08 January 2019

Finding #104

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On Monday, I was able to head out with Captain Al to once again search for DCP ID#104 (aka, Lamda by Wild Dolphin Project). With support from The Bahamas Marine Mammal Stranding Network (lead by Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation and supported by Atlantis Bahamas) and tracking from the team at Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, we were happy to finally be searching in good sea conditions (Click here to read about #104’s story and here for our first search attempts). We had #104’s morning locations and since we were hyper-focused on laying eyes on this guy, we had to cruise right past a group of bottlenose dolphins early in the search. I can’t help but mentally apologize when we ignore them!

At 10:47 we were about a mile from #104’s last known location and there! I spotted them. Well, it seemed like bottlenose again, but this time, we were sticking around. Soon, we saw a large (~20) group of Atlantic spotted dolphins – a busy mixed age group (including Romeo (#10), Lil’ Jess (#35) and Sulfur (#102). I scoured the surface for #104’s tagged dorsal fin. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. After 15 minutes, bottlenose cruised through. And one minute later: #104! I had convinced myself that I might not be sure I was seeing the tag, that I’d have to really concentrate in order to not miss it. Ha! As soon as he surfaced next to the boat, it was clear. He was there and he seemed fine.

First order of business was to get a photo of the tag so we could assess how well it was still attached (see photo). Next up, what is he doing? He was right there in the mix with this large, mixed species group, but he was simultaneously a bit on his own. Sometimes on the outskirts of the group, he didn’t seem paired up with any of the other dolphins. We never saw him make physical contact with another dolphin (like, for example, rubbing pectoral fins) or surface in synchrony with another; and though he was often closer to the bottlenose, there were no obvious socio-sexual interactions there either.

Then, the icing: could I get a glimpse of him under water? See his whole body? I hoped in and there he was, slowly cruising….away from me. He didn’t turn to interact with me, but at least I saw that he looked robust and had no new external injuries. Once he was gone, I stuck with five juveniles, including Sulfur (DCP#102) and un-named #111 (I’ll ID more once I review the video), hoping #104 might come back. He didn’t, so I hopped back onboard.

We were able to find #104 again. This time, I had to skip what seemed like an awesome chance to get in close to him because of passing boat (why do I have to share the ocean? :-). When we were lined up again, I slid in – and he stayed! He looked great. If I hadn’t known his history or the reason behind the tag, I would have thought he was just like any other wild Atlantic spotted dolphin in this area. He didn’t give me much time, just two good, albeit quiet, passes and I was psyched! Of course, all things have their downsides: camera fogged! Ugh! I’ll need to look into this; my best guess is that it has to do with the cold water. I’ve only ever used this rig in Bimini’s warm, summer water, so I’ll need to do some querying before the next go. Nonetheless, I’m thrilled to be able to report to you and the rest of the Lamda team that he’s alive and well.

Hopefully his relationships are still strong; though he seemed a bit like a loner within the group, he was most definitely in a group and was not – that I saw – the target of any aggression. Cheers, #104!

Until next time

Kel

PS: Curious about our research off Bimini? Join our 2019 eco-tour: 30 June – 5 July and you can help us look for #104 too!

Kelly Melillo Sweeting

Kel is DCP's Bimini Research Manager, and all around awesome scientist.

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