Bimini Field Course in Dolphin Behavior and Communication - Hunter College, CUNY
Summer 2015 dates TBD
$2440 (per person, based on double occupancy; contact us for check discount details)
Included: 13 nights' accommodation (steps away from beach and harbor), 3 family-style meals/day (lunch & dinner on arrival day; breakfast on departure day), 10 boat trips in search of wild dolphins, course instruction and rental snorkel gear (although we recommend you bring your own for a proper fit). Please continue reading for details. The course fee does not include air transportation to/from Bimini or tuition credits.
*NOT included: Air travel, airport/hotel transportation (~$5 each way), gratuity for hotel, boat and dock staff (contact us for recommendation) tuition costs (optional)
Hunter College Field Course
This field course provides Hunter College students and other participants with a unique opportunity to gain research experience in the field by participating in an on-going field study of the vocalizations and behavior of wild dolphins. Students will learn field research methods and spend one week assisting in data collection in The Bahamas, helping researchers study the underwater interactions and concurrent vocalizations of bottlenose and Atlantic spotted dolphins. Observations are made under water while snorkeling and on the water's surface. Participants must know how to swim and snorkel, but no other special skills are needed. Daily tasks involve recording underwater observations, photographing and identifying individual dolphins, gathering data while in the water, recording environmental data while above water, keeping records of dolphin sightings, entering data and analyzing photos for identification. This field course is being offered through Hunter College in collaboration with the Dolphin Communication Project (DCP) - see below for more information about DCP.
J. Daisy Kaplan is a Ph.D. candidate in the Biopsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience Program at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She has been studying the behavior of marine mammals for over ten years.
Diana Reiss, Ph.D. is a cognitive psychologist and professor in the Department of Psychology at Hunter College, CUNY and the Biopsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience Program at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Dr. Reiss's research focuses on cetacean cognition, communication, comparative animal cognition and the evolution of intelligence. Much of her work focuses on vocal communication and vocal learning in dolphins using observational and experimental approaches.
Kelly Melillo Sweeting, MSc. has been researching Bimini's dolphins with the Dolphin Communication Project since 2003. With a focus on interspecies interactions between the Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins, Kel maintains DCP's Bimini photo-ID catalog and research and education program.
The island, or more accurately islands, of Bimini lie less than 50 miles off the east coast of Florida. In fact, if you look to the west after sunset, you can see the lights of Miami. Bimini may be just a 20 minute plane ride from the U.S., but this most westerly inhabited island of The Bahamas feels a world away. Only a few hundred yards wide in some areas, Bimini is known for fishing, SCUBA diving and, of course, dolphins.
Bimini lies at the northwestern edge of the Great Bahama Bank, a vast area of warm, shallow water over a sandy seafloor. Portions of the island are made up of intricate mangrove systems, which in addition to great kayaking, are home to dozens of juvenile fish species. This important nursery ground is thought to be the source for many of the fish that grow up to populate other areas of The Bahamas. Immediately to the west of Bimini, and in stark contrast to the Great Bahama Bank, is the Gulf Stream (aka Florida Straights). The waters swiftly flowing north through this deep ocean trench provide a constant supply of “fresh” water and nutrients to the area, including fish such as mackerel and mahi mahi. It is thought that the dolphins around Bimini spend the majority of their time in the relative safety of the bank, while cruising out to deep water to feed.
The group of Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) studied by DCP off the coast of Bimini are thought to be resident animals - meaning that each individual is born and raised, has its own calves and lives out the entirety of its life in the waters immediately surrounding Bimini. Although spotted dolphins are born without spots, they can be recognized by their individual spot pattern, which begins to develop around the age of 3 or 4 years. By documenting individuals through photographs and video, we can track the population over time and confirm that we do see the same individuals year after year. Since the animals develop new spots throughout their entire lives, it is important that DCP researchers are able to document as many individuals as possible each year.
There are also common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) found off the coast of Bimini. At the moment, we know significantly less about these individuals, however, that is slowly changing. Members of this species are recognized by nicks in their dorsal fins, which are photographed as the animal breaks the surface to breathe. These photographs are supplemented with full body images from underwater video when possible. There does appear to be some residency pattern among what may be “coastal” bottlenose dolphins. It is also likely that there is an “offshore” bottlenose group, however their exact composition and interaction with the coastal dolphins is not known at this time.
Dolphin Communication Project
The Dolphin Communication Project (DCP) is focused on the dual goals of scientific research and education: we take results from research projects and disseminate them into educational programs for students of all ages. DCP has a team of researchers (graduated professionals, graduate students, undergraduate interns and volunteers) who work together to examine how dolphins communicate in order to shed more light on the meaning of the interactions between individuals and groups. We have 4 field sites that include wild and captive dolphins of 3 species. North Bimini Island in The Bahamas is one of these sites. Since 2001, we have been actively working with locally owned and operated eco-tour companies as part of a longitudinal study on the wild populations of Atlantic spotted (Stenella frontalis) and bottlenose dolphin s (Tursiops truncatus) in this area. As part of such studies, we collaborate with our friends at Hunter College. Please contact us for details.
- Introduction to cetacean biology
- Introduction to delphinid species of Bimini
- Scientific method and observational research: techniques & applications
- Boat based surveys
- Photo-identification of cetaceans (lecture & practical)
- Behavioral ethograms: application to Bimini’s dolphins
Field work on Bimini generally consists of 4-5 hour boat trips in a pre-designated survey area. Lecture topics (listed above) are covered in the morning and evening hours, with boat surveys completed in the late afternoon. While on-board the survey vessel, students assist with posted watches, data sheets, GPS operation, etc. Once dolphins are in view, students take notes on depth, species, group size and composition, behaviors and known individuals. If the group is able to make underwater observations, students rotate in and out of the water, in pairs (for safety and cooperative learning) and using underwater slates and digital still cameras.
The 42’ Hatteras is locally owned and operated. Our captain has over 20 years experience on the waters of Bimini.
Sea Crest Hotel and Marina. This locally owned and operated hotel is in historic Alice Town. The “suite” with its cooking and living space is used for meals and classroom time. Additional hotel rooms are added to supplement sleeping space. Standard hotel rooms have two double beds, ensuite bathroom, fresh water showers, A/C , TV. Max 2 people per room.
Flights to South Bimini (BIM) originate in Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International (FLL) or Nassau, The Bahamas (NAS). There is currently no ferry option. Travel through FLL is recommended, particularly if scheduling requires a night’s layover. Continental Airlines (operated by Gulfstream/Silver from FLL) is recommended. The US$20.00 Bahamian departure tax is included in Continental Airline tickets. Please check with Continental at the time of booking for baggage allowances and other restrictions. US Citizens are required to travel with a valid passport. Birth certificates are no longer adequate for entry into The Bahamas. People with other citizenship should check with their native country. North Bimini is a short taxi (land and water) ride from the South Bimini airport. These services (~$5 each way) run regularly, but are not included in the course fee.
Weather patterns in Bimini can be unpredictable, but during the summer, sea conditions tend to be consistently favorable. Squalls (rain, thunder, lightnight) can pass through the area, but are generally brief. August is "hurricane season" and as such, the risk of major storms increases. Although Bimini does periodically experience tropical storms, full hurricanes are rare. There are no refunds for boat trips cancelled due to weather, however every effort will be made to offer alternative, active learning experiences.
The Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins off Bimini, The Bahamas are wild. Therefore, there is no guarantee that we will see dolphins, however the sighting success rate has been between 80-90% since 2003. Students will be exposed to the challenges of weather and subject dependent field work.
In Bimini, the national currency is the Bahamian Dollar; however, U.S. dollars are accepted at a 1:1 ratio. The local bank can cash traveler’s checks for a small fee or provide cash advances on credit cards. There is also an operating ATM (but only one on the entire island!).
A deposit is required at the time of booking. This deposit becomes non-refundable 90 days before the start of the program. A discount is available if paying by check. Please contact us.
General DCP Contact
Are you a university professor looking to bring your students to Bimini? Click here to contact DCP.
Contact DCP’s Bimini Research Manager, Kelly Melillo Sweeting via our contact page or
Dolphin Communication Project
P.O. Box 7485, Port St. Lucie, FL, 34985, USA