Gang’s All Here!

On Saturday, we woke up to some pretty hefty rain and we weren’t optimistic that it could possibly clear up. But, we toughed it out and headed to the beach for our beach clean-up, even with darker skies threatening. The rain was light at the beginning and we were curious about the little moving things over the rocks – tiny (tiny!) snails and baby hermit crabs! We were expecting the beach to be quite clean – you imagine The Bahamas and you picture perfect, clean, white-sand beaches. Not the case. There were so many wrappers and disposable straws. Though there is no local recycling here, they do collect certain glass bottles to ship away for recycling/reuse. So, we kept those bottles separate from the rest of the trash. Even when there was a garbage can, there was often garbage nearby on the ground. We had invited local high school students to join us, but no one came. We all think the rain kept them away (we understand!), but it was very nice of their teacher to come by and introduce himself! Maybe the next SHU group will get to meet some local students!

Toward the end of the beach clean-up, it was cool to see the rain coming in the distance. We still went swimming to practice our snorkeling skills. But, as we stayed in the water, Captain Al, who had stopped by to give us snorkel tips, said we had to quit – the rain was coming down too hard! We headed back to the hotel in a pretty serious downpour!

Once we were dry, we got to welcome Jamie & Victoria and had some more conversation to get to know each other, and played “2 Truths and A Lie.” Next up was writing our first blog then lunch. We got to try conch salad (thank you Sarah Lee!) – some of us thought it was so good and some of us wouldn’t even try it :-(. During lunch we talked about what makes a useful photograph for photo-ID, versus just a pretty picture and saw the DCP cameras. We headed down to the boat, excited for our first dolphin trip. Just as we were leaving the harbor, while we were being trained on DCP’s datasheet, Dr. Yeater saw a spotted eagle ray leap right out of the water! Captain Al circled around so we could all see it swimming away.

The first pair of us was put on “clipboard duty,” leaving us in charge of the datasheet and GPS while everyone helped look for dolphins. Soon, we had arrived at “3 Sisters” for our first snorkel stop – at the Big Sister. It was cool and we enjoyed seeing how the fish interacted with each other, how they were eating, how the schools would break apart and come back together…basically getting a peek into their world. Danielle was in a school of fish and suddenly another boat was trying to maneuver as his anchor wasn’t holding! We all saw lots of species and will have to look up their IDs. We looked for the Big Sister’s arch, but didn’t end up seeing it. Still, it was a good chance to practice, especially for those of us who are new to snorkeling.

Back on the boat, it was time to search for dolphins! We were all so excited, but then we stopped: “Wait, are we actually ever going to see these dolphins?” We all thought every little wavelet and boat wake were dolphins. As we cruised back toward Bimini, Nicole spotted the dolphins! We all ran to the front of the boat, scooting back and forth to whichever the side of the boat the dolphins were on. We were surprised at how close to the boat they came! It was a pair of juvenile Atlantic spotted dolphins and we were impressed by how quickly Nicole ID’d the individual dolphins!

Soon, Kel announced that we would try to observe the pair underwater. They had been coming together and going apart, coming to the boat and then away…so, Kel was really unsure if we would actually get to see them under water. But, we got our gear on, with our cameras and slates – we were feeling a mix of excitement and fear (especially after Kel reminded us that we are in the open ocean). Once in the water, there was so much to take in! There was “nothing” in the water – no fish, no reef. The water was so clear. The dolphins came so close! It was a lot of swimming (we were tired after!), getting used to our gear and learning not to kick each other. The slates were fun – and tricky writing under water. It was amazing to watch the dolphins – there was a lot of pectoral fin contact and belly to belly swimming. Both dolphins were female and yet there was pectoral fin to genital contact – a bit surprising to us! They came so close to us and really looked us in the eyes. One of the dolphins had two very distinct notches in her dorsal fin and a large notch in her peduncle – hopefully we’ll be able to match her and her friend to DCP’s photo-ID catalog.

From the boat, Colin took some surface videos as the dolphins were in our midst. He also kept an eye on the dolphins and helped Captain Al keep them in our sights. It’s interesting to discuss the different perspectives – from the surface and under water. Pleased by the whole experience and with new data for DCP, we cruised slowly toward home, still keeping an eye for dolphins. Colin saw large two large leaps, but given the late hour and the likely depth where the leaps happened (might have been a sailfish!), we picked up speed and headed toward the dock.

Just at the harbor entrance, Captain Al slowed down so we could all look at the very large school of pilchards. Obviously different from observing two dolphins, it was still a very cool sight to see! Kel lowered one of the cameras into the water…wonder what she got…

Back at the hotel, we cleaned up, ate dinner and had a late night class session. We discussed our opinions of and experience with ecotourism. This is a topic we’ll simmer on, read some peer-reviewed papers on and return to at the end of the week. A busy, great, fun, wonderful day!

Until next time,

The Storm Troopers (SHU 2017)