new group to get their bearings and do a practice run before the real deal dolphin encounters began for them. It’s important that everyone aboard knows what will be expected of them during these trips, and that they are comfortable getting in and out of the water with masks, fins, snorkels and cameras. These gear checks are a crucial component and give everyone a chance to work out any kinks they make have with the boat procedures. Safety first! After that, we continued heading north for another hour until we spotted a group of three juvenile Atlantic spotted dolphins, who were all too happy to stick around just long enough for us to document them on the surface, and for the guests to attempt getting in the water for their first encounter. Two more juveniles joined in, for a total of five dolphins in the area when the group entered the water. Unfortunately, this group of dolphins was more interested in feeding on (or just chasing?) nearby fish, and left us without looking back.
However, we soon caught up to them again, and this time they were joined by two adult dolphins, who we suspect are originally from the northern Bahamas. With a group size of seven at this point, we once again eagerly got in the water. Much to everyone’s delight, these dolphins were incredibly interested in us, and this was arguably one of the best encounters of the season. The dolphins, possibly far more than seven, were weaving in between the guests in the water, checking out each individual, with each dolphin doing several laps throughout the group, giving everyone both in the water and watching from the boat-an incredible experience. At one point, from the boat, we noticed the younger dolphins fast swimming away. From Kel’s underwater perspective, she able to tell us that the dolphins weren’t swimming away from anything; they were swimming toward a hammerhead shark! The large sharks cruised past, seeming to give no thought to the young dolphins checking it out. Soon after, Kel also saw a barracuda and an ocean triggerfish. There was also a young yellow jack in the dolphins’ midst and the dolphins were, at times, quite busy chasing the poor thing all about! We observed the dolphins for 34 minutes, and in the end, we had to leave them in order to head back home, to ensure we made it back to the marina before nightfall. Ironically, the moment we stopped looking for dolphins and began heading home, we were spotting dolphins in the distance, left and right. Journeying back to the marina, while the sun was setting beautifully, was just a picture perfect end to a phenomenal day, and we cannot wait to see what tomorrow has in store for us! Hopefully we’ll all be spoiled yet again...
Kel and the Trio, (Patrick, Tori, & Kaiya) signing off.
Dr. Marie Trone arrived back to the Amazon Dolphin Acoustics Lab (ADAL) in June 2017, to begin her summer field season. While in the Peruvian Amazon, Marie plans to explore the high-frequency echolocation produced by the Amazon pink dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) and the gray dolphins (Sotalia fluviatillis), as well as study their behavior. During the 2017 spring semester, her students devised an application to be used on 10” Android tablets that documents the locations of dolphins when sighted at the surface of the water. Thus, the position and direction of travel of each dolphin documented in relation to the location of the hydrophone array, as well as size, color, energy level, swimming activity, and any special behavioral status such as group composition, splashing, feeding, etc. could all be documented with a time stamp. These data can be downloaded into an Excel spreadsheet to facilitate pairing acoustic emanations produced by the dolphins and behavior. One goal this season is to create a catalog of sounds associated with animal positions to further clarify the exact acoustic signal produced by a free-ranging, morphologically unique dolphin, Inia geoffrensis!
In the photo with this blog, you'll seethe Android application is used to pair dolphin position and behavioral data with acoustical recordings.
The picture below is the array supporting 4 high-frequency hydrophones and two GoPro cameras.
Our first week without boat trips was a change of pace. We had more time to relax and explore the island, but it also offered us more time to take a significant chunk out of our video logs and bottlenose photo-ID. After a very productive work week, we capped it off with an eventful Friday and Saturday. On Friday, after a morning of work, we set off for the Bimini Biological Field Station (aka “Shark Lab”) around two. We took the water taxi over to South Bimini and rode our bike to the lab. We were a little early so it gave us the chance to bike around the island and see the houses and scenery. We arrived at the Shark Lab and were greeted by our three tour guides. We chatted for a few minutes and got acquainted with them by the time the rest of the tour group arrived. We then were lead to their pens they have on the beach behind the lab and we got a good look at a young lemon shark and nurse shark as the Shark Lab volunteers held them and explained their anatomy and behavior. They also gave the group a brief introduction into the research and studies they are currently conducting. On our way back to North Bimini, Kaiya noticed another boat that ran aground at the southern tip of the North Island, presumably trying to take a short cut out of the channel. This added a little excitement to our island experience, with two boats having run aground here just this week. Afterwards, Tori headed home to work on more video logs, while Kaiya and Patrick headed to the northern end of the island to observe the protest that was taking place through Resorts World Bimini. The locals were protesting the continued destruction of the mangroves for a golf course. In short, this is a big problem because the mangroves are important habitats and nurseries to many species of marine life, including sharks, rays, lobster, conch and many fishes. Along with this, mangroves are important to protecting the island during natural disasters, such as hurricanes, they are important carbon captures and they have cultural value to this island community. It was awesome to see and hear the passion from locals to support their environment.
After a full Friday, we started early on Saturday as well. One of the many ways Kel helps the island is by volunteering her time when the veterinarian, Dr. Grant, comes to town. He began coming to Bimini when the stray dog and cat population got out of hand many years ago. Today, thanks to the collective effort from many people around the island and support from folks around the world, the stray animal population is well managed and under control. We helped Kel out by hanging flyers last week, and Saturday Patrick and Kaiya went with her to volunteer some extra hands if needed at the vet clinic. Unfortunately, Tori is allergic to dogs so couldn’t help out as well, instead she did some work at home, did a mini beach clean-up outside the house, and went for a swim. We were joined at the vet clinic by a few Shark Lab volunteers as well. After a relatively slow morning, the vet offered to buy us all lunch from The Big Game Club (Thank you, Dr. Grant!!!). We had the time to get to know the other volunteers and Dr. Grant over lunch. After lunch, we had quite a few clients. Around four p.m., Dr. Grant, Patrick, and two of the Shark Lab volunteers went to make a few house calls up the island. Meanwhile, Kaiya and one of the Shark Lab managers hung back in case any more visitors showed up. On our first house call there were four big dogs to give vaccines and medicine too. A once, potentially, unpredictable pit bull ended up being Patrick’s favorite patient of the day. Immediately after we finished up with him and restraining him to make sure he couldn’t hurt anyone, he plopped over, tongue hanging out, begging for belly rubs. After another quick stop we headed back to Kaiya and Ches around 6:30 pm. It was a long, but very rewarding day for us. We went home and then remembered the Bimini Junkanoo summer festival was getting underway in Alice Town. The Trio decided to go check it out and get a genuine Bahamian experience. We enjoyed conch fritters and a Kalik, while watching the watermelon and pineapple eating contest, the fashion show, and live band. It was a very full and fun weekend and we’re extremely excited to get back out on the boat with dolphins on Sunday!
Kel and the Trio, signing off.
Sunday started early for the DCP team (Kel, Nicole, Tori, Patrick, and Kaiya) as we were met on the beach at 8:15 am by a small, inflatable boat that delivered us to the Coral Reef II, Shedd Aquarium's research and education vessel, that was anchored offshore. Though we arrived jostled and wet, we received a warm welcome from the students that are currently calling the boat home. Everybody gathered around tables inside while Kel presented about DCP's work in Bimini, The Bahamas. The students were able to learn about our methodology, past research, future goals, the local populations of bottlenose and spotteds, and how we use photo ID to catalog the dolphins. The students were very knowledgeable and engaged and Kel was impressed with their high level of curiosity and astute line of questioning. They were particularly interested in the scientific process of using a photo ID catalog as opposed to other methods of identification and classification of individuals, such as tagging. It was awesome to see different students relating and comparing knowledge that they already had of other species to DCP's work with dolphins. After this experience, we are even more excited to talk to another group of students on the Coral Reef II in a few weeks.
The rest of Sunday was spent in the office working on updating the bottlenose ID catalog, creating video logs, and completing other necessary tasks. Because we have a week off from boat trips and data collection, our schedule has added flexibility. Along with office work, the interns are hoping to explore some new snorkel spots, observe Bahamian Independence Day celebrations on July 10th, and take a trip to the shark lab on South Bimini. We are all hoping for a quiet and productive week. Unfortunately, this week also brings Nicole's departure. We are all sad that her current time on Bimini has come to a close, but we know that she will continue to work closely with DCP as she makes progress on her master's thesis. We also know, without a doubt, that she will be back to the island soon.
Until next time,
Tori, Patrick, Kaiya, Nicole & Kel
We woke up Thursday morning and immediately began working on some of our video logs and bottlenose ID. After knocking a large portion of our work out, we took a break for lunch and to get ready for the boat. Meanwhile, Kel and Nicole led a discussion this morning about ecotourism and the island with this week’s guests. We have had small exchanges about this topic, so it was nice to have a formal talk about this very important matter. We then made our way to the marina and boarded the boat. Unfortunately, today was our last day with this group and Nicole on board. Given the circumstances, we were hoping for a fantastic send-off for everyone’s last day. To the extreme delight of some, Captain Audley set our course straight to Triangle Rocks to swim with sharks! We made the short trip south and Captain Al prepped everyone on board for the encounter. Everyone got in the water and was greeted by an abundance of wildlife. There were a few Caribbean reef sharks, at least three nurse sharks, a sharpnose shark, huge brightly-colored parrotfish, and many other tropical fish around. After a few photo-ops with the sharks we got back on board and search for some dolphins. We headed back north, past the island, with our eyes peeled the whole way. A little over an hour later we saw our first dolphins! About three bottlenose popped up in front of us but they were travelling and focused on their mission. They weren’t the least bit interested in us, so we didn’t stick around too long. We continued on our way to find some spotted dolphins. As we searched, we got a little tip from another operator; they were in the water with three spotted dolphins, but the humans were heading home. This allowed us the opportunity to take their place, after a discussion about whether or not they thought the dolphins needed a break, which worked out well for everyone. We made our way there and shortly after we arrived, seven more joined in. We quickly got ready and hopped in the water. Among this group, which stuck around for over half an hour, were: Niecey (#48) and her calf, Leslie (#80), Paul (#99), and unnamed #108 and #112. They were very active, enjoying bowriding, surfing the waves, and jumping out of the water in groups. They eventually lost in interest in us, but it was time to head home anyway. I believe everyone agreed that this was a great send-off for their last day. We got back to the dock and said our goodbyes to the group. We’ll especially miss Nicole as both co-worker and friend! We learned so much from her, and her positive attitude made every day better. Thank you for all you have done for DCP and we will all miss having you around for the rest of the summer!
See you next week,
Patrick, Kaiya, and Tori
Wednesday had a different start than our days so far on Bimini. We met DCP's eco tour guests near the Sea Crest for a morning of beach clean-up. We all grabbed our trash bags, put on our gloves, and spread out along the sand in search of debris. As we worked, we discussed with the guests our conflicting feelings about the morning's activity. On one hand we were happy to be helping pick up the garbage in order to maintain a healthy environment, both on and off the shore. But on the other hand, we were disappointed that there was so much trash to be picked up in the first place. We could tell that much of the trash had washed up onto the beach in the waves, reminding us that we all need to do our part, no matter where in the world we live or visit. One thing that everyone can do is say no to disposable plastic items, such as drinking straws and plastic bags, and opt for reusable ones instead!
Once we had more than five full bags of trash, a bag of recyclables, a tire, and multiple cardboard boxes, it was time for a quick dip. The water felt amazingly refreshing after a morning in the hot sun and humidity, motivating us to finish the rest of our morning tasks. After a few more hours of office work for the DCP team and different adventures for the guests, we were ready for our 3 pm departure. Though the seas were calm at the marina, the open ocean was a different story. The large swells and 95 degrees temperature (which the forecast said felt like 106 degrees, thanks to the humidity) made for an interesting afternoon. We pushed through the waves (and drank lots of water) as we continued to search for our elusive friends. A little after 4 pm, Captain Al saw a small group in the distance. To our delight, we were soon watching four bottlenose and a single juvenile spotted frolicking around the boat. After a little while, the bottlenose disappeared and the spotted led us from sargassum patch to sargassum patch as it playfully traveled amongst the waves. Kel was able to get a brief underwater encounter, but the dolphin did not stick around long enough for anybody else to see. However, it provided the perfect opportunity for us to cool off with a brief swim break.
To everybody's delight, this was not to be our only dolphin encounter for the day. Two hours later, we found ourselves surrounded by six spotted dolphins with some very familiar faces among them! In the group was Lil' Jess (#35), Swoosh (#36) and her calf, Tim (#69), and unnamed #102 (she is waiting for her name)! After a brief observation from the boat, Captains Al and Audley decided we could try an underwater encounter. To our satisfaction, some of the dolphins were willing to stick around and swim with us for over half an hour. Kel was able to get some great video data while the dolphins delighted the ecotour guests with their antics and acrobatics. Overall it was a fabulous day out on the water and we cannot wait for a wonderful Thursday as well.
Kaiya, Tori, Patrick, Nicole & Kel
The Trio awoke to a stormy Tuesday morning, but that didn’t stop us from getting down to the Sea Crest for Nicole’s presentation of her Master’s project, to the DCP Eco-tour group eagerly awaiting her. After a rainy morning of scientific research discussion, enhanced by all the brilliant minds in the room, we went into lunch motivated and enlightened from such a wonderful educational experience. We were determined to make the best of this 4th of July, regardless of the weather, so we headed home to grab our gear, and then it was back to the dock for our 3pm boat departure.
To everyone’s delight, the rain held off for a while, and we were presented with a beautiful afternoon (double rainbow included). We made the rounds through dolphin territory, but unfortunately, we were unsuccessful in locating any. Everyone remained in good spirits, and the swim break definitely helped with that, as this group is eager to get in the water and stay there. There were a few times when Capitan Al thought he may have caught a glimpse of some splashing in the distance, but it didn’t reappear, and it would seem as though the luck we’ve been running on, has run out for the moment. But not to worry, because although we weren’t able to locate or sight any dolphins today, we did encounter a big tiger shark, swimming lazily at the surface, while heading back to the dock. Was the tiger shark’s presence the reason behind no dolphin sightings? Hmmmm….
We returned to shore for a lovely group dinner, thanks to Chef Bob, as well as Julie and her hospitality. It was a great evening of swapping stories and getting to know one another, while the fireworks display could be seen in the distance. Tomorrow is another day and another chance for us to find some dolphins, so we’re not letting the rain and absence of our illusive friends dampen our spirits, and we’ll be back on the boat and back at it after tomorrow morning’s beach clean-up.
Happy 4th of July to All!
The Bimini Team
PS: We're so synced that we all wore red shirts without even discussing it!