You may wonder why you are seeing a blog post about a giant reef fish and what it has to do with dolphins. Quite simply, the answer is “conservation”! With all of our oceans in trouble, and the extinction of animal species hardly making news anymore, it becomes important for each one of us to help, or consider why we have not helped. Whether it’s a common bottlenose dolphin or an endangered Goliath Grouper, we all have an obligation to tread lightly on our blue planet’s other inhabitants and treat them with care. It’s not all about us.
30 years ago, Goliath Grouper were nearly extinct because of human’s over exploitation of the species. Sound familiar? It ought to. It’s the same tune humans have been playing for the opening act of the sixth mass extinction for decades, for a millennia! The good news is that some Goliath Grouper populations have made a tenuous and tumultuous journey towards recovery. Good fishery management decisions, a fishing moratorium, and an artificial reef program have allowed some of these giants to thrive again for now. They still face an uphill battle against a tide of toxins flowing off of Florida’s coast into the sea, environmental upheaval such as cold snaps and red tides, or what the sponge fishermen called “The Blight”, loss of suitable habitat for juvenile recruitment and heavy metals such as mercury present in the eggs and flesh of each animal.
If you are asking yourself if these animals live is a squalorous, toxic coastal environment, the answer is a definite, sometimes! A lot of variables affect the coastal conditions in South Florida, but humans are not doing any favors to this environment by allowing these issues to persist.
Let me introduce you to the Goliath Grouper, the largest reef fish in the Caribbean. Please enjoy this short form documentary “Goliaths in the Stream” and my hope is that you take away an appreciation for a species that you may not have known existed.
Also, I invite you to sign the below petition to keep the Goliath Grouper populations closed to fishing. The science behind this is mainstream and verifiable.
We all have a voice! This is your chance to speak out!
-John Anderson, Terramar Productions
In this special podcast episode celebrating 20 years of the Dolphin Communication Project, Laura and Justin interview Kelly Melillo-Sweeting, Bimini Research Manager and all-around awesome scientist. Kel explains the findings form her recently published article on laterality in bottlenose dolphins – that is, a preference that dolphins seem to have for the right side of their bodies when hunting for prey in the sand. Just before dolphins stick their heads in the sand to grab hidden prey, they almost always twist to the left, maybe allowing them to use their right eye (i.e., their preferred eye) to give the ocean floor one last look before plunging their faces into it. Or maybe it’s because dolphin echolocation works best on the right side when it comes to searching for prey buried in the sand. Whatever the reason, the bottlenose dolphins off Bimini, The Bahamas are almost all (with one exception) left twisters when crater feeding. In the episode, Laura goes head-to-head with Kel in a science quiz focused on a recently published article on lateral behavior in bottlenose dolphins. It’s going to be an uphill battle for poor Laura since Kel is one of the authors of the article.
Click here for the episode or head to your favorite podcast-downloading site.
In this special podcast episode celebrating 20 years of the Dolphin Communication Project, Laura and Justin interview Kelly Melillo-Sweeting, Bimini Research Manager and all-around awesome scientist. Kel explains the findings form her recently published article on laterality in bottlenose dolphins – that is, a preference that dolphins seem to have for the right side of their bodies when hunting for prey in the sand. Just before dolphins stick their heads in the sand to grab hidden prey, they almost always twist to the left, maybe allowing them to use their right eye (i.e., their preferred eye) to give the ocean floor one last look before plunging their faces into it. Or maybe it’s because dolphin echolocation works best on the right side when it comes to searching for prey buried in the sand. Whatever the reason, the bottlenose dolphins off Bimini, The Bahamas are almost all (with one exception) left twisters when crater feeding. In the episode, Laura goes head-to-head with Kelly Melillo-Sweeting in a science quiz focused on a recently published article on lateral behavior in bottlenose dolphins. It’s going to be an uphill battle for poor Laura since Kelly is one of the authors of the article.
Here's the article being discussed in this episode: Kaplan, JD. Goodrich, SY, Melillo-Sweeting K, Reiss, D. (2019). Behavioural laterality in foraging bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Royal Society Open Science. 6: 190929. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.190929.
Our last day began bright and sunny! We had a good session with the dolphins though they were more into their own thing today. There was much less surface activity but there was some neat underwater action. Elli spent quite a bit of time playing with a small bit of seaweed – mouthing it and hiding it from other dolphins. The “boys” (Lenca, Champ, Tank & Stan) and Dory hogged camera time this morning! They were not as interested in Kathleen’s fins but seemed to be interacting in front of the camera and pushing each other out of view! There was a lot of very “up close” footage this morning.
We also were able to conduct two create data collection sessions – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. These create sessions were with the adult female dolphins – Gracie, Maury, Bailey, Tilly, Poli, and Calli. They vary in the degree of creativity that they exhibit but all seemed to have a grand time trying something new! Thank you to Meredith for taking the photo of Kathleen & Nicole at Baileys Key!
Nicole also got in a snorkel session on the west side of Baileys. She was most impressed by the Christmas tree worms and trumpet fish. There was quite a variety of fish along the reef.
We had a really successful week with eight MVA data collection sessions that yielded about 5.5 hours of video data collected. We also watched some neat interactions between the dolphins and the weather just kept getting better and better!
Until next visit …
Kathleen & Nicole
We woke to a calmed sea and a quiet morning. The early morning data collection session included lots of surface activity – tail slaps and rolling socializing by several dolphins. The underwater visibility was spectacular! The dolphins were quite social and early in the session, it looked like 4 or 5 dolphins were doing something odd under a platform but it turned out they had a new game! A couple of them exhaled bubbles under the platform and the others moved them around under it! They seemed to have lots of fun!
Kathleen was able to get several minutes of video of French and Champ today … they’ve been mostly into their own thing earlier this week. And, we watched Dory throw seaweed into the air repeatedly! She seemed to be having a great time!
After this session, our quick breakfast was then followed by another trip over to Baileys Key. Nicole filmed from topside while Kathleen filmed from in the water as Teri did a few innovative sessions with Gracie, Maury and Tilly. They were asked to do anything they wanted but no two things in a row! This type of session allows us to examine dolphin creativity.
Our afternoon was spent with Nicole learning about dolphin cognition and both of us sharing the video from the morning with a few other resort guests. Today was another dolphin-filled day!
Tomorrow is the last MVA data recording session for this week. We’ll start bright and early again!
Kathleen & Nicole
Our day began with a show from both the sun and the moon! And that meant no rain! And, the underwater visibility was superb! All these factors, plus socializing dolphins, led to a 50-minute early morning data collection session! There were lots of tail slaps (regular and belly up positions!) and several fast swims and chases observed at the surface. Champ was hanging out with French except when he and Lenca zoomed in front of the MVA! Ronnie and Stan were slow swimming and socializing for the last 10-15 minutes of the session. And, we saw Gracie, Maury and Bailey pair swimming slowly together.
After a quick breakfast, we grabbed all of our gear and retuned to Bailey’s Key. After some programs with guests were complete, we did a second MVA session in the late morning. French, Champ, Lenca, Ronnie, and Ritchie were not in the main lagoon area as they were rotating going out for walks. So, our second MVA session was with the adult females and younger dolphins. It was more quiet and the dolphins were more into their own thing than socializing for the camera. The underwater visibility was a bit silty but still good.
After lunch, Nicole had her encounter with Elli and then her swim with the pod. Stan was Nicole’s buddy … and they played the seaweed game. Nicole was the rubber and Stan the rubbee … and they played and had fun! Nicole says she tried to make sure Stan had fun so he’d stick around … he did! Nicole also saw most of the other dolphins and got a treat when she saw Sandy nursing from Tilly as they swam away.
While Nicole was enjoying her encounter, Kathleen was collaborating with Teri to collect create data with Maury, Gracie, and Calli. And, a big thank you to Meredith for recording the top-side video while Kathleen recorded both in-water surface and underwater views. It was fun to see these three female dolphins having fun being creative!
We had a very busy day! And, the data are almost done being transferred so we will be ready for tomorrow! Tonight is the island fiesta and we are going to enjoy the cookout!
Kathleen & Nicole
Another good session for data collection was had this morning. It was overcast with a light rain, but the underwater visibility was good and facilitated about 30 min of video data. We watch the video collected each day and it offers a different perspective to collecting the data from above water during the sessions. You can see so much more from the underwater video. It’s like a whole other world watching how the dolphins interact and sometimes include Kathleen in their games. Of course, it was also difficult not to play with Dory and her seaweed offerings! Of course, Ronnie tried to get Kathleen to play while she was recording (pictured)!
The late morning saw us having a discussion about the MVA and Nicole learned all about the housing and the technicalities for why the hydrophones are spaced as they are and how the camera sets inside the tube. After the MVA, Kathleen shared with Nicole a bit about DCP and our history here at AKR and RIMS and some additional details about dolphin communication. Lunch followed the discussion and then we had a couple hour break before preparing for the night snorkel. It was Nicole’s first night snorkel! There were three other guests plus Kino (dive master) on our snorkel. And it was awesome! We saw several octopus, a couple of porcupine fish, a lionfish, an eel and large puffer fish! It was enough to have us not ponder how chilly the water felt! (Ok, it’s not really cold but …)
Dinner followed the snorkel and we wrapped dinner with the best ever cheesecake! Our evening wrapped with a viewing of today’s dolphin data video and watching how Tank and Stan would not leave Kathleen’s fins alone!
That about covers today! We’ll do data collection with the MVA and then Nicole has her dolphin encounter and swim tomorrow. We might also be able to collect data on a study with Teri.
Until tomorrow …
Kathleen & Nicole
We got what we wished for last night … no rain and decent underwater visibility allowed for a 34-minute underwater data collection session at Bailey’s Key this morning! We saw just about everyone except French and Champ underwater. Tank spent time with his mom, Bailey, as well as with Stan. You can see Bailey and Tank in this photo. The underwater current was stronger than yesterday, which gave Kathleen a strong workout! And the dolphins were social and active. It was a good morning!
Nicole went to Maya Key today with the AKR picnic team. She snorkeled and saw the Christmas tree worms, and trumpet fish. Underwater visibility at Maya Key was really good. Snorkeling was followed by a delicious lunch and then a tour of the replica of the Copan ruins and a meet and greet with Wrinkles, the rescued capuchin monkey, who actually joined the tour for most of it.
The afternoon was spent reviewing video and working on data. It was a good day with lots of sunshine and only a few drizzles of rain. The wind has slackened and we are hoping tomorrow is another day in paradise!
Kathleen & Nicole
We woke to the sound of the surf but not the patter of rain drops! The rain had stopped in the night, if only long enough for our data collection session! I was in the water by 7:05 AM after having introduced Nicole to the dolphins from above the water at Bailey’s Key. You can see Stan and two friends waiting for me to enter the water in this blog photo. The underwater visibility was really good, even though the current picked up while I was making observations and had to swim hard to get back to the platform. We reviewed the morning video after breakfast and had a great conversation with two other guests (Sue and Kathryn). Since it was pouring out, they decided to watch the video with us. Mid-day had Nicole and me collecting space-use data and watching the dolphins at Bailey’s to assess their activity levels. The rain had returned, but we were mostly dry sitting under the palapa on the dock. Our dry state did not last long – but for very fun reasons! Elyork was working with Ritchie and Ronnie on some action swim behaviors and asked if Nicole would be a participant! The action swim was not at all expected and I (Nicole) was totally impressed by all the behaviors Ronnie and Ritchie would do. I had a smile ear-to-ear when they swam me across the water – the sensation was so much fun and I won’t ever forget it! The dolphins seemed very happy, too. I feel like I’ve been learning a lot and still have much to learn. I’ve also enjoyed taking the notes and helping as much as I can with the research. Looking forward to learning to analyze the data and reading more journal articles.
The rain continued all day long and we were wet and dry a few times. We hope the rain lessens before tomorrow morning so we have some visibility underwater. Fingers crossed! We both look forward to collecting more video footage tomorrow.
Kathleen & Nicole
We, and by we, I mean Nicole and me, are in a room on Anthony’s Key where the waves and wind are pounding and liquid is falling from the sky! We are settled in and hoping the rain stops for tomorrow’s data collection session. Sadly, the student group had to postpone their week field course with DCP to Roatan for this week. This decision was made yesterday afternoon. Nicole was already on Roatan, so I flew down to meet her and we plan to collect data on dolphin behavior and other activities each day!
We have spent much of the afternoon unpacking and chatting about dolphins and dolphin behavior and the facility and walking around Anthony’s Key. Our dinner was delicious and we thought nothing of the stiff breeze around the dining room until Humberto (water taximan) let several of us know about the minor water spout we missed. It was within the reef sort of between the main dock of AKR and Anthony’s Key! He had his rain gear on and so stayed dry! Mother Nature is sure to excite us this week … if she’d give us some calm seas, we’ll be happy!
We hope that we are not rained out tomorrow … cross your fingers!
Kathleen & Nicole