This issue is your chance to hear about the busy Bimini research season, including thoughts from our summer interns. We also include links to our podcast, The Dolphin Pod, and a belated update from Amazon River dolphin researcher, Dr. Trone. And of course, stories from Kathleen!
So, put the world aside for a few minutes and enjoy The Dolphin Gazette!
We hope you enjoy this guest blog post from our August ecotour participant, Bonnie. Thanks for the contribution, Bonnie!
Roger, my husband, and I with our three granddaughters, Allie, (almost age 11), Rayanne (age 12), and Taylor (age 10), met with Kelly Melillo Sweeting, DCP Eco Tour coordinator, and two other participants of the program, Megan and Sue, for a brief orientation on August 2019 Eco Tour Program Agenda that included swimming with wild dolphins in Atlantic Ocean every afternoon. This will be my granddaughters’ first experience in swimming with wild dolphins, and this is Roger’s and my second time. We love swimming with Bimini dolphins. So wonderful.
We boarded the boat at 2:45 p.m at Sea Crest Marina. When we arrived on board, we tucked away our fins, snorkel, and masks on the stern of the vessel. The three young girls carefully walked to the bow of the boat to begin their search for wild dolphins. Shortly after leaving the harbor, Sue spotted one Atlantic spotted dolphin, then another, and another. So we had three Atlantic spotted dolphins that came to play with us. We grabbed our cameras and started taking pictures of them.
After, observing them for short period of time. Kelly gave us the sign to put on our gear. All eight of us moved toward the swim platform of the boat and one by one slipped gently into the warm ocean. You could see the dolphins’ dorsal fins in the distance before we entered the ocean. I feel, they were waiting for us to join their pod. The girls swam ahead of Roger and I and followed Kelly as she filmed dolphins for DCP research projects. The three young girls would stop moving for a moment, look for dolphins, spot the dolphins and take a picture. I received a tap from Allie after a dolphin, passed in-between us when I was filming another dolphin. We both turned our heads toward each other underwater with amazement in our eyes that he picked us to swim by.
After the dolphins left our pod, we returned to the boat. I felt the joy and enthusiasm from the girls as they explained their own encounter with Atlantic spotted dolphins. They began to ask these questions; What are the dolphins names? What kind of dolphins are they? Can we swim with them again? Throughout the Eco Tour Program, they learned dolphins’ names, looked at photographs that they took, how to identify dolphins, and much more.
As we waited on ferry to depart to South Bimini where we board the airplane for home, Kelly sat by the ferry dock in her golf cart with her two children. She asked the three girls, what was the best part of this trip for you? The girls said, “the dolphins and taking pictures of them!” The ferry moved slowly away from the dock, Kelly and her children created hearts ️with their hands. A beautiful Bimini, Bahamas goodbye.
Bonnie Dolphin Ambassador
Our August ecotour group has been fantastic. Though we couldn’t end the week on a dolphin-high, it has been an absolute pleasure leading this program – and I hope this isn’t the last time on Bimini for these folks! We started our Thursday morning with a beach clean-up, followed by a much needed swim. Then, we gathered at the Sea Crest and they worked together to compose the following post – enjoy!
Our group is a mix of return guests (Roger – 65 yrs, Bonnie – 53 yrs & Megan – feels 22 yrs) and newbies (Sue – Megan’s mom, Rayanne – 12 yrs, Allison – neeeearly 11 yrs and Taylor – 10 yrs). We journeyed from California, Minnesota, New York and took taxis, trains, planes (even a small propeller plane!), van and ferries. And, all those steps were well worth it!
Seeing so many dolphins that we do not have the opportunity to see at home was amazing. We met up as a group on Day 1 and we had a talk to understand more about the dolphins, what we’d be seeing and how we needed to behave. Those of us who have been before feel more addicted to the dolphins and this whole experience – it gets better each time! Each day we would set off at 2 or 3 p.m., enjoying the amazing water views as we searched. We saw different dolphins and it’s been cool to keep a list of who we’ve seen. Seeing the calves is one of the most exciting parts!
Each day, we enjoyed watching the dolphins from the boat, but of course, we couldn’t wait to get our gear on and slide into the water. The feeling of them checking us out as they pass by, sometimes echolocating right on us, is just amazing. They even make eye contact; even more enjoyable than watching them, is the feeling that they are really watching us. Who is studying whom out there? It’s fascinating when they really want to interact with us! There is still so much to learn.
The rides home were beautiful too; Bimini’s sunsets are just glorious. We have great trust in our captains; even when the seas picked up, they kept the boat safe and comfortable. And, we won’t forget their head counts each time we get back on the boat!
We also had the chance to do some extra snorkeling at the Bimini Road, after which we really, really enjoyed getting to jump off the boat! So much so that during the next day’s swim break, we jumped in a few more times! Worked up our appetites for snack time on the boat!
Sue & Megan had a chance to explore the island by bike one morning. Another, they went to see the mangroves, literally the other side of Bimini, with Eagle Eye Fred. He pointed out lots of stingrays, a leaping eagle ray and took us to the Martin Luther King Jr monument, placed right within the mangroves. Back on the dolphin boat, we’ve seen lots of leaping of flying fish while we’re searching for dolphins.
Our visit to the SharkLab was incredible. Hands on, getting to touch the baby nurse shark was a treat. The young girls have touched a baby shark before, but at an aquarium. It was cool to see the sharks here and learn about the Lab’s volunteers and research projects. Watching the stingray “workup” was right up Megan’s alley.
Back on land, we’ve really enjoyed our time together, especially the hair braiding parties! Bimini itself is very different from our homes; different types of stores, money, driving on the other side of the road – and delicious Edith’s pizza! Accommodations at the Sea Crest have been great. We have adjoining rooms and a shared kitchen, dining and living room at this simple “mom & pop” hotel. It really helped our group dynamic and gave the experience a home-feel. The sea is such a beautiful blue, with so many shells on the beach. We spent Thursday morning doing a beach clean-up, and even though it was hot, it felt good to get that trash in trash bags, where it cannot hurt any sea creatures. With our trash piled, it felt great to get in the water and cool off. We even did some handstands and tosses in the warm, clear sea!
Until next time,
The Dolphin Squad (DCP’s awesome August 2019 ecotour group!)
Wednesday was a busy, busy day for the current ecotour group (who are just delightful, by the way!). We met up at 9 a.m. and were soon headed to South Bimini. Destination? Bimini Biological Field Stations, aka “SharkLab.” While Kel gave a talk to visiting students from University of Minnesota and some Lab staff & volunteers (thanks for the invite!), the DCP group enjoyed a great tour (thanks for accommodating our schedule!). They learned all about the sharks of Bimini, especially nurse and lemon sharks, Lab’s research and even watched a “workup” of southern stingray. After a very enjoyable and educational experience, we headed back to North Bimini for lunch and rests before our 3 p.m. dolphin trip.
The seas were calmer today and the sun was shining. I was already thinking about how long to wait before suggesting the first “swim break,” when we saw splashing, then a big leap, to the west. We cruised over and found a lone bottlenose dolphin with a very distinct dorsal fin. It wasn’t terribly interested in the boat (though we did get some nice looks near the bow) and was swimming in an erratic pattern. So, I collected some dorsal fin photographs to match to our photo-ID catalog and we said goodbye.
That first sighting energized us for more and the day did not disappoint. We were able to watch a group of 12 Atlantic spotted dolphins (there were others scattered in the distance) for a while and saw them under water. I ID’d Sulfur (#102) from the boat and then saw Paul (#99) under water. After our first swim, the group size shrunk to five; Niecey (#48), her male calf and Paul remained, along with two older juveniles. We saw lots of pec-to-pec and pec-to-body rubbing, especially between Paul and another male (pictured here). The guests giggled at the calf, who was very busy zipping about, showing off his pink belly and overall just being goofy. We got two chance to swim with this smaller group….and, as always, it was a privilege.
Back on land, I gave the team a ride north to pick up their pizza from the famous Edith’s. Yum!
On Tuesday morning, two of our guests headed to the mangroves with bonefisherman and mangrove guide Eagle Eye Fred. They may have been a little nervous in “The Healing Hole,” but they certainly enjoyed cruising through the mangroves, seeing tons of stingrays and a leaping spotted eagle ray and taking a moment at the Martin Luther King Jr monument. Back at the Sea Crest, the remaining guests and I chatted about photo-ID. Shortly after 11, word reached us that “Lady J” had arrived outside the Bimini Museum. Class was paused so the guests could grab some delicious lunch – right from the back of her car! With full bellies, we resumed our photo-ID chat, looking at photos of Split Jaw, Speedy, Prince William and Swoosh.
The boat departed at 2 p.m., giving everyone a chance to snorkel “The Bimini Road” (aka, Atlantis or the Road to Atlantis). Though everyone enjoyed the snorkel, I think the biggest smiles and loudest laughs came when everyone started jumping off the side of the boat. It might sound strange, but it’s one of my favorite things that boat guests do – they always seem to have a blast!
Next up was our search for dolphins. And, search we did. And then searched some more. Hopped in the water to wake up and cool off before searching some more. Snacked on brownie brittle and popcorn and then searched some more. But, the dolphins were simply not where we were. Still, we’re grateful for the previous two days and looking forward to the last two!
On Monday morning, the ecotour crew and I sat around the table and talked about DCP, our research off Bimini, the species found here and our role in The Bahamas Marine Mammals Stranding Network. They had a lot of great questions and we were all excited about the afternoon’s boat trip.
We once again departed at about 3 p.m. and we were not disappointed with the weather. The seas were calm and there was just enough breeze and cloud cover to keep us at least a little bit cool. After about 90 minutes of searching, it was time to hop in the water just to cool off and wake up. We then resumed our search and even though I chatted with the guests about my personal policy of not giving up on finding dolphins until we are turning back into the harbor, I’m not sure they believed me. But the dolphins sure did wait until almost the last moment! Suddenly we could see 8 Atlantic spotted dolphins, including Swoosh (#36) and, presumably, her calf. Most of the other dolphins were older adults and since it was getting late, we quickly got in the water. We had a hilarious observation of one older male (I’ll try to ID him later from stills and video). He was hanging upside down, just letting us all check him out! Later, Buster (#04) came through, as if he wanted to be sure we had good video for his adoption kit like yesterday’s “boys’ club.” It was great to see him!
Needless to say, we were all glowing as we returned to the dock. Now it’s time to get this blog posted and head to bed!
Until next time,
Sunday was Day 1 of Ecotour 2! Our July program was a lot of fun (& really productive) and I’ve been looking forward to this session ever since. Our small group settled in at the Sea Crest and at 2 p.m. we jumped into orientation – then jumped on the boat in hopes of jumping in the water! First up, it was a gear check, a “dolphin drill,” if you will. Everyone got masks, fins and snorkels on and got in and out of the water as if they trying to swim with dolphins. Half of the group has done this before, but the newbies did great too! Soon, we were back on the boat, resuming our search…
Then, right in front of us, were calmly surfacing dolphins! I grabbed the clipboard (no Nicole and no interns, woe is me!) and jotted down the time and location. Then, I headed to the bow to see if I recognized anyone. Sure enough, it was some fan favorites: Split Jaw (#22), Prince William (#64) and Speedy (#78). You can see Prince William (top) and Speedy (bottom) pictured here. They were cruising, so we observed them from the surface, seeing some seaweed play and pectoral fin contact. Suddenly, they stopped – that was our sign. We got in the water and the observations did not disappoint. I think we’ll definitely be using video from today for Split Jaw and Speedy’s adoption video updates this winter.
After a nice observation, the dolphins picked up speed again, so we returned to observing them from the boat. It never gets old! As the time ticked away, and storms built to the west, we got in one last time for a final observation and goodnight. The seas really kicked up on the ride home, but we were all so thrilled with the day, we didn’t mind!
Late July flew right by, but not without two dolphin trips with two of my favorite Bimini Adventures customers. This delightful couple has been coming to Bimini for years and even though they privately charter Captain Al’s boat, they always invite DCP along for the ride. It was a blast catching up with them and seeing some exciting favorites, including Tina (#14) and her calf (#121), Leslie (#80), Stefran (#82) and Vee (#101). There were some really great moments – which we’ll hopefully be able to add to the next video creation for DCP’s Adopt-A-Wild-Dolphin program!
Fast forward to today and while squalls delayed the dolphin trip, I had a delightful roundtable chat with this week’s Bimini Adventures guests. They asked such fantastic questions! As the weather cleared, we went in search of dolphins – and we were not disappointed! We found dolphins early and spent much of the afternoon in the company of seven spotted dolphins, including Leslie (#80). The dolphins were on the move and taking advantage of some small fish so most of our observations were from the boat. It was still exciting, especially the little one’s big leaps! Soon we were watching another active group in the distance; a mixed species group! We didn’t get to see the bottlenose for long, but we watched the spotteds, including Sulfur (#102), for the rest of the afternoon. What a day!
Until next time,
Island life has left me behind on blog posts once again! Last Thursday, I was able to join the Bimini Adventures’ group on one more dolphin trip – and it was a wild one! There was searching, there was a big squall and of course, there were dolphins! Later that night, I joined the group for dinner (yum – the group chef does such tasty meals for us!) and chatting. Thanks to everyone for their support this week.
Following this group was a mid-season break, filled with family time. It was great – but since our air conditioner at home broke, it meant my laptop could only handle short running times. Inside temperature was a mere 96°F and the ol’ computer wasn’t impressed. Thank goodness electricity on the island is pretty stable again, so at least the ceiling fans could cool us down enough for snoozing…
I’ll spend the coming week catching up on emails, data and maybe, just maybe, convincing a few more folks to join us on our August 11 – 16, 2019 ecotour. Are our updates from Bimini calling to you?! Email us (info[at]dcpmail.org) or Facebook message us if you are interested!
On Wednesday (Happy Independence Day, Bahamas!), the day began with a light breakfast for Nat & Taylor at my house. There was just enough time to touch base before helping them get their suitcases to the ferry dock – they headed back to Florida today. It’s been a pleasure working with these interns and DCP got more done this summer thanks to them. And, they were even able to squeeze in a quick beach clean-up this morning; how great are they?!
After they headed out, I got myself back into solo researcher-mode as the dolphin trip was leaving at 1400. Though I’d met this week’s guests earlier, during the camera and photo-ID intros I led, it was my first time joining them for a dolphin search. They were alert and eager, but first: a snorkel stop at 3 Sisters. We didn’t have to wait long after the snorkel to find dolphins; they made themselves known with lots of splashing at the surface. It was a large group and they were on the move. They were somewhat spread out, so a group count was challenging, but there were at least 32 Atlantic spotted dolphins. Throughout the afternoon we had several opportunities to watch the surface activity and bow riding as well as observe them underwater. We made note of Cerra (#38), Niecey (#48) and Stefran (#82), all with calves, Split Jaw (#22), Prince William (#64), Speedy (#78), Paul (#99), Sulfur (#102), “Lamda” (#104, pictured here. He has some new scratches on his other side, but he’ll be just fine)
Back on land, it was camera rinsing, battery charging and emails. We’ll see what tomorrow brings!