On Friday morning, we discussed research methods and ethograms. Even though we know those are important, we’re finding ourselves still so excited when we see the dolphins first-hand, that it is hard to apply what we know. With the ethogram, we learned the official terms for behaviors we had already been observing and taking notes on. DCP’s ethogram is very thorough making it clear and reducing confusion. In our second class session, we did more photo matching. We quickly realized that the two bottlenose we thought we observed in yesterday’s dolphin trip was actually the same individual! It was a perfect example of the benefits of photo/video and not needing to rely only on your own observations. When we moved onto looking at photos from our spotted dolphin encounter, we began organizing the images by individual. Lil’ Jess (#35) was our first successful ID.
The boat trip began with a snorkel stop at “3 Sisters.” This was an amazing site with a very cool arch. There were lots of parrotfish, including large midnights, as well as barracuda, squirrelfish, trumpetfish and pufferfish. We’ll have to go through our photos and look up the species of the ones we don’t know. After our swim we got to have some fun jumping off the bow! This snorkel stop was one of the highlights of the trip so far and we cannot believe that is might change because of the ongoing construction. We learned a little bit about this project and are concerned about the impacts to the nearby reefs and Bimini’s environment as a whole.
After 3 Sisters, of course it was time to look for dolphins! We first saw them at 1640: there were 7 individuals, including 2 calves. We saw them “playing” with sargassum – maybe it was fun, maybe they were scratching an itch! We were able to observe them under water, but we don’t think all 7 stayed for that. After this swim, we watched them from the boat. When we thought they were gone, we moved on to look for other dolphins. We saw them in the distance. As these dolphins came to the bow of the boat, we recognized them: they were the same dolphins as before! We’re getting the hang of recognizing the natural markings on the spotted dolphins! While they were riding the bow, we saw a lot of pec-to-pec contact; it was active rubbing. When we observed this group under water, we saw more pectoral fin contact. This second underwater observation, there were fewer humans in the water, but the juveniles were also more playful with each other. They were very vocal and releasing lots of bubbles. They would dive down to the bottom as they swam away from us – it looked like they might have been resting on the surface. One of our captains joined the swim partway through, and the dolphins were very interactive with her as she was free diving. It was cool to see them surface with her – the same way they do with each other. Some of us stayed on the boat during the underwater and we saw a dolphin fluke slap, swim away, then fluke slap again. Soon after the swim ended and we continued on our way.
Our evening wrapped up with dinner, ice cream and the documentary “NOVA: Private Lives of Dolphins.” It was an older film, but it showed us what early dolphin research was like. It discussed boat-based research, coalitions, fission-fusion society and human interactions. What will tomorrow bring?
“Cetacean Nation” (SHU 2014)
PS: Photo to follow!