08 June 2017

Fish (and humans) are friends, not food!

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On Monday we woke up early, nervous and excited about meeting the sharks – but soon after we left the dock, we saw a huge storm coming ahead. We were getting more nervous: sharks and lightning! We turned back toward home, stopping briefly to snorkel at “Shell Beach.” We saw an eagle ray, a blue tang, a barracuda, lots of parrotfish and lots of little transparent, white jellyfish. Only about 15 minutes after we got in the water, Captain Al called us back to the boat. The storm was moving too fast. We made it back to the dock….nearly. The skies opened up as Al pulled the boat into her slip and we ran back to the hotel to get dry. 

Once we were dry, we met for a class session on photo-ID. This time, it wasn’t practice photos, it was the photos we took from our first dolphin trip! We were able to identify #102 by her spot pattern, dorsal fin nicks and peduncle scar. We were also able to identify her “friend” – another female, this one not yet formally in DCP’s photo-ID catalog! Nicole and Kel have some confirming to do, but they’ll likely give this dolphin ID#110 – and we helped that happen! We are definitely improving our photo-ID skills, or at least we’re feeling more confident! 

The sun came out before lunch and we strolled to the straw market during our break. After lunch we had another break, but this time got called back early: Captain Al advised that we depart 30 minutes earlier than planned and instead of searching for dolphins, that we try for sharks again. So, we hurried along and departed the dock just after 1430, feeling super excited and super scared at the same time. As we headed south, the sun was trying to come out, and we could see blue sky up ahead! 

As we pulled up to a small beach, Kel told us that we were actually going to see a surprise creature first: southern stingrays! We were at Honeymoon Harbor on Gun Cay (greeted by a friendly tourist). At first, we could see just a few stingrays from the boat and it was cool…then we got in the water and there were rays everywhere! They are not scared of people; in fact, they are sometimes too friendly! Swimming along our bodies, they were basically climbing on us! For some of us, it was too much and we got back on the boat. The conditions were fairly challenging, with a strong current to contend with. While the boat crew watched, fending off horseflies (known as doctorflies on Bimini), the rest of us stayed in the water, feeding the stingrays and watching three nurse sharks – even the nurse sharks came very close to us! Sometimes the rays and sharks were right behind us and we didn’t even know. There were so many, we lost track of the group size. 

With our fill of rays and nurse sharks, we boarded the boat and cruised quickly the main attraction. We arrived at Triangle Rocks (cleverly named: three rocks making a triangle!). Captain Al set anchor and then gave us our briefing. Before getting in the water here, some of us were feeling more nervous than before the rays. Al threw a red and white rope overboard and some of the sharks tried to bite it! Most of us were then having second thoughts about going on…As Al was telling us about their moods and sizes, we were having 3rd thoughts…As he told us not to put our GoPros out too close to them, we were having 4th thoughts…But, all of us got in the water (yay!). Our fins kept hitting each other, and we’d freak out thinking it was a shark! Once we were in the water, watching the sharks, it was actually more fascinating than scary. Lots of the sharks had remoras on or near them. We saw both Caribbean reef and sharpnose sharks. The sharpnose were quite little, but not at all shy around us or the larger reef sharks. There were so many fish around, but the sharks ignored them, even as the fish stole the bait! We were surprised at how close the sharks came to us – but even those of us who were scared agreed it was really cool! The experience was so different from the dolphins. With the sharks, the boat was anchored and we could easily stay in place. With the dolphins, we need to drift and swim to keep up the dolphins as they slowly cruise (or lose sight of them, when they pick up the pace and swim away). Perhaps this was just because of the feeding element? It’s another thing for us to think about before our second eco-tourism conversation. As we all boarded the boat, Kel was so happy to see all of our happy faces! 

For most of us, the rays were scarier than the sharks! Back onboard, we asked Al what the strange shape in the distance was: The Sapona. A WWI vessel that was then sold to private individuals/businesses, she ran aground south of Bimini during the 1926 hurricane. It was pretty surprising to see a boat made of concrete! Though it is clearly not sea worthy, we were surprised that as much of it was still intact as it was. We cruised quickly home and cleaned up for dinner. 

Danielle, Courtney and Gianna went for a walk and met “Ginger,” a local dog (“pitcake” – mix of “potcake” and pitbull). Even though she was disheveled, she came right up to us and was very friendly. We were mostly exhausted from our big day and looking forward to tomorrow – back with the dolphins!

Until then,

 

The Storm Troopers (SHU 2017)

Kelly Melillo Sweeting

Kel is DCP's Bimini Research Manager, and all around awesome scientist.

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