Tuesday’s morning session included a discussion about contact and signal exchanges, and female association patterns, among Atlantic spotted dolphins on the Little Bahama Bank. The mother-calf relationship really stood out to us. It is interesting to learn that although the one mother/one calf bond is so strong, there are other relationships that help ensure the safety and wellbeing of the calf. It made sense to us that a mother’s foraging strategies might need to change as she works to meet the demands of her new calf. Alloparenting (or, babysitting) may help her succeed in making these changes. We saw how you can analyze dolphin behavior, specifically contact between individuals, based on age classes. We drew on our previous discussion of play behavior as we considered postures that might be used during aggressive interactions that can also be used during play, particularly the S-posture in dolphins. As always we compared the dolphin behaviors to other species, like bowing when dogs play.
We had an early lunch and then excitedly departed the Sea Crest at 1300. It was time for another adventure with Captain Al! The whole trip had a different feel to it: it was cloudy and ominous, and we knew that we were seeking sharks! As we came out of the harbor, we saw a small group of bottlenose dolphins. We took a few minutes to observe this group as Nicole worked to get some useable dorsal fin ID shots. From a distance, we got to see the wreck of the Sapona on our way Triangle Rocks. Once there, Al got in first – followed quickly by the boy team who was eager to show its bravery. They were followed closely by the ladies, who were just as brave! There were 14 sharks in the area, and two had fish hooks in them. Of all the sharks, only one was male. The sharks were coming toward us and it seemed like they had a mix of curiosity and disinterest. Once there was bait in the water, their behavior definitely changed. At this point, their interest in us seemed to increase. We had a human visitor who was momentarily confused about which boat belonged to him, but he found his way. We stayed in the water for about an hour. Toward the end of the program, we were allowed to free dive and get a different view of the sharks. Back on the boat, we tossed in the remaining bait and watch the sharks go wild for it, pushing each other around. It felt like the finale at the 4th of July fireworks! Overall, it was pretty awesome! And, the day wasn’t even over….
Next, we headed to our surprise spot. It started to rain and we were a little confused about what was going on. We arrived at Honeymoon Harbor an area of Gun Cay but still weren’t sure why we were there. Soon, there were rays all around and we realized we were there to meet our friends the southern stingrays! They really were puppies of the sea. It was fun to see each other’s reactions to the rays. Once we had our masks on, we saw that one ray had a hook in its face. It took a lot of patience, but eventually, Captain Al was able to remove the hook. We all felt a new respect for Captain Al! That, and we know he tells the truth, since he warned us the rays have no respect for humans’ personal space. They were all over us! Al started cutting up squid so that we could feed them. It was a cool way to get a better understanding of how they pick up their food. Some of us got chilly under the cloudy, drizzling skies and we had to pull out the boys after an hour. Everyone had a great time.
After warming up on shore, it was our first class session working to identify dolphin photos that we took during our course. We started with Saturday’s photos and we were able to identify Split Jaw (#22), Niecey (#48), Prince William (#64) and un-named #104. #104 is the independent offspring of Swoosh and Nicole and Kel were super excited to see that he is still doing well (we think it’s a male, but aren’t 100% sure). It felt a lot more fun just knowing that we were all there when these images were taken – and the dolphins that we didn’t know individually at the time, we now know a bit better. We wonder if we’ll have the chance to see any of these four again!
Our evening included a special treat of Sherry’s conch chowder to go with our dinner. After discussing our assignments, we watched the second half of BBC’s Spy in the Pod. Not all of us were able to stay up the whole time, but that is not a reflection on the quality of the program!