Monday morning began with a visit to the students for a class on photo identification. Kel presented an in-depth lecture about the methods and uses of photo ID in marine mammal research. This was followed up by hands-on practice so the students could develop their skills using images of some of the Bimini spotted dolphins they will be encountering this week. It was great to watch how quickly they caught on to the intricacies of the task.
With the hopes that the day would be less windy than Sunday, we left the dock just after 1500. It soon became clear that, though calmer than yesterday, it would still be a rough ride. So we began our search. And we searched. And searched. And 3 hours later still had not seen anything. High winds not only make for an uncomfortable ride at times, they also make it more challenging to spot dolphins.
It was just after 1800 when Captain Audley thought he saw a splash to the west. We made a wide turn in that direction to investigate. Then we spotted them straight off our bow–dolphins! Sure enough, we had located three young spotted dolphins. It was difficult to get IDs, even age classes, with the big waves and the rocking boat but after a few moments of watching we noticed that there were other dolphins with these three. In fact, there were at least 2 bottlenose dolphins! As we observed this group from the boat they began to spread out, some heading east, some west and some staying by us. Suddenly, a bottlenose dolphin far off our starboard side started leaping out of the water! It performed so many consecutive leaps that it resembled a skipping rock!
As we continued observing the multiple groups of dolphins spreading out around us it became clear that we had to choose a group to follow. Captain Audley made the call and we ended up following a group of four spotted dolphins. These turned out to be Lil’ Jess (#35), Stefran (#82) with her calf, and a second calf! We watched as these four surfed the waves and dove to the seafloor. We even saw two bottlenose dolphins who surfed right through the group.
After about 40 minutes of observing this group, Captain Al said it was getting late so we should either try underwater observations or head for home. We decided to give the encounter a try with just Dr. Kaplan, Dr. M and Nicole first–the students would join them if the dolphins stuck around. When we first got in the water, we saw Stefran below us. We were only able to observe her for a few moments before she started swimming away. Suddenly Lil’ Jess was there! As we observed her floating head down in the water column, a calf swam through our group (was it hers?). Not long after, all of the dolphins were out of view so the boat picked us up and head began our trip home.
Back at the dock, the students headed up to their rooms to get ready for their BBQ at the marina! Even though they were not able to get in the water today, they are excited to see what tomorrow may bring! We all hope it includes less wind!
Nicole & Kel