Leaps and Bounds!

Thursday began with some office work and a bit of rain. As we were getting on the boat, the skies were covered in clouds, but by the time we reached the snorkel stop at Three Sister Rocks the sun had come out, revealing a beautiful day and impressive water clarity. The guests enjoyed seeing the differences between this snorkel stop and yesterday’s at Bimini Road. After about forty minutes soaking in the beauty, we began our dolphin search.

The water was nearly flat-calm with just a light breeze keeping us cool and creating gentle ripples. One would imagine it would be nearly impossible to miss any dolphins swimming past. It took nearly an hour, though, before Captain Audley spotted something far away. As we approached, Captain Audley and Nicole realized we were likely approaching foraging bottlenose dolphins. Sure enough, when we got to the (very deep) spot there was a group of at least eight bottlenose. They were so spread out and spent so much time underwater, it was really hard to be sure of a group count. The water was so clear that you could really see the dolphins as they scanned the sea floor—it was fascinating! Since the group was so spread out, we opted not to try underwater observations. Once Nicole had gotten some good surface photos, we headed back to our normal course to look for more.

In less than 20 minutes, we did find more! More bottlenose dolphins, that is. This group of at least five was also foraging, but they were covering less ground, so Captain Al thought we could give a swim a try. After advising us not to intrude on the dolphins’ foraging (no free-diving), Captain Al gave the all-clear for us to slide in. Crater feeding, the foraging technique we observe with bottlenose dolphins most often around Bimini, is fascinating to observe. Nicole was able to get some good underwater video that will hopefully be helpful to DCP’s current project investigating the details of this feeding method. About 20 minutes of good observations later, the dolphins swam a bit too far out of our view, so we decided to head back to the boat.

By this time it was getting late, so we began our return to the harbor. And it was lucky we did—we soon came across a group of spotted dolphins! As we approached, four spotteds zoomed over to swim in the bow wake. Leaning over the bow, Julie saw SplitJaw (#22) and Nicole recognized Prince William (#64)! Given the time, we let the dolphins ride the bow for a few minutes but then decided it would be best to try an encounter. Once underwater, we realized that it was actually eight spotted dolphins—along with SplitJaw and Prince William, Nicole saw Milo (#96) and Speedy (#78). There was also a mother-calf pair and a couple of adults who we will hopefully ID once we review the data. This group was great—they showed little interest in the humans but stuck close enough that we could observe their interactions. There was a lot of socio-sexual behavior, sometimes all directed at one individual. We also saw what looked like minor disputes—a little bit of pushing and jawing. It was a great encounter for the guests as well as for DCP data collection!

Eventually, the dolphins began swimming too quickly for us to keep up, so we climbed back on the boat and began excitedly sharing our experiences. Just as we were becoming complacent and settling in to our seats, we saw someone leaping high in the air! It was a group of spotted dolphins who appeared to be playing, leaping, and chasing fish. As we passed them, four juvenile dolphins, including Paul (#99), split off from chasing fish and joined us on our bow. They played in the pressure wave for a few minutes and then turned and made their way back to where they had started.

This was the last day for this group of Bimini Adventures guests. DCP is grateful for their enthusiasm and interest in the dolphins and our research. What a perfect last day for them, full of dolphin sightings and observations! Next week is DCP’s Eco-tour group—we can’t wait to meet everyone and have another great week of dolphin adventures!

Until next time,

Nicole & Kel