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 is 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 schooling fish such as mackerel and dolphin (mahi mahi). It is thought that the dolphins (mammals) 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 (2001 – 2020) 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. (But, in 2013 a sizeable group of spotted dolphins from near Grand Bahama Island moved to Bimini! Wow! Check out our publication.) 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. By documenting individuals through photographs and video, we can track the population over time and see that we do in fact 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 are likely coastal bottlenose dolphins. Presumed offshore bottlenose are occasionally observed, however their exact composition and interaction with the coastal dolphins is not known at this time.
In 2001, DCP began a study of the Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) frequenting the waters around Bimini, along western edge of the Great Bahamas Bank. The initial purpose of DCP’s research on this group of spotted dolphins was to analyze the group dynamics of these dolphins found on the Great Bahama Bank, north of the island of Bimini.
Identification of individual dolphins and examination of their association patterns has provided details and insight into their social structure and behavior. Identification of individual spotted dolphins around Bimini facilitates calculations of the following parameters: population size, distribution, and site fidelity, coefficients of association (COA), age/gender composition, etc. An examination of these parameters provides baseline data necessary to understand shifts in population size, behavior, or association patterns, which could be the result of any type of change in their environment.
We also examined if any of the identified dolphins matched members of the Atlantic spotted dolphin group observed along the White Sand Ridge, north of Grand Bahama Island: members of this more northern spotted dolphin group were observed by Dudzinski since 1991 and are still regularly observed by Dr. Denise Herzing. Prior to the immigration event of 2013 (see above), we had not found any matches in identification between these two dolphin study populations.
Collaboration with Bill & Nowdla Keefe’s Wild Dolphin Adventures and Bimini Adventures
From 2001 – 2012, DCP collaborated with Bill & Nowdla Keefe’s Wild Dolphin Adventures and from 2006 – 2020 with Bimini Adventures for data collection on the dolphins around Bimini. We joined their dolphin snorkel trips to look for and observe Atlantic spotted and common bottlenose dolphins. All data were gathered from underwater with a video camera and underwater housing. Research trips start from the sheltered port of Alice Town, North Bimini, and proceed northward looking for dolphins. We sincerely thank these companies for their support during all our data collection.
Bimini Research Video
Specifics for each Field Season
2015 – 2020: Kelly Melillo Sweeting, DCP Research Associate & Bimini Research Manager; Nicole Danaher-Garcia, Senior Intern/Doctoral Student/Post-Doctoral Associate; Seasonal Interns
The 2014 Field Season: Kelly Melillo Sweeting, DCP Research Associate & Bimini Research Manager; Alexis Levengood, Senior Intern; Amy Wagner (Duke University) and Lauren Larson (University of Nebraska – Lincoln), DCP Summer Interns
The 2013 Field Season: Kelly Melillo Sweeting, DCP Research Associate & Bimini Research Manager; Nicole Danaher-Garcia and Salma Abdel-Raheem, DCP Summer Interns
The 2012 Field Season: Kelly Melillo Sweeting, DCP Research Associate & Bimini Research Manager; Pam Lovejoy (Connecticut College) and Liana Epstein (Yale University), DCP Summer Interns
The 2011 Field Season: Kelly Melillo Sweeting, DCP Research Associate & Bimini Research Manager; Alexis Levengood, Senior Intern; Brittany McIntosh and Sabena Siddiqui, DCP Summer Interns
The 2010 Field Season: Kelly Melillo Sweeting , DCP Research Associate & Bimini Research Manager; Janan Evans-Wilent (Connecticut College) and Catherine Koch, DCP Summer Interns
We had more dolphin trips in 2010 than any previous year: 86! As always, we greatly enjoyed our busy time in Bimini, joining local eco-tour companies (see above) and their guests in search of wild Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins. We had 162 dolphin sightings, 96 underwater encounters and almost 10 hours of video/acoustic data were recorded. We continued to see many of the catalogues dolphins, including almost all of DCP’s Adopt-A-Wild-Dolphins. We also collected many photographs to continue building our bottlenose dolphin photo-ID catalog. Of course, a heartfelt thank you to everyone who made our 2010 season possible. We look forward to 2011! To read the full report for 2010, click here.
The 2009 Field Season: Kelly Melillo , DCP Research Associate & Bimini Research Manager; Alexis Levengood (Connecticut College) and Vicki Schaefer (Western Illinois University), DCP Summer Interns
Go ahead, say it for us: The 2009 season was a huge success! We greatly enjoyed our busy time in Bimini, joining local eco-tour companies (see above) on 63 boat trips in search of wild Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins. We had 118 dolphin sightings, 67 underwater encounters and 12 video tapes of data were recorded. We saw lots of our “old” dolphin friends and added several youngsters to our photo-ID catalog. Of course, a heartfelt thank you to everyone who made our 2009 season possible! To read the full report for 2009, click here.
The 2008 Field Season: Kelly Melillo , DCP Research Associate & Bimini Research Manager; Tabitha Baker (Roger Williams University) and Adam Smith (University of Minnesota), DCP Summer Interns
You guess it – the 2008 season was again a great success (and hurricane free)! Our 53 boat trips with Bimini Undersea and Bimini Adventures equaled over 235 hours on the boat. We had 103 dolphin sightings and 52 underwater encounters resulting in 13 video tapes of data. We’ll continue to log these tapes for individual dolphins in preparation for a variety of research projects. So far, we have confirmed the sightings of 33 individual spotted dolphins, including Swoosh (#36) and un-named #25 with their first calves. Our grateful thanks to everyone who once again made our Bimini field season successful. To read the full report for 2008, click here.
The 2007 Field Season: Kelly Melillo (Alaska Pacific University), DCP Research Associate; Maria Baetti (University of Georgia) and Tabitha Baker (Roger Williams University), DCP Summer Interns
Not to sound like a broken record, but the 2007 season was once again a great success. Over 240 hours of effort yielded 57 boat trips including 96 dolphin sightings and 57 underwater encounters (swims lasting at least 3 minutes). We saw many of our “old favorites” as well as some new spotted & bottlenose dolphins. Our photo-ID catalogs now have 89 spotted dolphins and 24 bottlenose dolphins. Thanks to everyone who made the field season such a great one! To read the full report for 2007, click here
The 2006 Field Season: Kelly Melillo (Alaska Pacific University) and Darcie Blanding (University of Rhode Island), DCP Research Associates
The 2006 season, like all previous seasons, was a great success. We once again gathered data on Atlantic spotted dolphins while aboard Bimini Undersea’s ecotour vessel. We also expanded our efforts in regard to the common bottlenose that are also found in the Bimini waters. Over 233 hours of effort translated into 55 trips, 107 sightings and 53 in water encounters. These data return to DCP for use by other DCP researchers and form the focus for both Kel’s & Darcie’s Master’s theses. Read our full summary for more details & stay tuned for the 2007 season! To read the full report for 2006, click here.
The 2005 Field Season: Kelly Melillo and Darcie Blanding, DCP Field Research Associates
DCP’s 5th anniversary in Bimini! It was a great season and Kel and Darcie already can’t wait to get back to the field in 2006. This year, the field season began on 29 May and data were collected using the MVA1 and digital still cameras. By the end of the season, 28 August, we completed 43 boat trips, resulting in 75 sightings and 45 encounters. We collected approximately 6.5 hours of video, with dolphins in view about 40% of the time. 26 dolphins were re-identified, including #s09, 10, 11, 14, 22, 29, 35, 64, and 77, and 3 dolphins were added to the catalog (#s 81, 82, 83). These data will be used for a variety of purposes; including Kel’s and Darcie’s Master’s theses.
We were unable to visit local schools, which was disappointing, but we do hope that can happen in 2006 since we will be there for a longer period of time. We did continue to develop, and thoroughly enjoy, our weekly presentations to Bimini Undersea guests, as well as our daily conversations on the boat. We look forward to many people returning in 2006, and all the new guests! We also got through the season without being greatly affected by hurricanes, although a few tropical storms did come our way. Our thoughts go out to all of those affected by the 2005 hurricane season. To read the full report for 2005, click here.
The 2004 Field Season: Kelly Melillo and Katherine DeStefano, DCP Field Research Associates
Darcie Blanding and Justin Gregg, DCP Field Interns
DCP’s 4th year in Bimini was a very successful one. Kathy and Kelly were excited to return to the island and the dolphins and welcomed Darcie Blanding and Justin Gregg, who each stayed approximately one month for a thorough introduction to field research. DCP’s longitudinal study of the Atlantic spotted dolphins that reside off North Bimini continued as data were gathering using the MVA1, Top Dawg and digital still cameras. From 7 June to 3 October, researchers were able to complete 40 boat trips, which resulted in 81 sightings and 54 encounters. Whenever possible, dolphin behavior and communication were recorded on video using DCP’s non-invasive, focal follow protocol. Still images were also taken to enhance our photo-ID catalog.
Throughout this time, nearly 7 hours of video were gathered, of which dolphins are in view approximately half of the time. 30 dolphins were re-identified and 3 new dolphins (all class 2 animals) were added to the catalog. We look forward to watching these new animals grow. The breakdown of age classes of identified animals is as follows: 4 C2 males, 3 C2 females, 2 C2s of unidentified sex, 3 C3 males, 5 C3 females, 1 C4 male, 1 C4 females, 2 C4s of unidentified sex, 1 C5 male, 4 C5 females, and 7 C5s of unidentified sex. We observed 2 new calves whose mothers (#29, #48) are presently in the DCP catalog as well as several other calves whose mothers were not recognized.
We were also able to develop more thorough, although still casual, weekly presentations for boat passengers as well as visit local schools. Researchers also participated, via a live phone link, in “Dolphin Sense,” a new program in the Immersion Theatre of Mystic Aquarium and the Institute for Exploration. We look forward to continuing these programs in 2005.
To read the full report for 2004, click here.
The 2003 Field Season: Kelly Melillo (Connecticut College) & Katherine DeStefano (Northeastern University), DCP Field Researchers
The 3rd year of DCP’s Bimini Dolphin Project (2003) continued with data collection using Top Dog underwater housing and digital 8 Sony camera. Data were gathered to continue our longitudinal study of individual dolphin photo-identification as well as to begin collecting signal exchange and communication details from among dolphins groups. Data analyses currently focus on individual identification and behaviors exchanged in general. We also examine how signals might be related to individual dolphins and different age classes and both sexes. Preliminarily, we documented many pectoral fin rubs and touches that will expand our dataset with respect to how dolphins use their pectoral fins to exchange information.
Data were collected on videotape while swimming among dolphins. Where and when each group was sighted and recorded was documented for each video sequence. A list of updated dolphin IDs are available on request. Early details of the data gathered this summer are presented below. At least 24 individual dolphins were identified this summer from the videotapes: 4 Class 2 (calves) males, 3 female calves, 2 Class 3 (juvenile) males, 2 female juveniles, 2 calves of unidentified sex, 2 Class 4 (sub-adult) females, 2 Class 5 (adult) male, 3 adult females, and 4 adults of unidentified sex. We observed between four and six new calves this year.
To read the full report for 2003, click here.
The 2002 Field Season: TJ & Susan McCue, DCP Field Researchers
– Data collection in 2002 on the group dynamics of these spotted dolphins marks the second year of study for this study population by DCP. A total of 60 boat trips were spent searching for dolphins around Bimini yielding 29.17 hours of search effort. On 31 trips, 63 encounters were recorded providing approximately 11 hours of video. On trips when dolphins were observed, spotted dolphins comprised 95% of the encounters and bottlenose dolphins were in 6% of the encounters. The percentage is greater than 100 since one encounter represented both species in a mixed aggregation. A total sighting rate of 68% (59% for morning trips and 72% for afternoon trips) was observed. Average encounter length was 10.7 minutes with five dolphins per observed group. In 2001, 61 individual spotted dolphins were identified by scars, marks and pigmentation patterns. Re-sight rate of individuals in this study group was 52% with 30 newly identified dolphins added to the catalog. Updated photographs confirmed previous identifications and addition of new scars and spots. The gender of 39 spotted dolphins was documented: 30 are female and 9 are male. Distribution of age classes for identified spotted dolphins observed around Bimini is 28 are fused 5 (adults), 4 are mottled (sub-adults), 21 are speckled (juveniles), and 9 are two-toned (calves). Data from 2002 coupled with that of 2001 provides information on the dolphin group associations, distribution and some patterns of behavior and movement such that we plan to begin examining the communication patterns between these dolphins in 2003.
To read the full report for 2002, click here.
The 2001 Field Season: Xenia Brobeil, Guatemala, DCP Field Researcher
Xenia conducted field research and spent 4.5 months gathering video and photographic observations of individual spotted dolphins. Occasionally, bottlenose dolphins that chose to approach the boat, or were swimming with spotted dolphins, were also observed and recorded on film.
Our Bimini Project study began DCP’s examination of the group dynamics of Atlantic spotted dolphins found on the Great Bahamas Bank, north of Bimini Island, Bahamas. A total of 126.5 hours was spent on-effort searching for dolphins inside the main survey area on trips. On 58 surveys, 70 sightings of spotted dolphins, 17 sightings of bottlenose dolphins and 6 sightings of mixed groups were recorded. Approximately 15 hours of dolphins underwater were recorded on videotape during encounters. Spotted dolphins and bottlenose dolphins were recorded on 57 encounters, 18 short encounters and 30 attempts. Currently, 61 individual spotted dolphins have been identified. The gender of 25 spotted dolphins was documented: 17 are female and 8 are male. The age classes for these 61 identified spotted dolphins were as follows: 38 are age class 5 (adults), 5 are age class 4 (sub-adults), 17 are age class 3 (juveniles) and 2 are age class 2 (calves). Baseline data for a first season of observations on this group of Atlantic spotted dolphins will yield information for continuing to observe how dolphins respond to swimmers and boats in the waters of the Bahamas, and around Bimini Islands for this particular group of dolphins.
To read the full report for 2001, click here.
Daily Field Reports per Season
During each summer field season, DCP researchers and interns post field reports to keep our supporters up-to-date on our field progress. These reports are posted to our blog. Archived reports remain posted to DCP’s web site in the field reports section. Feel free to read through these reports.