What: University-level field course in dolphin ecology, biology & behavior
Where: Through Sacred Heart University (SHU); 1st & Last weeks online; middle at DCP's Bimini, The Bahamas field site
When: Field portion 14 - 20 May 2022
Who can apply: Students from any university/college are welcome to apply (tuition required)
Deadline: 1 February 2022
Our last morning session with the dolphins started with a greeting by all of them at the water taxi stand, which announced what followed. Everyone also seemed to greet Kathleen and Manon on the blue platform before entry. Only Champ and Stan were hanging on their own in the back area. Ronnie, French and Lenca were with everyone in the main lagoon. And, Tank and Ronnie delighted in Kathleen’s fins and legs … Thankfully, Tilly and Sandy were playing with sea weed and Calli, Poli and Woody spent time circling Kathleen and the MVA when not social with each other.
This week we completed 20 sessions for data collection that resulted in about 10.5 hours of GoPro data and 10.5 hours of MVA4 video data. We will be busy for a while logging and analyzing these data! But, they offer some new insight into how moms and their calves share contact behavior (even with the pec fin!).
The late morning and early afternoon was all about packing! Cleaning and breaking down gear – snorkel gear and the MVA4. And packing everything for storage or transport. You can see our room was “exploded” for a bit of time as we sorted and packed!
Our afternoon was slow and included some swimming and some hammock time.
We celebrated Don’s birthday – Happy Birthday Don! – a couple days early. It has been a good week!
Kathleen, Manon, Don & Ron
Our morning data collection session started promptly at 6:30 AM. On our way to Bailey’s Key, we saw a vivid rainbow that was full and went from one side of the key to the other – and it began mostly in the red colors! A great way to start the day!
Ronnie was first to greet Kathleen on entry followed soon by Tilly and Sandy. The visibility was good and the dolphins were social with each other. Poli had Gracie’s calf and even Sandy stayed with Poli and Gracie’s calf for a bit of time. When not swimming with Rocky (as seen in the cover photo), Maury did a few breaches, one of which was a side breach during which she completely cleared the water in a horizontal position! Bailey entered the jump competition with three side breaches! There was lots of activity this morning from the dolphins.
After breakfast, Manon jumped on the snorkel boat for a double snorkel morning and Don and Ron prepared for the late morning coral “Christmas tree” cleaning dive. The coral cleaning dive departed just as Manon’s snorkel boat returned. The snorkels were EXCELLENT! Here’s Manon’s list of sighted critters: two big trunk fish, two big French angel fish (hurray!), a queen angel fish, 6 puffer fish (!), a nurse shark, a sting ray, an eagle ray (who posed for Manon and Kino!), and lots of tiny fish (one of whom decided to play with Manon’s camera!). And, then between the snorkel sites, DOLPHINS decided to ride the bow of the boat – about 6 of them. It was a joyous sight!
The coral cleaning went well – it began with good visibility and ended with not-so-good visibility. But, that was the point. I.e., they did a great job cleaning debris and growth off the PVC tubing and lines holding the Staghorn and Elkhorn coral pieces. No photos here!
The afternoon saw us splitting up with Don doing a dive, Ron rinsing gear, Manon reviewing her photos (see a sampling of photos below), and Kathleen reviewing footage and reading.
Tomorrow is our last morning data collection session followed by rinsing and cleaning gear in prep for our scheduled returns home on Saturday.
Kathleen, Manon, Don & Ron
It started with a 40-minute morning session with the MVA! French and Champ greeted us from the deep area of the back lagoon (you can see their ‘smiles’ in the cover photo!) The underwater visibility was awesome (!) and the seaweed had moved away – for the early morning! There was much social activity. Ronnie was in the main lagoon with the mom/calf pairs and the juveniles. Poli was with Calli and Woody often. Alita was with Elli and her calf and Buzz was with them or playing with Rocky. Bailey checked me out a few times but also had Tank with her often. There was also some seagrass play – Ronnie tried to entice Manon to play from the platform and also tried to get Kathleen to grab seagrass from him.
Ron was diligent in his record-keeping this morning.
Gloria, RIMS intern and student, came out this morning to help with surface observations – here she’s with Manon recording data. Thank you, Don, for these photos!
In addition to watching the dolphins, Manon, Ron, and Don also saw three squid near platform 2 on the outside of the lagoon area. A good thing, otherwise the dolphins might have found them fun to play with!
The late morning and afternoon provided opportunity to do a couple more reading symbol sessions with Bailey and Meredith. There were some seaweed and boat distractions but Bailey did great! Kathleen and Manon also helped with seaweed removal … it was mostly done by the end of the day today!
While waiting for a session to complete, Kathleen decided to mimic some of the cat behavior! The sun was warm and the deck “comfy”!
Kathleen, Manon, Don & Ron
Seaweed, that is! Wow was there lots of seaweed today … all over the inner lagoon between Anthony’s Key and Bailey’s Key as well as in and around the dolphin lagoon.
The morning session offered excellent underwater visibility and the seas and wind had calmed down significantly since yesterday. Added to this was a group of dolphins being very social with each other! In the cover photo, you can see Lenca and Stan greet me after getting in to begin my underwater observations! Rocky did a barrel-roll while swimming above Maury across the lagoon. And, Buzz dug out a rock or shell from the seabed and carried it around like a prize! There was also much chasing and breaching across the lagoon this morning.
The seaweed came in a number of varieties today and it was thick and got everywhere. You can see some of it managed to weave its way into Kathleen’s braids! Or, maybe the dolphins put it there?! Ron also suggested that maybe I was spending so much time in the sea that it was assuming me, like the crew of the Flying Dutchman in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie!
The trainers spent much time today removing the seaweed from the back pools and the net. Kathleen and Manon were able to help a bit … but Eldon created the largest piles on the floating platforms. The seaweed was then moved to the other side of Bailey’s Key.
We were able also to get an afternoon reading study session – Bailey got 7 of 9 symbols correct! Woohoo! We hope to be able to collect more reading symbol study data tomorrow with Bailey and Meredith.
The rest of the afternoon was spent reviewing panorama photos from our student groups and transferring footage between backup drives. We have been able to collect a very good amount of data … more later this week with the summary of our time here.
Tomorrow brings us our 18th underwater observations and video data collection. This has been the best way to start 2022!
Kathleen, Manon, Don & Ron
P.S. the late afternoon saw the seaweed floating all around the lagoon between Anthony’s and Baileys keys … you can see it here as the boats went out for the night dives!
We tried! The wind and waves were high this morning, but we persevered and trekked to Bailey’s Key in the water taxi. It took us twice to land at the dock at Bailey’s and the current seemed strong, even though the dolphins were playful and surfing (which should have been our first indication that the water was moving fast!). As we got the camera ready, we watched Champ chase Elli and her calf in the shallows.
I (Kathleen) entered from my usual spot … and without even trying to swim was swiftly to the other side of the lagoon! The underwater visibility was not bad (4+ meters, which was decent), but the current was strong and the dolphins rambunctious. It was all I could do to snorkel and stay in one position. After watching Tilly kick at Tank and then leap clear of the water seemingly to try to land on Tank (see below), which was less than 1 m from me (!), I decided it was time to get out of the water. My exit, for the 3rd time in 20 years, was at the encounter beach!
We returned after only 7 minutes in the water for data collection. We returned to Bailey’s after breakfast to see if we might be able to collect data for the reading study. The current was too strong for those data collection too.
Thus, our afternoon was filled with video file transfers, a bit of email catch up, some hammock time, and assorted other activities. It was a restful day … and included two massages – one for Don and one for Manon! We also watched and hoped that the sea condition would lessen … it seems to be doing so but was an overcast, chilly day. We look forward to the return of the sun and less current to facilitate data collection under and at the water surface.
Kathleen, Manon, Don & Ron
Hammock time ...
Don joined us for data collection at 6:30 AM … our ride to Bailey’s Key was smooth, even though there seemed to be a building sea just outside the cut. There was little current and good visibility for the morning data collection. The dolphins were playful but with very low surface activity. Mr. French investigated Kathleen’s fins for quite some time, and Sandy and Tilly tried to entice Manon to sea grass games. Don spent time observing our data collection process and took a few really neat perspective photos.
We also spent time at Bailey’s Key ready for the Reading study data collection. Quick synopsis – Meredith is working with Bailey and has taught her that certain 2-D symbols equate to hand symbols … cues. So, today, we tested Bailey’s recall of the symbol meanings. She is at about 60% correct in remembering what each of 11 symbols means. (see the cover photo). She’ll do better tomorrow!
We also spent time watching the storm front approach today! It is VERY windy and the seas are high. The dive team took 6-7 boats out and around to the south side of the island. Tonight, we doubt very much whether any boat could get through the channel opening safely!
We hope tomorrow will arrive with calmer seas and that we will be able to collect data in the morning.
Kathleen, Manon & Don
We began the day with a very dynamic data collection session. French and Champ were in the main lagoon with the mother/calf pairs and Ronnie, Poli, Lenca, and Stan were in the shallow and deep areas. The CSU students did their last morning data collection session under a cloudless sky with calm seas … The dolphins were mostly quiet at the surface, at least on space use scans. Still, we saw some chasing and some leaps by the younger calves. Kathleen saw Woody nursing and Mr. French spent time buzzing her fins. It was a good 31 min underwater observation session.
After data collection, the students detoured to their rooms to finish packing and place their bags outside their rooms. Breakfast was hearty – to sustain everyone on their day of travel back to Colorado. The cover photo shows the light rays shining through the trees on the shuttle bus to transport the group to the airport.
The rest of our day was slow. Don, DCP board member, arrived mid-afternoon to represent this week’s ecotour group – the other participants had to postpone their trip.
We (Kathleen and Manon) also chatted with Meredith at Bailey’s Key about some additional data collection we are planning to do, and we got to observe the dolphins a bit from the surface between encounter programs. Ronnie and Poli are still in the shallows hanging out together!
Tomorrow morning will still be early – we will meet with Don at 6:30 to head over the Bailey’s key for observations. He’ll have the dive orientation meeting at 7:30 so we need to blend the data collection and dive schedules.
Until tomorrow, sleep well!
Kathleen, Manon & Don
Early AM data collection on the dolphins was quiet today – there was little activity at the surface and some action underwater. Still, it was a great day to watch the dolphins and it was not raining.
We had a brief breakfast and then went on a boat snorkel – we boated to the West End area and snorkeled on a lovely reef with lots of fish. The cover photo was us trying to get a photo with the Study Abroad flag! We had a few tries before getting that shot!
After lunch, we had our covid tests to re-enter the USA – we are all negative – Hurray! The afternoon brought some of us a second snorkel and others a nap! And, we had an interesting presentation by Dr. Z. on eco-toxicology and then some of us reviewed our projects with Dr. K and Dr. D. Our impressions of the day follow.
Caroline – Wow what a week! It has been filled with dolphin encounters, research and getting to know the wonders of the ocean.
Peyton – I had a great time snorkeling this morning even though it wore me out. And, I’m not ready to leave tomorrow.
Sia – I got to snorkel twice today! I’m sad to be going home tomorrow but am grateful for every opportunity we’ve had here.
Nicole – Super sad that today was the last full day. But very grateful for the opportunity to have been here the whole week.
Tess – I saw some cool stuff snorkeling today, like a lionfish, but I wish I had more time here.
Sophia – this was the most incredible opportunity and experience. I am so fortunate to have been able to come here and to have learned so much.
Laurel – I had the most wonderful time on this trip. While I am sad to leave tomorrow, I am thrilled to be leaving with a little more knowledge on dolphin behavior and physiology.
Beck – After having a lovely breakfast, we went for a nice snorkel and swam among some fish and saw a sea turtle and then after that went for another snorkel and saw a sting ray (KD comment – we did other stuff in there, too)
Elena – It was the hardest thing not to take sea grass from Ronnie this morning. But so happy I got to see a sea turtle during our snorkel. So sad that it is our last full day on the island. But thankful for this one-of-a-kind experience.
Sofia – For this sunny last day, I was lucky enough to spot a queen triggerfish, a huge barracuda and to paddle board with friends. This will be a week I will always remember.
Lindsey – The final boat snorkel was breathtaking. Watching the fish swim by and the underwater city was a perfect end to the adventure.
Katy – the two snorkels today were incredibly rich in biodiversity and rounded off an incredible week. But seeing an agouti carrying a coconut has got to be one of the strangest things I have ever seen!
Bri – I’m sad that this is my last day in Roatan, but I am very grateful for the experience. And, seeing a wild sea turtle for the first time was amazing.
Bailey – this week has been great. I have learned so much not only about dolphins but also about corals and sea turtles. Seeing a sea turtle on our snorkel today was a fantastic way to end this week.
Nate – Seeing a sea turtle while snorkeling was a great way to round out my trip. I have really enjoyed my time on Roatan.
Paige – I always enjoy spending time with leaders in the field of marine science. And I’ve enjoyed meeting new experts and aspiring students.
Manon – got to witness an up-close fight between two barracuda today. Quite epic.
Dr. Z. – Happy that I could see for the first time in my life a wild sea turtle today. But sad that tomorrow I have to leave this wonderful island.
Dr. K. – Thank you Annalisa for a wonderful talk. Thank you, students for a good time. And it’s time to go home.
The evening meal was yummy! And we watched the morning data collection video and did all of our check out and pre-check logistics. And, Manon and Dr. D. surprised us with an ID quiz! Elena got the most right with 17 and Sophia was next with 16 IDs correct! Well done!
We have our last AM data collection session tomorrow at 6:15 AM.
Team Naturally Selected
This morning’s data collection was AWEOME. There was much social activity at the surface, but it was slow, except when the dolphins were jumping and speed swimming. Gracie and Calli’s calves were playing with each other. Ronnie and Poli were together most of the session. We had many observations to fill our data sheets this morning. After breakfast, we spent the morning watching the video data from two mornings ago and this morning’s session. We practiced our ID skills to recognize the dolphins in the videos … we are remembering more than we realized. Late morning had a presentation on coral reef restoration from Jen during which we learned about the coral nursery off Anthony’s Key. It is refreshing that we might have a way to regrow the reefs more swiftly than previously thought!
Lunch was followed by a presentation by Samir Galindo about the resort and the education and conservation programs AKR and RIMS support and promote. Then we discussed our projects with Drs. K and D. And, we got the second training/observation session at Bailey’s Key with Teri and her team and the dolphins.
Our highlights are below.
Sophia – it was a really fun, giggly day and I had such a wonderful time getting to interact with the dolphins.
Sia – the dolphins were more active today during morning observations than yesterday which was nice to wake up to. And I really enjoyed the coral restoration talk.
Lindsey – Having to tell a dolphin no when they offer you seagrass has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. Otherwise, the observations were great and I had a great day.
Elena – it was very cool to see mother dolphins actively playing with their calves at the surface this morning during data collection. And the dolphin training with Maury (dolphin) was very interesting and insightful and showed how intelligent these creatures are.
Beck – it was informative to learn about coral degradation as well as reintroduction and to use critical thinking in figuring out what our final projects will be. And it was fun to learn more about Elli and Gracie during afternoon observations.
Peyton – Coral restoration is a topic I’m passionate about so it was exciting to learn more about the coral restoration here at RIMS.
Nicole – Seeing the dolphin training up close was truly eye-opening but it’s sad that tomorrow is our last full day.
Nate – Sitting in on the dolphin training session was a lot of fun and learning about new techniques for coral restoration was inspiring.
Caroline – I have a hatred for dance competitions just like Manon’s hatred of cilantro.
Bri – My favorite part of the day was getting to meet Maury and learning about her personality. Teri is an amazing trainer and it was an honor to learn from her.
Sofia – it was very rewarding to see that the dolphins are getting more comfortable with the students’ presence and watch their increasing interaction with us.
Katy – the morning observations were very busy with lots of surface activity, and taking to Dante, the trainer, during a session this afternoon was very interesting and inspiring.
Bailey – I enjoyed getting to observe feeding of some of the mother dolphins up close. I finally feel like I’m starting to get the hang of identifying some of the dolphins.
Laurel – I loved learning more about the coral reef restoration efforts being made here at RIMS. Samir’s talk and the passion he expressed for the education at RIMS and his family’s commitment to supporting the local community was inspiring.
Manon – morning session with a lot of interesting behavior from our dolphins …
Paige – speaking with Samir privately sent me down an entire path of new ideas in which we can positively impact this beautiful island
Dr. Z. – although for the first time I had my birthday without my family I’m grateful I could spend it in good company and with friends!
Dr. K. – Happy Birthday Annalisa!
And, as you read above, we celebrated Dr. Z’s birthday today with a yummy cake!
Tomorrow is our last full day here at AKR with DCP.
Team Naturally Selected