First time swimming with dolphins: Unforgettable!

On Saturday, we began with breakfast: delicious. Fruit Loops were stellar. During break, Sophia and Abby walked south of our hotel, collecting lots of tile, finding a crab, watching jumping curly tail lizards, and discovering (for ourselves) the Galant Lady. Later, on the boat, Kel told us the story behind its wreck. Brie and Julia went to the beach, where Julia kindly took photos for the cruise ship goers. We have already realized the different vibe of the island when a cruise ship is in. There is so much more golf cart traffic, and lots of tourists acting badly or confused about driving on the left side of the road.

During lunch, we had our dolphin observation/swim orientation. After lunch, we had our boat orientation; Kel paused so we could all watch a nurse shark cruise through the marina! Being on the boat, all of us sitting at the bow, gave us a new opportunity to talk, bond, and build a newfound comradery as boatmates! Our first stop was “The Bimini Road,” a snorkeling site not far from shore. We saw so many different fish species. Not huge schools, but small groups and sometimes just pairs. At one point, a group swam right past Liv, surprising her and giving a show to Julia. Kel was surprised at how silty the water was and about the layer the sand over the rocks; is that a natural cycle or a result of the near-daily cruise ships arriving nearby? Being able to lay on the bow, with our faces looking over, gave us an exciting angle to observe dolphins. That’s right: dolphins!

Seeing the dolphins was amazing – so close! For Abby, it was emotional and then by the second sighting it felt so comfortable and natural to be watching them. We all found ourselves wanting to talk to them. The first group of dolphins was bottlenose; there were four babies! Three were quite young and one was older. We were surprised to come upon this species first, given the focus in this area on Atlantic spotted dolphins. Dolphins are already keeping us on our toes! We were able to observe them pass by underwater. This gave us a chance to see their markings and how although they were in a large group, within that group they were actually in pairs.

As we left these cruising bottlenose, one came to the front of the boat and road the bow briefly. We continued our search and late in the day came upon another group of dolphins: more bottlenose! This group may have been larger and was a bit more scattered. They were more active at the surface, with one of the adults was “chuffing” and then repeatedly tail slapping. It gave us a good chance to discuss the challenges of interpreting dolphin behavior when we often do not have the full context of the situation. We continued on our way, getting closer to the island. The boat turned to the west and we knew the crew must have spotted something….

Spotteds! Our first Atlantic spotted dolphin sighting. There were four in total, three adults and one older calf. Nicole and Kel were pretty sure it was Niecey (#48)! Abby noted how one of the dolphins would separate from the group and then hang out (literally, hanging in the water). It seemed to turn its head toward us: checking us out? All of them were rubbing against the floating sargassum in some way, whether hooking a piece on their fluke or rubbing their heads against clumps. The three adults had so many spots! Photographs did not do their patterns justice! It is a nice defining feature about them. Their skin is so smooth and shiny as they surfaced and the sunlight hit them.

We returned to the dock, laughing at other boats, simultaneously thrilled with the day and not in a rush to get off the boat. The sun setting was gorgeous! Kel filled us in on the parked parade of boats just outside Bimini harbor: fishers waiting for the mutton snapper spawning. Our species list for the day was long: bottlenose, spotteds, triggerfish, flying fish, sea turtles, and lots more. A good day!

Until tomorrow,

The Final Five (SHU 2022)