On Saturday, we spent our final hours with the Eastern Kentucky University group. Breakfast, packing, last minute exploration, lunch and their last field report made the morning pass quickly for all. Of course, in between breakfast and lunch, we (Nicole & Kel) were in hyper drive, organizing supplies and clearing out of our wonderful space at the Sea Crest. They had a fresh tourist group right on EKU’s heels!
After 26 straight days of field courses, we took some much needed rest Saturday evening and awoke on Sunday ready to work once again. The morning was spent doing some office “housekeeping” to reorganize everything for the rest of the summer.
Just before 1500, we headed to the Sea Crest Marina to meet up with the new group of guests who will be on the boat this week. They hail from all parts of the US, from Pennsylvania to Washington State! The boat departed just after 1500 and set off on our dolphin-searching course. After an hour of searching, the boat stopped for a swim break and gear check so everyone could be sure they would be comfortable in the water once we found dolphins. Once we were back on the boat we searched for almost 2 hours more before coming across a dolphin. This sighting was so brief that we were only able to tell that it was “one dolphin”–we were not even able to identify what species!
We spent a while circling and investigating the area where we had spotted this lone dolphin before turning for home. Just a few minutes later, we saw splashing in the distance! We headed that way to check it out and found a group of at least 16 Atlantic spotted dolphins! It was approaching sunset so Captain Al decided we would try a swim before it got too late. Everyone piled into the back of the boat to gear up and soon slipped into the water. At first, we were not able to see anything but the sandy seafloor. A minute or so after entering the water, two young spotted dolphins came into view and circled the group. Kel dove down with the MVA and this seemed to catch their attention so they followed her for a bit before disappearing from view once more. Soon after, we caught sight of another dolphin, this one a bit older than the others, swimming with a calf (or very young juvenile). It was Noodle (#94, pictured here)! She and the young dolphin swam around us for a bit before yet another dolphin appeared! We quickly realized that this was Tina (#14)! The young dolphin swam off and did not return to our group of humans but Tina and Noodle stuck around for a few minutes. They investigated the DCP researchers as we dove down and they swam through and around the group of guests. At one point, they swam to the bottom together and rubbed their bodies against the sand. When they came up for air it almost seemed as if they were saying goodbye–we lost sight of them moments later. We waited in the water for a few minutes, just in case they decided to turn back. When no dolphins returned, we decided to climb on the boat and head for home.
Everyone was so excited to have had such an amazing first swim with the dolphins! Our patience definitely paid off! We arrived at the dock rather late and headed home for a nice dinner and some well-earned rest. Hopefully we will have good luck during the rest of the week!
Nicole & Kel