Saturday started off like other days (oh, poor us!) with breakfast, our field report and our discussion on last night’s movie, DOLPHINS. This led us to discussing the humans impacts facing dolphins: general pollution, including mercury, noise pollution, over fishing and more. People care about individual animals, but we need to think about conservation as a whole. After a break, it was a lecture/discussion on play: the challenge of defining it, understanding the benefits, and examples of play in a variety of species, including humans!
We had lunch and then it was off to the boat for a 1430 departure. We were leaving a little early so we could snorkel the big sister of “3 Sister Rocks.” We saw big midnight & stoplight parrotfish, a southern stingray, yellowhead wrasse and some fish we are still trying to identify. We loved diving down and looking into the archway and watching sea fans flow with the current. Back on the boat, it was all eyes on the water, searching for dolphins…
About an hour and a half later, there they were! It began with just two dolphins – an adult and a younger dolphin. Could this be our first mother/calf pair? We observed the pair for a while and then Kel hopped in with the MVA to see if the dolphins would stay for a swim with us. They did not. So, she quickly joined us back on the boat and we continued to watch the pair. Good thing we did, because our pair turned into at least seven Atlantic spotted dolphins. They were cruising and doing their own thing, but Captain Al readjusted the boat so we could continue our observations. We saw bow riding and were amazed at how well they seemed to know where the boat was. We realized firsthand the challenge of trying to decipher or describe dolphin behavior if you can only observe them from the boat. With time running out, we attempted an encounter (an underwater observation) and we all got a look at a trio of young dolphins…as they swam right past us and continued on their way.
Still, we boarded the boat, excited about how closely the trio had passed by us. One of us took one for the team and realized she was “that one” who left her lens cap on the whole time! With that initiation out of the way, we knew the next time would be even better. We were told that our ride home was still through prime dolphin turf, but some of us were feeling like the dolphin part of our day was over. We still searched and sure enough – dolphins! Because of the time, we did not make any surface observations beyond confirming they were Atlantic spotted dolphins. We geared up, hopped in and wondered if these dolphins would stay. We were very (very) pleasantly surprised. The dolphins were so close! We saw a ton of behaviors: belly-to-belly swimming, nursing and pectoral fin rubbing (including an adult using its pectoral fin to rub the side of a calf’s body). The belly to belly contact was very interesting as was the vertical hanging (both head up and head down). Sometimes, they would swim directly at us and veer off at the last moment. It was cool to hear the dolphins under water, even when they had gone out of sight.
As we had all climbed back onboard, Al called to Kel to stay in. A subgroup was passing by! She got to see Lil’ Jess (#35) and Romeo (#10). There was also a young juvenile and a very young calf. Could this juvenile be Lil’ Jess’s older calf? Could the young calf be Romeo’s? Still so many questions!
After that, it was really time to head home. With happy smiles and lots of stories, we got ready for dinner. After dinner, we watched Terramar Production’s “Understanding Dolphins.” It discussed a lot about the research and education side of dolphins in captivity. It was a good source of information to help us continue to form our own, educated opinions on the topic. Tired, or exhausted, it was off to bed!