Thursday was a day off the boat for DCP. We used the day to catch up on some data processing and to prepare for some upcoming projects. Friday began with more office work. At 1500 both of us got to join Bimini Adventures’ Hunter/Manhattan Colleges group again! It was clear from the beginning that our ride would be much easier–the wind was almost nonexistent! With this in mind, we had high hopes for our dolphin sightings. Sure enough, within the first hour of searching we came across a group of 6 bottlenose dolphins, including one calf and at least one known individual. From the boat we could tell these dolphins were not feeding, which is usually the behavior that indicates that we should try underwater observations, but they seemed to be searching. Nevertheless, the dolphins weren’t moving too quickly so we gave it a try anyway. Kel, Dr. K, Dr. M and some of the students had a few short encounters with this group before we decided to move on and search for more dolphins. Within ten minutes we came across a pair of different bottlenose dolphins. These two split up so we chose to stay with one and observed (and photographed) it from the boat for about 15 minutes before continuing on our way.
After another hour and a half of searching, broken up by a nice swim break, we came across a group of 11 Atlantic spotted dolphins!! From the boat we were able to identify Split Jaw (#22)! We briefly observed this group from the surface before the same group of humans got in the water for an encounter. During their swim, more dolphins, including at least 3 bottlenose dolphins, joined the original group. From this first encounter, Kel was able to identify Tina (#14) who is still pregnant, Paul (#99) and a few unnamed and uncatalogued (but recognizable) dolphins! Those of us on the boat were able to observe some interesting behaviors in the calm water–we saw brief socio-sexual behavior, particularly directed by the bottlenose dolphins, and we heard some strange squawks that one dolphin produced right at the surface.
Fifteen minutes later the human swimmers climbed back onto the boat and a new group of students prepared to get in the water. They had an encounter with what seemed to be the same group of dolphins. Over the next 30 minutes the dolphin group gave us a great exhibition of their fission-fusion relationships–they split up, spread out and then got back together many times, during which our swimmers got a few more short encounters. By the end of our time with these dolphins, there were at least 6 bottlenose dolphins with the spotteds, whose numbers had also grown. Unfortunately, it was getting late so we had to head for home. We pulled into the dock after sunset, all smiles from our day full of dolphins. They were definitely worth the wait! We are looking forward to more of the same tomorrow! (fingers crossed!)
Kel & Nicole