On Wednesday morning, we had a short practice session with photo-ID. During this practice session, we were introduced to Trudy (#57) and Addie (#84). While Trudy was easy to recognize because of her distinct dorsal notch, Addie’s “unsorted” photograph also seemed easy since she had a seemingly major injury. We were surprised that this injury did not in fact leave a permanent scar. During our next class, Dr. M discussed field sampling methods. We saw ways in which the same method can be applied to different study species, and scenarios in which you would actually combine methods. We touched on ethograms and the challenges of both defining behaviors and measuring them.
As soon as lunch was ready, we chose the balcony over food as there was a large water spout forming just beyond South Bimini. Colleen was the most excited since seeing a water spout was on her bucket list! Still, everyone grabbed their cameras before grabbing lunch. We got to see the water spout getting longer, possibly fully connecting with the sea, and then slowly falling apart. We had a great view!
After lunch, we headed to the boat! The seas were very different, with small waves, but it was still a beautiful day. We began with a snorkel stop at “Bimini Road,” aka “Atlantis.” We saw lots of fish, but thought the “road” was just a bunch of rocks. It was interesting that in some areas the rocks did seem to fit together, but it was hard to see a read design. There were also a lot of different marine plants that we had not seen before. One school of fish was busy staring at something in the sand, and at another point, different species appeared to be some sort of standoff. We wonder what they were doing…There was a lobster (it’s closed season!), but Sammy was the only one lucky enough to see it.
Next up was searching for dolphins. We figured we would have to wait a long time before we saw, but only about 25 minutes later we saw them! Hunter R. felt like she might cry, she was so excited to be seeing them. We took time to see what species they were, how many there were and what they were doing. We all quickly figured out that it was a group of bottlenose; we hadn’t even been sure we would see them at all! It was amazing when we saw a mother calf pair surface. In total we saw 12 or more in the group, including at least two calves, plus 3 juveniles. Reviewing our photos later will help us confirm these numbers. We were able to observe these dolphins under water two times; we had been warned that these were the “shy” dolphins, but they still came quite close to us! It seemed that the younger dolphins were more likely to come close when they were at the surface to breath. Even watching the calves interacting with their mothers was amazing. The group was busy crater feeding (finding and eating small prey in the sand). It seemed like they were aware of us, even when they were on the sea floor foraging. Underwater visibility was pretty good, but the current was very strong. We had to actively swim in order to just stay in place where the dolphins were feeding! The waves had us bobbing up and down, but we enjoyed the adventure. It was also fun to watch Kel recording the dolphins – but it wasn’t easy to keep up with her! The strong current made our first swim challenging, but it was nice to have our first dolphin interaction with the bottlenose. The adults are bigger than the spotteds and we have been told the bottlenose in general stay a bit farther away than spotteds. Still, their size was intimidating and it was exciting to start getting comfortable with this. Even when we could not see them, we could hear them – this was surprising and cool! At first we wondered if we were making it up: could everyone hear these cool sounds?! The second swim was even better, it seemed like the dolphins were just everywhere and we were feeling more comfortable. And we know our comfort level will only increase from here!
We got out of the water, even with dolphins still in the area, because we had been with the dolphins (on the boat or under water) for almost two hours! A little chilly from the swim, we headed back to shore, buzzing from our first encounters. Back at the hotel we had dinner, enjoying music on the balcony. What will tomorrow bring?!
Colonel Potcakes (EKU 2015)