Surface observations – our final day – it was pretty busy at the surface but much less aerial activity by the dolphins. Lots of pectoral fin slapping (a new action seen) and tail slaps and white water were observed. And the other new behavior was “head stands” – the dolphins sticking their tail straight up at the surface. There were several subgroups that were larger in number of dolphins than previously seen. The calves were there also in the middle of these groups! There are also what we called “science kitties” on Bailey’s Key. The cats on the island were very inquisitive of the MVA2 after it was rinsed this morning. They licked the port and the hydrophones!
Breakfast was followed by our own beach encounter and dolphin swim at Bailey’s Key. We met Bailey, the diva. She had quite a few wiggles and was a touch restless. She did several rub-downs and did a team bow with Maury. She showed us her teeth and tongue and did a double flipper wave. We also got to touch her fluke and we were able to cradle her and feel her heartbeat. We all also received a kiss from Bailey!
Our swim followed the encounter and it was really neat to see the dolphins from Kathleen’s perspective, especially with the really poor underwater visibility. It was very easy to become oblivious to the surface activity when you are focused on the dolphins underwater. It was a cacophony of sound with their clicks and whistles. And often, we heard sound from all over and then suddenly saw the dolphin(s) come into view. We also got to see Shawn close up … such a cutie! Paya was part of our swim too and Gracie also kept her eye on Shawn. It was neat to have 4 or 5 or even 6 dolphins all around us! Our reaction was mostly “oooh, Dolphin!” more so than being able to recognize and ID them underwater while swimming with them! There was also quite a bit of coral and texture to the sea floor of the enclosure.
Late morning and afternoon were spent collecting data on the dolphin respiration rates. Our preliminary opinion is that respiration seemed to vary more by individual rather than their environment (size of enclosure) or external activity (e.g., who they were with, the trainers, party boats passing by and other distractions). The IDs got much easier to get as we worked on collecting the respiration data. We had Ronnie and French, Hector and Han, Bill and Ritchie, and Polly and Tilly. Each dolphin had a seemingly different approach to taking a breath, whether they surfaced and did not breathe or hung at the surface a bit or took a “deep” breath or a slight breath, or leaping while taking a breath.
Today was our last day of the field course. We wrapped up the day with a discussion about future career options and we sought advice from Shane and Kathleen about life and science. We also reflected on the week and our experiences and what we learned.
Tomorrow is our return travel day. Check back in a day or two for a summary of the week’s data collection.
Kathleen, Shane & the funky bunch