Another early morning data collection session – an hour today with awesome underwater visibility (10 m plus) and very social, interactive dolphins. All four young calves were given the opportunity to inspect Kathleen and her green camera … with each mom hanging in the background so the calves did not get too close for too long. Actually, the dolphins might have requested Amanda’s clipboard so that they could document their observations of Kathleen. With their rostrums, the dolphins attempted to flip the clipboard over after it slipped into the sea and inadvertently tasted the data sheets. Obviously, they are not interested in written notes since the clipboard only held their attention for about 2 to 4 minutes. 

Sarah participated in the dolphin dive this morning with Hector and Ritchie. The humans were struggling in the current but not the dolphins – they were just gliding by and hardly moving their tails. If I were a dolphin in that situation I would have laughed at the humans because of how funny we looked. It’s humbling to watch them and their effortless movements underwater.

Everyone did the snorkel with dolphins – awesome! So cool! We got to play with the dolphins as opposed to just watching them. We recognized their scars and marks and their personalities. It was fun to play with the calves too … and the moms let them play with us. The dolphins were mouthy and pulled at elbows, legs or hands. The seaweed game was a favorite as well. 

The last event for today was a talk by Teri, Director of Training. She shared with us details about operant conditioning and the philosophy of working with these dolphins – beginning with always having a good, positive attitude. It was interesting to see how her mind works and how she works with the dolphins. 

We have another dolphin swim and more data to be collected tomorrow!  

Until then,

Kathleen, Amanda, Amber, Kristin, Sarah

Wednesday was jam packed with activities – all involved formal and informal behavior observations and lots of time in the water. We collected data from the surface while Kathleen collected data underwater during the early morning session. A bright yellow disk made an appearance – the sun came out during the data collection!! It seemed that everyone – dolphins, people and fish included were more energetic and happy with the sun’s appearance.  

Ronnie was interactive at the surface with the student research team – he was head slapping and splashing them until he realized that their first laugh was their last. Hector was very inquisitive to Kathleen underwater and rubbed her on several occasions (it’s hard, not impossible, but very hard, to remain objective when a dolphin decides to rub against you!). At the end of the session, Casey, one of the dolphin trainers had arrived, so we all got to have a greet session with the dolphins at the platform as Kathleen got out of the water. 

After breakfast, we collected data for our own research projects – only about 1.5 hrs total this morning (compared with 3.5 from the other day) and once done, we snorkeled on the reef just to the west of Bailey’s Key. We saw lots of butterfly, parrot and damsel fishes as well as wrasse. We saw a few needlefish and a few barracuda. The latter gave us all a start and we hid any shiny objects like cameras and rings. The water was shallow and the current strong but the sun was out and the waves down: a great situation for time in the water. 

The afternoon included a scuba dive, which was very rough! It was the first boat dive in the tropics for Sarah, Amber and Amanda and the other divers said this was the roughest dive of the day! The evening was rounded out with the island resort fiesta night. We had barbeque on Anthony’s Key and watched hermit crab races, a fire dancer and limbo contest. This was an entertaining end to a very full day! 

Tomorrow is our first snorkel with the dolphins. 

Until then,

Kathleen, Amanda, Amber, Kristin, Sarah

RIMS2010_Class_platformsWe woke to an odd sound … almost silence. The wind had died. The clouds were ever-present but not yet leaking. So, we conducted our first set of surface behavior observations of the four mother/calf pairs, and a few other dolphins.

Each student has to complete a small independent project with their literature review and so each is collecting data on a particular question.

Sarah: I am looking at individual differences in mother attentiveness to their calves during training sessions. I follow one mother/calf pair at a time for a given interval and record when the mom looks for her calf and then when she retrieves her calf. And, if the mom has to be requested to retrieve her calf by a trainer. We have noticed that there are individual differences in how moms watch or tend their calves.

Amanda: I watched whoever passed in front of me to see if they blew bubbles from their blowholes. I am curious to see whether calves bubble more than their adult counterparts. Gracie’s calf seemed to be experimenting with blowing bubbles all over the place.

Amber: I am looking at the frequency of vocalizations from adult females when they are with their calves versus when they are not with their calves. Some of the mothers were loud and vocal the entire observation session. Others were quiet when their calf was near and loud and vocal when the calf was not near.

Kristin: I am looking at who the youngest calves spend their time with. If not with their mother, then are they alone, or with another female or male and also how who they associate with relates to calf age. It seems opposite to what I’d expect because the youngest calf seems to be spending less time with mom than the other three calves!

Kathleen collected about 30 min of data after lunchtime and the current was REALLY STRONG: 30 min was enough to avoid exhaustion while still observing the dolphins. The underwater visibility was ABSOLUTELY GREAT!

The team got to witness the behavior of a different large mammal on land – animals with legs, hoofs and tails that swat. Yes, we went horseback riding! The horses each had unique behaviors and communicated with each other via ear movements and whinnying! Odd to watch and witness these behaviors from atop the horse’s back!

Tomorrow brings more data collection in the early morning.


Kathleen, Amanda, Amber, Kristin, Sarah

P.S. the photo shows the team during data collection observations this morning.

RIMS2010_ClassThe weather report predicts clouds, rain and wind for most of the week. Still, this did not deter our behavioral observations! Our morning was spent discussing altruism, reciprocal altruism, and social complexity. Our swim with the dolphins was postponed until later in the week because the current was too strong to stand much less swim with ease among the dolphins. 

Even though it was windy and rainy, our research team began preliminary observations during the noon training session. It is amazing how much the dock moves when the wind, current and rain are pushing through in the same direction! We watched the four mom/calf pairs as the trainers fed and worked with the moms. The calves were often surfing in the current!  

Each of the moms has their own style in retrieving their calf when the latter wanders a bit away. Cedena does not let Pigeon (her female calf) wander, period. Gracie keeps an eye on her tiny female but only retrieves her physically when she ventures too far. Mrs. Beasley gently swims alongside her son and corrals him. Mika is a first-time mom and is a bit more aggressive and pushy with her son … she comes up beside him a pushes him to where she wants him! 

We also watched as Han was trying to learn from Hector. Teri was training these two males and Hector is skilled at playing around with new behaviors – create is the cue. Han sort of gets the idea behind “create” but needs more practice.  

When this session was complete, we were drenched but the wind and rain felt warm … sort of … for some of us. You can see our team waiting for the trainers to return with the empty buckets to the boat. Smiles all around. 

This afternoon, we finished the video analysis of our only hour of video recorded on 8 and 9 Jan. Each student has their own research question; they are not only learning from lectures in a classroom but also via hands-on application of the behavioral techniques, which they are learning.

Tomorrow is a new day with the wind supposed to lessen. The underwater visibility looks to be clearing a bit since the current is still relatively strong.  

Until tomorrow,

Kathleen, Amanda, Amber, Kristin, Sarah

We woke to crashing waves and strong winds. The waves were washing over the mangrove roots near our cabins, and our cabins are on the east side of Anthony’s Key … the leeward side during the tropical storm that punched through last night to tonight. Not lots of rain, but lots of wind and seas that were crashing over the reef to the northwest of Anthony’s Key. The sound of the waves was almost deafening!


The seas meant zero underwater visibility and what became clear when we reached the water taxi stand was that the current was VERY strong, too. The current from the east was flowing west by the resort docks and vice versa from the west past Bailey’s Key. The channel through the cut between the two keys was a washing machine!


We spend time this morning reviewing natural and sexual selection and mating strategies and waiting for the wind to lessen. It did not. So, we went to Bailey’s Key after lunch for surface observation time. The taxi could not drop us at the taxi stand at Bailey’s because of the current … so we got out near where the trainers’ boat docks. Right after we stepped on to the dock, and balanced ourselves so as to not let the wind push us into the water, the rain started in earnest. We made our observations from the gazebo and discussed our respective research projects. Hopefully, we’ll be able to start some of our observations tomorrow …


The evening brought us to the fish ID lecture, which clarified several points about fish that we have seen and might again see. Tomorrow, assuming the weather improves (and it is supposed to tonight), we’ll have our first dolphin encounter and swim – when we get to meet the dolphins in person.

Cheers for tonight,

Kathleen, Amanda, Amber, Kristin, Sarah

RIMS2010_CalfThe underwater visibility was a bit more silty than yesterday and the cloud cover a bit thicker. Still, the dolphins were vocal and interactive. They were playful and rambunctious and spent much time 
circling Kathleen as if they were sharks. Or at least their fins were suggestive of sharks. Fiona brought sea weed to everyone in another attempt to distract our team from the research. She had more than a human audience ... a tern was tight-rope walking just under the dock, eyeballing the bait fish ... and Fiona. Impishly, Fiona side-breached and splashed at the bird! It flew up and then returned to the rope. This went on several times, almost as if this was a secret game between Fiona and her Avian friend. Of course, their game almost startled the researchers from the dock into the water! We'll be watching both dolphins AND birds tomorrow!

Class after dolphins focused on Ethology, Comparative Method use, and some definitions. The afternoon was focused on video review and dolphin IDs in our makeshift classroom in our room (due to heavy rain). A cold front with wind and rain came in and kept us indoors this afternoon. We practiced recognizing the individual dolphins based on scars on their bodies. (It seems the swirling dolphins on the video caused two students to get dizzy while watching ... or maybe it was the second full day of class!)

Tomorrow's schedule depends on the weather that greets us with the sun (assuming the clouds let the sun appear!).

Kathleen, Amber, Amanda, Kristin, Sarah


PS: The photo above was taken during yesterday's sunshine!

RIMS2010_Fiona_KGrubbsThe day dawned behind a giant black cloud but it only drizzled a tad bit while Kathleen was in the water between 6:30 and 7 AM. The morning data session yielded 30 min of video and the dolphins were VERY curious and swarmed Kathleen during her session. The dolphins were very vocal and very close to me, Kathleen. 

Sarah and Amber were one pair of observers at the 3rd stabilizing dock and Fiona, a juvenile dolphin, repeatedly brought sea grass to them to play with; however, we took to heart Kathleen’s instructions of not being tempted by the dolphin gifts. We did RIMS2010_Fiona_AThomasnot want to “break protocol” by playing with the dolphins or by distracting them from their social games. So, it seems, Fiona was offended by our rejection of her gifts. She side-breached and splashed us! Fiona is pictured here (taken by K. Grubbs, then A. Thomas). We also watched Ken watch us with one eye and follow Kathleen’s fins with an open mouth … he seemed to want to be sure we could see him playing at her fins! 

Amanda and Kristin were splashed as the session ended and we all were leaving the main pool area. But, the dolphins seemed to follow us around vocalizing as we walked. 

We spent 2.5 hrs in the classroom this morning and then the afternoon provided an introduction to the dolphins – up close and personal. We got to see the dolphins as they were working with trainers during the late afternoon training session. There are four calves younger than 6 months. They are really cool but a couple of the moms are not as watchful of their young as others. During sessions, the trainers have taught moms to retrieve their calves when maybe they are playing around. It seems that Gracie at first misunderstood the trainer and brought a piece of sea grass back! She got it right the third try! Mika was having too much fun with her trainer and seemed exasperated when she had to retrieve her calf … she sighed, dropped her head and rolled her eyes and then t-boned him and pushed him back to the platform. Of course, he had been playing around upside down! Quite entertaining for us! 

We also watched Bill and Ronnie work a tandem-create behavior – they had to make a new behavior together. It was very neat watching them work together on a new behavior.   

A late afternoon snorkel session introduced us to the crustaceans and fish of the local reef. We look forward to more data and more class work tomorrow. 


Kathleen, Amber, Amanda, Kristin, and Sarah

RIMS signToday began REALLY early for all of us! Packing of gear and assorted equipment was finished a mere 8 hours prior to departure to the airport. Good thing lists are handy. DCP’s time on Roatan at AKR studying the dolphins at RIMS is just about 2.5 weeks this month. The first ten days will include four college students representing three schools; they are participating in DCP’s first Animal Behavior College Course. These students will assist with data collection for DCP, spend time learning about animal behavior, communication and cognition, and work on their own limited-scope project. The second portion of the field season will include eco-tourists participating in DCP’s RIMS eco-tour 2010. 

 I met with Amanda, Amber and Kristen in Houston for the second leg of our air travel to Roatan and Sarah joined us later in the afternoon. We took time this afternoon to settle in – unpack gear, prepare the array and swim paraphernalia, and of course, visit the dolphins! 

We discussed data collection and behavior over dinner … and then all began to crash – very long days! Tomorrow begins early with data collection at 6:15 AM. We’ll write more tomorrow. 


Kathleen, Amber, Amanda, Kristen & Sarah

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