Saturday was an extremely exciting and event-filled day for DCP on Bimini. It started bright and early, and already hot and humid, when we headed over to the Coral Reef II to join the Shedd Aquarium’s High School Marine Biology students. Onboard, Kel gave the students an informal lecture to teach them a bit about DCP itself, provide some information about the dolphin species they might encounter around Bimini, and brief them on how we perform photo ID. The class was an interactive audience, always engaged and ready to ask thoughtful questions. We are grateful to the students, the Coral Reef II crew and Shedd Aquarium for allowing us this chance to share our knowledge with them. Hope you guys have a great rest of your trip!
Later in the day, Nicole prepped to head out on the boat. This time, Bimini Adventures had a private charter with two guests who ventured here to Bimini from Europe. The boat left at 1500, as has become our custom. The trip began with a snorkel stop at “Three Sisters” so that the pair could enjoy the beautiful reef life of Bimini. From what they shared with us once they were back on the boat, it was one of the most colorful reefs they’ve seen in all of their travels. They even saw two sharks, a nurse and a Caribbean reef, as well as a sizeable grouper and some stoplight parrot fish!
Once everyone was settled on the boat, we began our search for dolphins. We drove for less than 20 minutes when Nicole spotted a group slightly to the west. As we approached, it seemed like this group might be a mix of Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins. And as we got even closer, we realized that there were actually two separate groups. But as it turns out, the ones we believed to be bottlenose were just very large spotted dolphins with rather unique dorsal fins! Once we were right over the area where the group had been, we saw that there weren’t just dolphins at the surface but there were also large clusters of them on the seafloor. It was hard to tell how many there were in total but it was clearly a lot!
At this point, Captain Al felt that the dolphins were behaving appropriately for us to get in the water. It is typical that when we start an underwater encounter we cannot know how it will turn out–wild animals are rarely predictable. But this encounter was by far the most unexpected that we’ve ever had. As soon as we slipped off the boat and into the water, we saw that the cluster of dolphins at the bottom was a group of at least 45 dolphins! Right off the bat, Nicole recognized Buster (#04), Split Jaw (#22), Swoosh (#36) with a calf, Cerra (#38), Niecey (#48) with a calf, Prince William (#64), Tim (#69), Leslie (#80) with a calf, Noodle (#94) with a calf, Milo (#96), un-named #98, and at least five adult male dolphins we know to be from the White Sand Ridge. Shortly into the encounter, we were joined by other recognizable dolphins including Romeo (#10) with a calf and un-named #101. It is also likely that Speedy (#78) was there but we will have to check the video to confirm.
This encounter was incredible. The dolphins stayed near us for over an hour, swimming to the surface as a group, surrounding us as they checked us out to see what we were doing, then returning to the seafloor as a group. They continued this trajectory, making wide circles and barely paying us humans any attention. We watched a lot of all (or mostly all) male socio-sexual play and a lot of mother-calf interactions. We observed tons of pectoral fin-to-pectoral fin rubbing as well as pectoral fin-to-body contact. Many times, a few dolphins would rest their bellies and flukes on the seafloor and not move at all. A lot of dolphins came to the surface and then remained still, their bodies vertical, and just allowed themselves to float down to the bottom again. Occasionally, another dolphin would approach this drifting dolphin and poke with its rostrum. At one point, the entire group swam out of sight so Captain Al picked us up for a water and snack break.
By this time, the giant group had split into two “smaller” groups. We decided to follow the older dolphins who had been a bit more vocal because the guests had brought a hydrophone with an amplifier to see if we could hear the vocalizations from the boat. It was really cool to hear the buzzing and whistling without knowing what was happening underwater! A short time later, we decided to try another encounter. This time it was with a group of about 20 who were mostly males, again including Split Jaw (#22), Prince William (#64) and the White Sand Ridge males. We did also see Swoosh (#36) hanging around with her calf. This group was even less interested in the human swimmers but they still stuck around the same spot for about 20 minutes, allowing us to observe their socio-sexual play and take lots of photos. Once they had swum out of view, we returned to the boat and decided to observe from there. It seemed as if the two groups had joined together once more and now they were on the move. Captain Al had to drive the boat at a pretty good speed to keep up. Suddenly, we realized that the original 45 dolphins had been joined by even more! From the boat we were able to recognize Stefran (#82) with her calf and un-named #102! Since these three weren’t the only members of the new group, we knew we were now following at least 50 spotted dolphins!
Even from the boat we saw some fun behaviors–a lot of leaping, bow riding and sargassum and leaf play. We even used the hydrophone once more and it seemed like one dolphin was checking it out because we heard some close and intense buzzing for a moment! It was getting late by this point so we decided to have one last underwater observation. This time we were in the water only a couple of minutes but it was a nice way to say “goodbye” to this group of spotted dolphins that had shared such an amazing day with us. As we headed home, a few juveniles rode the bow for a bit before “waving” us goodbye as they returned to their group.
We could not have been happier as we made our way back to the dock. These guests will be heading out with Bimini Adventures again tomorrow–but how can we top the experience they had today?! We look forward to seeing what other adventures we might be able to have and we are excited to share them with you!
Nicole & Kel