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!
Tuesday was our last full day on Bimini. We began by met Kel for early pickup by the Coral Reef II’s dingy. We bounced our way out of the harbor and soon were climbing aboard the Shedd Aquarium’s research vessel to chat with their first round of Teen Science Expedition students. It was a whole new take on Kel’s presentation – a large flat screen TV, cool A/C….and a gently rolling boat! It was great for Nat and me to share our recent paths through undergrad with these high schoolers.
Soon, we were back on land, prepping for our last boat trip aboard Renegade. We hoped it would be filled with dolphins, and encounters under water. Although it was our last boat trip, being aboard Renegade and searching for dolphins was a feeling of true bliss. It was another hot day and it was a bit rough providing us with tricky conditions to look for splashes or dorsal fins breaching the surface. Early during our trip, Captain Al spotted dorsal fins in the distance and we were met with 10 or 12 dolphins. This encounter was special for us because Nat and I were able to enter the water together!
Nat quickly grabbed the GoPro, and I grabbed my camera to take still photos of the dolphins. Nat was second in the water after the fearless group leader, and quickly caught up to dolphins to record video data. I entered the water last and made my way to the dolphins. At first, I couldn’t see anything because the visibility under the water’s surface wasn’t the best. Suddenly, I saw a big group of dolphins right under the surface. Dolphins seemed to be everywhere, and dolphins from various directions were joining the big group. I observed the dolphins for a moment, and then they went out of my view. They came back weaving their way through all the people in the water. Perhaps they were checking the unfamiliar objects (humans) that were in their environment. When I thought the encounter was over, I saw the massive group of dolphins along the bottom. They were too far for me to take still photos of them, but in unison they came up to the surface and took a big breath of air. I was able to swim with them for a little bit before they went out of view once more. Renegade picked us up, and we continued our search before our next sighting of dolphins came along.
This time Nat got in the water with the guests and a group of 12 spotted dolphins. Nat told me that during this encounter the dolphins did not seem to care about personal space. A couple of dolphins seemed to beg for her attention while she was trying to record the focal animal in the focal follow technique. Nat also told me this was the closest the dolphins had ever gotten to her. I was excited that Nat had a great last encounter with the dolphins before we said our final goodbyes, just as I had a great last encounter with these beautiful creatures.
Our last adventure on Renegade was nothing short of amazing. It was a combination of playful dolphins, glassy water, and great encounters that made the last day one to remember. It was a period of reflection as well, thinking about our time on the island and how much it would be missed when rejoining life in the States. Our flippered friends gave us a good send off. Tomorrow is our travel day back to Port. St. Lucie for the second half of our office portion of the internship. This is my last entry; I would like to thank all the readers out there for taking time the time to read The Daily Dolphin and following the adventures of the interns. “Life is not about the destination, It’s about the journey”.
Taylor and Nat
On Monday, Taylor and I woke up and made breakfast as we usually do and then headed to the Sea Crest for a DCP talk for the Sea Crest guests. Kel talked all about why photo identification is important for research and how to tell the spotted dolphins apart based on their spot pattern! It was a fun talk and Taylor and I always enjoy listening to the lectures. We also helped to outfit some of our cool DCP swag to the guests who wanted to rock a DCP shirt on the boat. After, Taylor and I went back to have lunch at CJ’s Deli right along the beach. Then we decided to have some fun at the beach and cool of in the water. After we went to the beach, we grabbed the sighting sheets and GoPro and headed to Renegade for our boat adventure.
We started looking for dorsal fins at 3:00 amongst some fairly rough seas and rocky waves. It was definitely one of the rockiest days we’ve been out, so the boat was swaying back and forth. We stopped for a swim break and sure enough there was also a strong current in the water. It was like a water treadmill as we swam against the current and got almost nowhere! After the swim break we continued searching for a long time. Eventually, after hours of searching, Taylor spotted the spotteds! There was a group of eight spotted dolphins riding the three foot waves of the rough seas all around us. It was so much fun to see them surf the waves. Among this group was Romeo (#10) and Swoosh (#36) – again! – as well as Inka (#93) and an inquisitive adult male who we’ll need to ID later. Taylor and the guests got in the water for a nice long encounter as the dolphins swam around in the waves. They also put on a show for the people remaining on the boat as they made huge jumps in the air. I got to see Romeo jump fully out of the water and body slam right into a wave. It was so awesome to watch! Then the encounter was over and we began the journey home.
But, the dolphins weren’t done with us: on our way back home we came upon 20 more spotted dolphins! It was just a little too rough to try another encounter, so we just made some surface observations. It was harder to ID the dolphins in these sea conditions, but Taylor and I were able to make out Sulfur’s (#102) distinct dorsal fin! Although we didn’t get in the water, the dolphins still put on a show as they leaped out of the water and played in the waves. Who knew rough seas could be so fun! Soon it was getting late, so Captain Al turned the boat around so we could head back to shore. We docked and then Taylor and I went right back to our cottage for a quick lights out! We had to get up early the next day for a talk aboard the Coral Reef II. More on that to come in the next blog!
Until next time, cheers!
-Nat and Taylor