13 June 2019

A Smooth Start

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After a few (well-earned) days off the boat during which we did some work and had non-research-related adventures, we were back in the swing of things with the next group. This time it’s a field course with students from Hunter and Manhattan Colleges in New York and is run by DCP research associate Dr. Daisy Kaplan and our colleague Dr. Maria Maust-Mohl. It’s a bit of a miracle that the whole group is finally on Bimini—after flight delays, cancellations, and more delays, it wasn’t a sure thing that they would all be here! Fortunately, all of the students and their professors made it to the island yesterday, ready to get going.

During a drizzly, thundery morning, Kel visited the students to present information about DCP and the dolphins of Bimini. After her guest-lecture, she showed them how to take the best photos for identifying dolphins. Then we all went to grab some lunch.

Nicole joined the students on the boat for departure at 1500. Captain Kat is back for some more Bimini adventures, too! A little while into our journey, we took a break for the students to practice using their snorkel gear. Then we were back on our way, searching for dolphins. The water was super calm, nearly glassy, so it wasn’t surprising that just short of an hour later, Captain Al saw something in the distance. As we approached, we realized it was a pair of bottlenose dolphins that appeared to be crater feeding. These dolphins were covering a lot of area and weren’t coming to the surface very much, so we decided to take a few dorsal fin photos and move on fairly quickly. We continued on our original path and eventually saw dorsal fins far away, almost in line with our trajectory. When we reached these dolphins, they also turned out to be bottlenose dolphins. This time, it was a trio of dolphins who were crater feeding and socializing near the surface. After collecting some observations from the boat, Captain Al suggested we take a chance and attempt underwater observations—everyone was itching to take a swim break, anyway. Unfortunately, the bottlenose dolphins didn’t have any interest in staying near us, so we took the opportunity to cool off and then jumped back onboard.

As we continued our search, and eventually started to circle back towards home, it seemed as though the water was becoming even calmer! As we were on our way toward home, Captain Kat saw some activity near the surface just ahead. Once we caught up with this group we saw that it was six Atlantic spotted dolphins! The group included two calves, but Nicole wasn’t able to easily identify any individuals from the boat. A little while later, Captain Al said we could try an underwater encounter, so a portion of the group of humans got geared up and slipped into the water. Right away, Nicole recognized one of the older individuals, the presumed mother of the older calf—it’s an individual thought to have come to Bimini from the White Sand Ridge. We collected lots of underwater video and some still photos over the course of about 15 minutes which will hopefully help us identify the rest of the adult dolphins. Though the water was calm, it was cloudy out so visibility was pretty terrible. The dolphins would appear to swim away but would reappear as though by magic! Once they were officially out of view, we climbed back onboard and continued our journey home. When we were pretty close to the island, Julie and Nicole spotted a dorsal fin to the west. Suddenly, there were two young spotted dolphins riding the bow! Nicole recognized un-named #114 but didn’t know the other juvenile male. These dolphins rode the bow wake for a few minutes before peeling off to head back north.

We arrived at the dock smiling and relaxed. Despite their terrible travel experiences over the previous days, the Hunter/Manhattan students had a great first day on the boat. The weather for the rest of their stay looks promising so we hope they’ll have many more days full of dolphin encounters!

The summer interns, Nat and Taylor, arrived today so you can look forward to reading their reflections in our blog over the next few weeks.

Catch ya later!

Kel & Nicole

Kelly Melillo Sweeting

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

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