Monday morning, we explored Alice Town during break and got caught in the rain! When we got back, it looked as if we’d all showered in our clothes. Our class session was on interspecies interactions and we discussed the possibility of “spottlenose” dolphins. We chatted about the advantages to mixed species groups and why they might form. We grabbed lunch and then….
Our afternoon boat trip wasn’t aimed at finding dolphins (though we are always on the lookout, of course!). It was a really calm, sunny day – not quite Dr. M’s “jiggly jello” sea state, but close. We began with our surprise stop at Honeymoon Harbor (on Gun Cay). Here, we got to meet southern stingrays. We were a bit spooked at first as more and more came closer and closer. Soon, nurse sharks joined. We got to touch them – the stingrays are so smooth and the nurse shark felt like sandpaper. They all came up to us like little, over-excited puppies. Being careful to make sure we reminded the nurses that our cameras were not food, Captain Al and Denver showed us how to toss the food to the sharks and not actually hand feed them. Some of us may have been squealing most of the time…We got to stay for quite a while. On the swim back to the boat, the rays and nurses followed us. At the boat, some of us got to see the largest nurse of the day – one that Captain Al knows well due to the scar on its face.
It was a short, snack-filled cruise to Triangle Rocks where Haley and Holly saw some coral that we had seen earlier in the coral ID book, and Denver showed us some fire coral (ouch!). We saw Caribbean reef and sharpnose sharks and spotted eagle rays. There were at least three different spotted eagle rays and we all got to see at least two of them, some of us fairly close up. While getting a good look at the sharks, we saw at least one with a tag and another with a hook and line caught in its mouth. At the end, Denver scooped up a spiny lobster for us all to see. He showed us how to tell that it was a male, and explained the females have little claws in order to hold onto their eggs. Of course, we put the lobster back, since lobster season is currently closed in The Bahamas.
Back on the boat, we were able to watch Al and Denver throw the rest of the bait in the water. The sharks came right to the surface, knocking into each other to get the snacks. Denver brought the head of the barracuda he had caught last night. He tied it to a line and hung it off the back of the boat….until the sharks grabbed it! Once all the bait was gone, we thanked the sharks and made our way home. Closer to shore, we were in the capable hands of Captain M (under Captain Al’s watchful eye of course). She came. She saw. She conquered (the sea).
Roll Kerns (EKU 2019)
Saturday began with our field routine: breakfast, blog, break & class. During break, some of us went to the beach (photoshoot!), while others explored the laundromat (6 bucks a wash!). With Dr. M we discussed play behavior. Tears may have been shed….over cute elephants. We talked about different types of play and why animals play.
Lunch was chicken noodle soup (yum!). Our boat trip once again departed at 14:30. It was another slow day of searching, with lots of white caps. Suddenly…was that smooth jazz playing in the distance? Nope. But it was two loggerhead turtles mating at the surface. Was this sighting in honor of Endangered Species Day? Can’t be sure, but we did enjoy the sighting. Captain Al told us that this is turtle mating season around Bimini and the mating event can last for hours. The female looked as though she was basically trying not to drown the whole time, but we did see her grab a breath every so often. The turtles did not show any signs that they cared about our boat’s approach, which allowed us a very good view. We could see something swimming below them (remora?), but could not confirm what it was. We said farewell to this pair, gave them some privacy and continued on our way.
We did a bit more searching, but came up empty on dolphins. Our turtle sighting kept our spirits high as we came back to the dock. Next up: dinner and a movie. We watched BBC’s “Spy in the Pod.” The debate rolls on: who is our favorite, Spy Tuna or Spy Squid? Sadly, no one votes for Spy Dolphin. Spy Clam was cool and Spy Turtle was cool, but had trouble keeping up. Spy Stingray surprised us and Spy Nautilus was a little dull, just sort of floating there. After the movie, we were all tired – since the sun was out all day today! – so we went straight to bed. Before falling asleep, the electricity went out! Thankfully, not for long.
Let’s hope for more dolphins tomorrow,
Roll Kerns (EKU 2019)
During Sunday’s morning break, some of us explored down the beach and saw the Galant Lady. We continued on to the southern tip of the island, to the old sea wall. It was a great spot for photo shoots – the models we saw leaving must have agreed. Back in class we discussed group living and costs and benefits of a social life. There are different types of group living, including fission-fusion society versus matriarchies, for example. Then, Nicole shared the short-version of her doctoral work. Hearing about her investigations into some of the things we have seen here, first hand, was great. We really liked the visualizations of the data/the dolphins’ interactions, including the sociogram. John compared it to his own social circles back home – big group of friends, with subsets who hang out more often.
Before the boat departed, we got to see a large tarpin at the marina. Then, we were off! Sadly, without Kel (but don’t worry, all is well – she’ll be back tomorrow!). It was a really pretty day. On the way out, Sam & Kayla saw a pufferfish and a stingray! Today, there were almost too many flying fish (ok, there could never be too many!). Our first dolphin sighting was at 15:49 and we saw four bottlenose dolphins. They were just slowly traveling and didn’t stick around for very long, so we continued our search. At 16:02, we saw our first spotteds – a group of just three, including Leslie (#080), her calf and a juvenile. We got in the water and got a quick glimpse of this trio. Back on the boat, at 16:37, we came upon a group of 16. Leslie and her calf were in this group too. When it was time to get in the water, we could see the dolphins waiting by the stern (for us?!). Kayla stayed onboard and was super excited to recognize #104 (“Lamda”) on her own! Captain Al did more boat circles than normal, as the dolphins kept showing interest in riding the bow of the boat. In the water, we saw a lot of play behaviors and from the boat, we could see some sticking their rostrums out of the water. There were lots of small jellyfish in the water today as well as lots of dolphin fecal matter – yay. These realities of the sea didn’t stop us from enjoying these awesome observations. We got back on the boat and Captain Al called down that we could keep our snorkel gear on and hop back in – the dolphins had returned! Some of us did and there was even more playing and social behavior. It was really interesting to see how close the dolphins came to Nicole and DCP’s MVA. The dolphins came so close to all of us, it was very cool. Nicole was able to ID Tina (#14) and calf, Niecey (#48) and calf, Paul (#99), #104 (“Lamda”), Poppy (#112) and un-named #107 and #114. Those of us on the boat saw even more aerial behaviors and activity at the surface. We got another chance to see how Denver might actually be a dolphin (he’s very comfortable in the water!). On the way back to shore, Denver saw a tiger shark – to those of us who saw it, it was definitely a big blob. Coming into the harbor, some of us saw a spotted eagle ray.
Worn out from the sun and our swims, we devoured “the bomb BBQ chicken.” We rounded out the night by making a serious dent in DCP’s t-shirt stock.
Roll Kerns (EKU 2019)
Friday morning’s class covered research methodology, including the science behind DCP’s mobile video acoustic array (MVA). We also talked about ethograms and their use in studying animal behavior. We used our morning break to search for non-US KitKats, but alas, we had to settle for the U.S. versions. Our search will continue…
We had Caesar salad for lunch (!) and then departed just before 14:30 in search of dolphins. The day started out slower than our past trips, but the sun was shining! We kept our searching spirits up with karaoke on the bow and woke ourselves up with a swim break halfway through the trip. As soon as we got back on the boat, we saw dolphins! It was a group of 3 bottlenose. They checked out the boat, but were mostly just surfing and cruising. So, after Kel and Nicole got a few dorsal fin photographs, we resumed our search.
About 20 minutes later, we came upon our first spotteds of the day. There were five, including two calves and one juvenile. They weren’t staying in one spot; even the calves seemed to be doing their own thing, away from their mothers. We tried to swim with them, but after a quick fly-by, they were off. So, we watched them from the boat for a bit longer. We headed back toward shore, hoping for a late, last sighting, but no luck.
Back at the Sea Crest, we all enjoyed dinner which included local peas n rice and conch n rice – thank you, Sister Jen!! It was soooo good and dish crew did an awesome job scrubbing the pans. Last up: Friday movie night! We watched BBC’s Inside the Animal Mind: Secrets of the Social World. It was so cool to see the very same boat that we’ve been using this whole week – and some of the same dolphins. The show included other species and it was helpful to see the ways in which ideas about one species can be applied (or not) to others. It was weird to hear the host refer to dolphin “language,” but good to then hear scientists refer to dolphin “communication.” If only there had a been a soundtrack by Sting….
Roll Kerns (EKU 2019)
*Ka-chow* The Colonels wake up in a fright! Don’t worry, no murder mystery here, but there was thunder and lots of rain. We were worried that we would have to use up our 2nd weather day, but by about 10:30 the sky seemed pretty much done. So, we had a little excursion back to South Bimini – with the bugs – to the SharkLab! We saw baby lemon sharks with tour guides Sarah and Wajeh. We learned some fun facts, like nurse and lemon sharks are so flexible that they can bite their own tails. Sarah told us that they go into “the donut shape” when they are stressed and they will not release themselves until calm. Lemons, like nurses, can buccal pump so they can breathe even when staying still. It was interesting to compare our experiences so far with the dolphins (Just observe! No touching!) with the techniques at the Lab – they can handle shark species, including tagging. They have different techniques for tagging, depending on the size and species. They study several different species around Bimini and can even ultrasound captured sharks to discover their pregnancies. It’s amazing how many pups they can have at one time. Learning about the PhD’s students’ work at the non-profit Lab is cool too!
Then we came “home,” ate a speedy lunch and got on the boat. Our trip started with a chance to snorkel “Bimini Road” (aka Atlantis or Road to Atlantis). It was really cool. Holly “saw some rocks and stuff!” and others saw lots of cool fish. For most of us, we felt like it was just rocks – making a nice home for fish. Others could see the idea that they are natural rocks that were put there by native communities. No votes from this group that they are remnants of the Lost City of Atlantis.
After our snorkel, we resumed our survey, searching for dolphins. At 16:39 we first saw dolphins – this time, eight bottlenose dolphins! It was pretty easy to spot (ha!) the difference between the species. The bottlenose are so much bigger than the spotteds. And, we could really see what Kel was talking about in the differences between the dorsal fins. One was missing the tip while others had clear nicks and another was bent over! Once the crew determined that the bottlenose were settled in one spot, “crater feeding,” so we were able to hop in!
While observing underwater, we saw the crater feeding – watching the dolphins cruise along the sea floor, then abruptly turn and bury their rostrums in the sand. Watching them pump their flukes to get deeper was cool. There was a calf, and we watched it follow its mom and even nurse! Late in the hour long swim, a nurse shark cruised through the group. One of the dolphins was clearly missing its pectoral fin. At one point, there was more social behavior, with older dolphins making contact with each other and some juveniles practicing their mating techniques. They stayed around for much longer than we expected; at one point we thought they were gone, but suddenly, they were back! They sounded different from the spotteds – with much more buzzing and clicks from their echolocation. When they echolocated on us, we could even feel it. Back on the boat, the carrots were no match for Haley and Sarah (inspired by the bottlenose snacking?).
As we cruised back to the dock, we saw our first spotteds of the day – first, a group of seven and soon after a group eight. Both groups had calves with them and at one point a trio all leapt out of the water together. The first group included Romeo (#10), possibly Tina (#14) and Tina’s calf (to be catalogued). The second group included Leslie (#80). Because it was late in the day, we had to be content with our short boat-based observation of this group – but maybe we’ll see them more tomorrow!
Dinner was pizza (thank you, Edith!) and ice cream for dessert. Tonight’s dinner crew attacked their dish duty!
Roll Kerns (EKU 2019)
Wednesday morning’s breakfast crew slapped (once again, if they do say so themselves). Our class topic was photo-ID. We learned why it’s important, in Bimini, to rely first on dorsal fins and later on other parts of the body when keeping track of individual bottlenose dolphins. We discussed the age classes of the dolphins, particularly the Atlantic spotteds. We went into more details on the spotted dolphin’s spot patterns and how those are used to identify individuals. We spoke a lot of #087 (Tilly) and #064 (Prince William) and their run-ins with sharks. We talked some more about #104 and how his new marking will be used to recognize him.
We used our class break to visit the Straw Market again, both Sarahs and Holly got their hair braided and we continue to try to get Deric to get his beard braided. Soon, we were headed to the boat…
At 15:11, we first spotted spotted (ha) dolphins! There were so many of them! At first there were 13, then 15, then 17, then 24! On the bow, Nicole showed us #110 (Weiloo) and Sam and Haley fell in love! It was too choppy to get in the water, so we watched from the bow. But, we saw a ton! Just two or three feet away from us an older juvenile did an amazing leap, “flippity flip.” Several of us were able to recognize #104’s dorsal fin mark all on our own (pictured here)! Over the course of the sighting, in addition to Weiloo and “Lamda” (#104), Nicole was able to ID: Romeo (#10), Split Jaw (#22), Lil’ Jess (#35), Swoosh (#36), Stefran (#82), Inka (#93), Vee (#101), Sulfur (#102), Poppy (#112) and un-named #107 and #114. Then – lightning bolt, thunder clap – we had to head closer to shore. We didn’t escape the rain, but we cruised until the rain stopped. Soon after, we saw four more spotteds – 2 presumed mother/calf pairs! They did some fun flippity flips too and chased flying fish. We were able to get in the water this time, and got a quick glimpse of one adult and two calves. Even after they were out of view, we could hear their whistles. It was so cool! Back onboard, we followed this group as the calves were really into riding the bow. One calf repeatedly swam belly up, giving us a good chance to confirm it was male. We waited and waited for the second to do the same, and finally – male too! At one point, the calves raced ahead of the bow together, faster than we’d seen them swim before, straight to an adult. Perhaps mama had given a whistle to call them back? At one point, one adult did two big flips right around the calves; unusual behavior for a mother, leaving us wondering what was going on under the water. Later, the group size went from four to eight, and the new dolphins included at least one juvenile.
After this dolphin sighting, we began our way back to shore – and got some more rain. We pulled into the dock and before heading up to our rooms, had a good look at a cushion star, some sea urchins and sergeant majors. Soon, it was dinner time, then some of us stayed up a bit and played cards (yes – physical playing cards – no phones!).
Roll Kerns (EKU 2019)
We started Tuesday with breakfast (Bimini breeeeaaaaddd….yuuuuuuuuummmmmmm) and then we headed to The Dolphin House. We met Ashley Saunders, the builder/artist who created The Dolphin House. He is a local historian, poet, musician – the Swiss Army knife of Bimini. It was really cool to see how he takes forgotten scraps and turns it into the house. Sam was amazed at how he can look at what others would consider trash and turn into a building. He told us about his labor love, and his positive energy was contagious. There were over 40 different mosaic dolphins throughout the property and his collection of license plates and coins from around the world showed his love of the world and the world’s love of his project. He spoke of his first experience with the wild dolphins of Bimini and how they awoke his spirit and inspired him to create something that would give back to the dolphins and inspire others. Learning how long his family has been on Bimini (200 years!) was amazing and LiEllen felt he has a really beautiful soul, the kind of person you’d want to sit with and hear stories.
After The Dolphin House tour, we wrote yesterday’s blog post and had a chance to try local conch salad (thank you, Nishka!). Mark says, “It was slammin.’” And the two Sarahs really appreciated the spicy “sour” that came alongside the salad. We had a nice break and some of us went to the straw market and others to the beach.
After lunch, we got the news that the weather was too iffy to head in search of dolphins. So, we switched gears and had a bonus lecture. Kel told us about The Bahamas Marine Mammal Stranding Network. We loved hearing about Harold the manatee and we’ll be on the lookout for #104 (Lamda). We were surprised to learn about how the tagging process works and it was cool how the different islands work together and communicate to meet the need of stranding response. After class, it was time to get outside – for our beach clean-up!
The beach clean-up was rewarding, but also a little depressing to see how much litter is scattered on the beach, especially the straws and cigarette butts. And, the fact that Kel & Nicole did a beach clean-up with the last student group, less than two weeks ago. After the beach clean-up, some of us headed into the sea to cool off! Others carried scraps of tiles and old shells to Mr. Ashley at the Dolphin House. He seemed genuinely grateful that we thought of him.
After dinner, we watched “Dolphins,” the film that first brought DCP’s Director to Bimini in 1997. It was very informative for an older film (2000). And though it was anthropomorphic at times, we do understand the benefits of inspiring the general public through films like this. And, we had some chuckles thinking about the narrator (Pierce Brosnan!) and the music (Sting!). Hearing some of the scientific methods (ex, comparing dolphin vocalizations in clear versus murky water) was very interesting.
Wishing for good weather tomorrow,
Roll Kerns (EKU 2019)
Monday began with learning more about DCP and the dolphins we are going to see here in Bimini. We learned where the dolphins’ ranges are, how to distinguish between the two species and about spotted dolphins’ spot patterns. We didn’t know that each individual has a unique pattern – fingerprints! We learned how to tell the difference between males and females: males look like an exclamation point where as females have a long slit and mammary slits. We also had our boat safety and dolphin swim etiquette orientation.
After lunch we headed to the boat and met our crew: Captain Al and Denver. Right away, the waves were playing tricks on us and we thought we saw dolphins everywhere. We took a break and practiced getting on and off the boat with our snorkel gear. As the day wore on, we all became more and more comfortable making our way from the back of the boat to the bow. We spotted two turtles along the way and chatted about the pier construction, that we could now see for ourselves. Holly donated her snorkel to the sea (oops), but we all did great! Which was good because we didn’t have to wait long for dolphins…
At 15:44, we had our first dolphin sighting! It was 13 Atlantic spotted dolphins. They were in such a tight cluster and came so close to the boat. Most of the dolphins seemed to be juveniles, but it was hard to be sure in the rough seas. There were at least two adults, one* of which was presumably with her calf – we think we saw it nursing! The timing was great, as this sighting was within DCP’s “shoreline” range which was the exact topic we covered in class earlier. We saw some tail/fluke slaps and when some of us went in the water, John noted a juvenile who slapped the surface of the water at least 11 – 12 times.
Under water, we saw two juveniles playing with something (rock? shell?) at the seafloor. They were also rubbing their bodies against the sand. Partway through the swim, Denver joined us in the water and it was amazing to see him dive down and watch the dolphins follow him. Lai-yee amazed by the dolphin who came right up to her, turning at the very last moment.
Back on the boat, it was snack time: the apples!! Mark had no idea you could put lime juice on apples and loooooved it. The snack resurrected many of our “sicklings” Sarah and Kayla worked together to save the pretzels from going overboard. Seas were building so we made our way back toward shore, still looking for dolphins.
Good thing we were looking because suddenly there were two juvenile spotteds suddenly coming right toward the boat. We cruised with them and watched them ride the bow, making note of and giving space to the other dolphin watching boat. At one point, one dolphin swam through seaweed, catching it on its fluke.
Deric & John saw lots of flying fish as we cruised home. We had to go into the waves, so the ride was rougher – but we thought it was fun! Back at the hotel, we were all very tired, but not tired enough to skip the stirfry which, according to Mark, “slapped.” (For those like Kel who had no idea what this meant, it means it was really good.)
Roll Kerns (EKU 2019)
We are back in the swing of university courses at DCP’s Bimini, The Bahamas field site. This time it’s Dr. Radhika Makecha and 14 Eastern Kentucky Colonels for 12 nights. The bar is high after the great UNBSJ course and we have even higher hopes this program. As usual, the students will be taking over the DCP blog – we hope you enjoy it!
-Nicole & Kel
On Sunday, our flight from Fort Lauderdale to Bimini was the shortest flight we’d ever been on: 16 minutes from take-off to landing. The South Bimini airport was much different than what we’re used to – very small! And, it was the fastest immigration and customs we’d ever been through, and friendly. Holly had a chuckle as she, the immigration officer and the passenger behind her all had the same birthday! From the plane and on the ferry ride from South to North Bimini, we all noticed how blue the water is. As we arrived at the Sea Crest, we were greeted by a brown pelican, two large tarpin, a southern stingray and nurse sharks. We’ve been told to keep our eyes out for bull sharks in the marina too. We also got a quick hello from marina guest, “Hailey” an old, slow, happy dog.
It's been so nice and refreshing to see and hear how friendly everyone is: “Welcome to Bimini!”, “Have a great time!’ There are lots of things to take in and Caitie was most intrigued by the lizards. After settling into our rooms, we headed to the beach for our first snorkel. The walk to the beach is short and our hotel is nicely nestled between the harbor and the ocean – seems like no matter where you are, you can have a view of the water. Testing out our gear, we also got to see some first fishes…we’ll need to consult the fish ID book and run our IDs by Captain Al.
As we chatted before dinner, our enthusiasm is building for exploring Bimini (straw market!) and class extras (beach cleanup!). Dinner was lovely – we were all so hungry and tired. Dish crew did a pretty good job, if they do say so themselves.
Until next time,
Roll Kerns (EKU 2019)
We just received notice from Wanderer Bracelets of the new video showcasing their dolphin bracelet and DCP!
Newcomers to DCP’s web site might not know that Wanderer Bracelets is a supporter of DCP’s research and education programs. In fact, DCP receives 10% from the sale of each Wanderer dolphin bracelet! Take a look at the video they just finished. Then, visit Wanderer’s web site to get your own dolphin bracelet today and support DCP even more! And, you’ll look stylish in your support!
You can view the video at this link.