Thanksgiving in Bimini

Wednesday was as another morning dolphin trip, but in our roughest water yet. It was nearly 3 hours into the trip before we saw our first dolphin – and at first, we couldn’t find it again! But, luckily, we found it again, and wasn’t alone! We watched this group of bottlenose from the boat; the group was fairly large, with at least a dozen individuals at first, and they were very active. We did not have much time, so half of our group got in the water to observe them, unsure if they would stay. They did and we all actually felt a bit intimidated! There were so many dolphins (at least 21 at one point) that were very (very) vocal and very active. They frequently swim straight toward us and then turned away at the last minute, seemingly never actually very interested in us; they just carried on doing their own thing. Their own thing included feeding – and playing – with fish. It seemed they were stunning the fish with their tails and then retrieving the stunned fish. The noise this created was very loud and we heard lots of brays! At times, one dolphin would quickly chase another dolphin; this was seen from under the water and from the boat. Once, a dolphin was jawing as it was swimming away and then we realized that it was being pursued by another. There were four nurse sharks in the group and at one point, a dolphin was poking a shark in the head! There was also at least one calf in the group, so amidst the rest of the activity we were able to observe mother/calf behavior. At one point the calf was being held on the sea floor – could this have been discipline?

Kel collected lots (over 800, although not all useable) of still photographs (many hours of photo-ID ahead for DCP!) including photos of the injured bottlenose pictured here. Its rostrum and melon appear damaged, as is the dorsal fin, peduncle and fluke. Wonder what happened to it….This dolphin was not observed once the humans were in the water, but we did see other individuals with scars from sharks and dolphins that were missing/had damaged pectoral fins. At least one was an individual that we had seen previously during our course: a re-sight!

From the boat we saw lots of surfing and even some leaping. It was time to head back to shore, so we left the dolphins and headed in. We were on a “dolphin high” with growling stomachs, so it was time for lunch!

After lunch we took a break and then discussed coefficients of association, female behavior and other observations specific to Atlantic spotted dolphins. Then it was time for some photo-ID, but it was very challenging because we couldn’t find a match for a tricky juvenile! But, we all ID’d Tilly (#87)! It was exciting to look at both video and still photos that had been collected. Soon, it was time for American Thanksgiving dinner – yum! With Harold the manatee discussions to pass the time, we ended the night with a sad documentary. It covered research and anecdotes into animal emotion, including grief. It had perspectives of researchers and photographers, and personal stories in between. But, it got us thinking about areas of research into animal behavior and emotion. At least we were laughing about our sadness…

Until next time,

“Bobby & The Bimini Babes” (SHU 2013)