Kelly Melillo Sweeting
Kel is DCP's Bimini Research Manager, and all around awesome scientist.
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!
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
On Sunday, Renegade embarked on the usual to look for our flippered friends with some unexpected delays due to weather. We stopped along the way to do a gear check, or for the interns, an excuse to jump in the water and cool off from the scorching sun. During the gear check one of the guests referred to us as mermaids, which I though was very funny. After the gear check we resumed our search…
Soon, we saw some dolphins in the distance. Everyone on board concluded that they were common bottlenose dolphins (T. truncatus) visiting us. Nat quickly unpacked the surface camera to try to capture their dorsal fins (pictured here). These dolphins were not into our agenda. They were moving fast and staying underwater for long increments of time, so after some time we left them in search of other dolphins.
After many hours of searching, and the sun was about to set over the horizon Renegade was making its way back to the dock. Suddenly, Nat and Captain Al saw some dolphins in the distance. This time they were spotted dolphins. The vessel sped up a little to catch up with the dolphins. As soon as we were close to them, Captain Al gave us the order to get our gear on. I was second in the water this time with the GoPro to take some video footage of the dolphins. This was classified as an encounter attempt because we didn’t actually see any dolphins underwater.
Later that evening, we came upon another boat and dolphins, but we weren’t able to collect anymore underwater data. Still – considering the rain delay, it was a nice first day on the boat for this week’s Bimini Adventures group. Stay tuned to find out how the rest of the week goes!
Taylor and Nat
Thursday wasn’t just the fourth of July but also the DCP eco-tour’s last boat trip! The boat departed at 2:00 pm so we could go to the Three Sisters for a nice snorkel stop. Taylor and I had fun rocking our new DCP rash guards while we went and checked out the huge schools of fish under the crooks and crevices of the Big Sister rock. I love free diving down into the big school of fish because it makes me feel like I am one with the school. We also saw a huge barracuda swim by and scare some of the smaller fish around the rocks. Soon we were back on board Renegade and searching for dolphins. It was a rocky and windy day out on the sea. It was definitely the rockiest Taylor and I have experienced so far out here in Bimini. The waves made it hard to see any dorsal fins out in the distance because of the frequent white caps, but Kel reminded us that it was still both safe and worth the search – sometimes Renegade is out in even rougher seas! I think I imagined a dolphin jumping about a hundred times because the white caps often look like splashes.
After a while of looking, three bottlenose dolphins appeared out of nowhere right at the bow of the boat. I quickly took out the surface camera and snapped a couple pictures of their dorsal fins. They were slowly on the move, so we didn’t try to have any encounter with the bottlenose dolphins. Soon they were out of sight and we continued our search for some spotted dolphins. After we looked for as long as possible, we had to start heading back home because it was getting pretty late. Unfortunately, we didn’t run into any spotted dolphins, but sometimes these dolphins need a break from us too. We came back to the docks and quickly showered for a late dinner. Taylor and I were able to join the guests during their last dinner and then we said good-bye to everyone Friday morning before they headed to the airport. We had a lot of fun with the DCP eco-tour group this past week and hope to see them again one day on future DCP trips and tours!
Until next time, cheers!
-Nat and Taylor
PS: A huge, giant, enormous thank you to Bimini Adventures and the Sea Crest teams for making our first ecotour of 2019 a great success. We’re so proud of this collaboration and look forward to many more – including our August 11 – 16, 2019 program! Snag a spot now – time is running out to meet the minimum of 10 which is required for delicious meals included.
Wednesday was one of the hotter days aboard Renegade. We boarded Renegade with all the gear including the GoPro, the surface camera, and the data collection sheet. I was ready to help guests board the vessel to start our journey to look for our daily dolphins. It looked like a cloudy day to be on water, but the sun was still shining strong making it hot on board. As we searched, we thought we saw a splash. As we continued on, we received a radio message from another dolphin-seeking boat that they had just left some dolphins. The captain followed our course to head in the direction where the dolphins could still be. The dolphins were still in that spot and were just cruising along. We waited to start our first encounter because yet another ecotour boat was also interested in watching the dolphins before they headed back home. We joined the DCP passengers for a well-deserved swim break before we tried to start an encounter with the dolphins.
Soon, we pulled up to them and the captain lined up Renegade for a drop. Nat went down the ladder to get her snorkel gear on and grabbed a camera to take still photos of the dolphins. I monitored everything from the surface and practiced taking some pictures of dorsal fins with the surface camera. It’s a skill that still needs some work, but it was a good attempt. Captain Al gave the all clear for the passengers to enter the water, but the dolphins didn’t seem to stick around for long. So, the captain asked the passengers to come aboard but to stay ready in preparation for another drop in the water. Being a new sighting of dolphins, this time the dolphins seemed to be more relaxed than before. Nat, Kel and the guests were able to have a good encounter: Kel is pretty sure she saw Cerra (#38) with a male calf, and Niecey (#48). At several points in the day, Stefran (#82) was also present with her calf – we’ve seen so much of them this week! After some time in the water, Kel called for a switch of teams. I was able to enter the water with team 2.
I was last to enter the water, and it seemed like the other guests in the water were following the dolphins in a different direction. As soon as I entered the water, there was a group of dolphins right under the platform. Naturally, I followed this group away from all the people to try to get some good still photos of these beautiful creatures.
The sight of dolphins on Renegade is always a good day. Having the opportunity to observe the dolphins in their natural environment was a breathtaking sight. Nat and I joined the guests for a delicious dinner because the power still had not returned by the time our journey was over. We have about a week left at DCP’s Bimini field site, which is a touchy subject because we both don’t want to leave the island. Thankfully, we still have more adventures to come before that time arrives. Adventure is out there!
Taylor and Nat
Tuesday was another great day out at sea! In the morning, Taylor and I continued our office work with some photo sorting, then right after lunch we met Kel at the Sea Crest to inventory the highly fashionable DCP shirts, tanks and rashguards. I couldn’t help myself and bought a bright green rash guard shirt with the DCP logo on the front. I wear it in the water whenever we snorkel with the dolphins and I absolutely love it. Taylor couldn’t resist either and got same one in bright yellow! We love representing DCP onboard Renegade!
After the inventory we set out around 2:00 to search for dolphins. We made a snorkel stop at Bimini Road so everyone could see the famed “road to Atlantis.” It is a great spot, but Taylor and I had already snorkeled there before, so we decided to skip the real snorkel site and have our own fun swimming around the boat (It doesn’t sound as much fun, but to us it was nice!). Everyone was soon back aboard the boat, and we continued our expedition to look for those dorsal fins. It wasn’t too long until we came across three spotted dolphins. Romeo (#10), Swoosh (#36) and Vee (#101) (yes! Romeo & Swoosh were together again) hung around the boat for a while until we were ready to try an encounter. Everyone was able to swim with these three for a little while, but then they seemed to move away. We decided to have some snacks on the boat while we looked for other dolphins. It wasn’t long until Romeo, Vee, and Swoosh led us to another group of spotted dolphins! Now there were about eight dolphins around the boat. Leslie (#80), Tina’s calf #121, and #114 was among the new dolphins we saw that afternoon. Kel thinks Tina is starting to give her calf some space because although we saw Tina’s calf, we didn’t see Tina (though, maybe we’ll notice her on video or in still photos). Time for the little calf to start learning on his own! We had another encounter with these dolphins, during which Tina’s calf was very active. He was swimming all around us! Soon it was time to say goodbye to the dolphins and head back home. It was then leftovers for dinner, wait for the power to come back on, and a quick lights out for Taylor and me so we can do it all again the next day!
Until next time, cheers!
-Nat and Taylor
PS: Remember – time is running out to grab a spot on our August 2019 ecotour. Click here for more info! We it’s short notice, but…..oh, it’s going to be amazing!
Monday was our second boat trip with DCP’s eco-tour group, with Bimini Adventures. The day started with our normal routine of waking up with the sun, getting caught up on our office work, and then having a lunch break. It was an exciting day because we finished the office work that was assigned to us upon our first arrival on the island. We really felt a sense of accomplishment when we finished our last video log. We decided to celebrate a little bit and headed to the beach after lunch to cool off in the crystal-clear water. As soon as we were done with our beach trip, we were met with a power outage. Luckily, we were getting ready to head to the dock, with hopes that the power will return when we were at sea.
We boarded Renegade, put all our equipment in the proper place, and helped all the guests board before we were ready to search for our daily dolphins. It was a hot day to be on a boat, and there was no ocean breeze to cool us down (the wind was ~5 kts). It didn’t take us long before we spotted some splashes up ahead. The captain headed straight for the splashes, and we were met with a big group of juveniles, including Paul (#99), and mother-calf pairs. Nat was excited to see them swimming in infant position! The final count was 13 spotted dolphins that seemed to surround the boat. The tricky thing about this group was that they were moving too fast and didn’t seem interested in slowing down for us. There were also several other boats in the area, all trying to swim with the same group of dolphins – not an ideal situation for the dolphins or the boat operators. After waiting patiently for our turn, the group plus Nat geared up and entered the water. Kel had the MVA to record the dolphins, and Nat had my camera to take some new stills of the dolphins. The dolphins split up into two different groups, and soon they were moving too fast for the swimmers to keep up. I was watching everything from a bird’s eye trying to give signals to the people in the water of the location of the dolphins. The swimmers boarded Renegade and stayed ready for another drop.
After the second encounter, it was my turn to head into the water to take pictures for DCP’s photo-ID catalog. By now the original 13 dolphins joined up with another group making one massive group of dolphins. Kel entered the water with the MVA and I entered the glassy water soon after with my camera. As we were heading toward the dolphins all I saw was this massive ball of juvenile dolphins just beneath the surface. They were more interested in socializing with each other than playing with us humans – which from a research perspective, is exactly what we want. After we observed the dolphins for a little bit they went out of our view and so we did not pursue them. I thought the encounter was over, but the big group of dolphins headed toward us. As we approached the group, I saw Stefran (#082) and her calf swim by. Kel was able to confirm that the sex of the calf was female, so Stefran has a little baby girl with her. Upon further observation Kel suspects that Swoosh (#036) and Romeo (#010) (both pictured here) could be pregnant – that would explain why we haven’t seen them with calves this year and, perhaps, why we’re seeing them together so much. I love the thought of new dolphin calves, soon swimming around in the ocean. After this encounter, Captain Al tried to put people in the water twice more before heading home.
Today was a great day with the dolphins on the perfect glassy water. Though the dolphins weren’t always interested in the humans, we still had a total of 5 encounters yesterday, which was more than I have witnessed thus far. I think we got some good footage of the dolphins, and some still photos that will be useful when updating the catalog. Despite the heat of the scorching sun it was a beautiful day to be on the water – and our guests are absolutely wonderful! Can’t wait for our next adventure!
Taylor and Nat
PS: Curious about Romeo, Swoosh, Stefran & Paul? You learn more about them and the other dolphins through our Adopt-A-Wild-Dolphin program. Or, join our 11 – 16 August 2019 ecotour program. It’s last minute, but it’s going to be awesome!!
Sunday marked the end to our boat trip hiatus! It has been a long 11 days of island life filled with photo sorting, video logs, and power outages. Taylor and I were super excited to meet the guests for the DCP eco-tour, done in collaboration with Bimini Adventures, for their orientation at the Sea Crest. I was so excited to see Bill, Ron, and John, all of whom I had the pleasure of knowing and meeting on the Roatan eco-tour trip this past October. It is always nice to see familiar faces!
After the Sea Crest visit, Taylor and I went straight to the docks to prepare for the dolphin expedition ahead. Soon we were on our way searching the horizon for dorsal fins. It was the prettiest day for a boat trip yet! The water was glossy smooth and you could see right to the sandy bottom. It would be easy to spot any dorsal fins today, and it wasn’t long until we came across something floating in the water, but it wasn’t a dolphin, it was a loggerhead sea turtle! Only something was very peculiar about this loggerhead. The turtle wasn’t able to dive down. Captain Audley turned the boat around and we investigated. It was clear that this turtle was in some kind of trouble because it would have definitely swum away by then if it could. Captain Al got in contact with Kel on shore to see if any action could or should be taken. After giving the GPS coordinates to Kel, we unfortunately had to leave the loggerhead on the surface where it would hopefully be picked up by help later.
As we continued our search, it wasn’t long until we came across a large group of spotted dolphins! They were scattered all over the place, probably because they were feeding. We tried a couple of encounters, but it seemed like the dolphins’ minds were not in the mood to play with our guests, and they generally ignored us and swam away. There were other boats in the area trying to do dolphin swims as well, so we decided to wait in the area until things settled down and hopefully the dolphins would be in a different mood to play. It was a pleasant wait on the boat though. There were dolphins all around us! There were dolphins to the left and dolphins to the right, out in front of the bow and in the back by the stern (hence the title, thanks Bill!). So at least we got to wait with dolphins instead of by ourselves. I was still able to ID Romeo (#10), Swoosh (#36), Tina (#14), and Stefran (#82) from the surface. Later we were able to try some more encounters and I was able to see Inka (#93) in the water. Soon it was time to start heading home, but it wasn’t without dolphins! We still had dolphins all around us on our way in! They weren’t quite bow riding, but they would sometimes come for a quick bow ride for a few seconds then swim off.
Soon we were back and Taylor and I were invited to have dinner with the eco-tour group! Luckily we accepted because we were welcomed back to our cottage with no power! Surprise, surprise. But thankfully, we were still able to go to the Sea Crest and eat some mushroom risotto, so we didn’t have to wait for the power to come back in our cottage to eat dinner. After dinner, the power was still off, but at this point I think Taylor and I are used to the island heat! Luckily the power returned right in time for bed at 11:00 so we able to have some cool air before bed!
Until next time, cheers!
-Nat and Taylor
Even with the frequent power outages that have been occurring on the island, we have been trying to get a dose of our daily dolphins. Our days are filled with photo sorting or video logging of “our dolphins.” It isn’t the same as being out on the water with these beautiful creatures, but at least it’s something – and, it’s an important part of being a DCP intern. We took lunch breaks and went to the beach in our front yard. Even on days without boat trips we find an excuse to be on a boat in the middle of the ocean. With the power being more off than on, we took it as an opportunity to be out on the water.
The Thursday before DCP’s eco-tour, we went out with Bimini SCUBA Center to do some snorkeling. To be out on the water again, with the ocean breeze blowing through my hair was a familiar feeling. It reminded me of the dolphin trips on Renegade and although on a different boat, it filled the void of having a hiatus from boat trips. I was just happy being in the middle of the ocean with nothing but miles and miles of ocean between us and the shoreline.
Friday was a rainy day filled with thunder, lightning, and power outages. We used the short time that we did have power to watch an important soccer game of the World Cup. We watched the United States versus France in the quarterfinals. Naturally, USA took the win over France, and they are heading to the semi-finals. Even though it wasn’t baseball, it was a sport none the less. Nat was way more excited than I was. After this, we tried to make some dinner, but we were met with another power outage. Luckily, the power came back on and we were able to cook some soup before it got too late. After dinner we worked on some more office work before hitting the hay for the night.
As our hiatus ends, we are nothing short of ecstatic to start our dolphin trips again. Looking for dolphins aboard Renegade has been missed by all. We have our first boat trip back aboard on Sunday. We are ready to be knee deep in the water or dolphins somewhere. More adventures to come!
Taylor and Nat
Today was a great day on the island! In the morning, Taylor and I took the morning off to do some SCUBA diving at Neal Watson’s Bimini Scuba Center! It was Taylor’s first time under the sea as an open water diver. She was a little nervous at first, but once we got down, swimming with all the fish, she was able to relax and really enjoy the dive! The next dive was an extremely shallow dive, almost too shallow to be considered a dive, but it was a shark dive! We headed to Triangle Rocks where Caribbean reef sharks were circling the boat and swam with them for about 40 minutes. About half way through the dive, two spotted eagle rays decided to pay us a visit and swim by the shark dive! They were such a treat to see, and one of my favorites because of how beautiful they are.
After the dives, we came back to our cottage for lunch and started back on our DCP photo sorting. We were able to get some work done, but then the power went off, which we are used to by now. We waited almost two hours but the power still did not return. Unfortunately, our computers were low on battery, so we couldn’t do any DCP work, but there was a nice breeze and we were able to sit outside and enjoy some air. It was starting to get late with the sun setting when Taylor and I had a great idea. We were starving for dinner, but without power, we couldn’t make anything until the power was back on. Taylor and I had no clue when the power would turn back on, so we decided to bike over to the Hilton Hotel and have a fancy dinner. The Hilton still had power, so we were able to enjoy some cool air and a meal. Eventually we biked back to our cottage, crossing our fingers that the power would now be on by now. Luckily for us, the power came back on while we were gone! It was a great end to a great day.
Until next time, cheers!
-Nat and Taylor
Our routine is a little different now since our last boat trip was about a week ago. Life on land is not as exciting as being on the water looking for our daily dolphins. Nat and I have got into a new routine that involves waking up when the sun rises, taking a break for lunch, and then getting caught up on sighting data or photo sorting. We have been taking advantage of our beautiful beach that is in out front yard, but it is nothing compared to being on a boat. The island was especially busy this weekend due to the famous Regatta weekend. Boats from all over were coming to celebrate a little sailboat race on the west coast of the island. The island was jamming with music that couldn’t be tamed, and a good amount of people. It was a good celebration minus the little power outages that have been occurring recently.
Yesterday was one of the hottest days on the island. The sun was shining, and the sky was clear, but there was no ocean breeze. Despite the hot air we started the morning with a beach trip. Luckily, it wasn’t as busy as compared to the daytime, so we spent the morning in the crystal-clear blue water looking for shells and sea glass. Since the beach seemed undisturbed by all the people, we took a nice walk on the beach before returning to our work. After our lunch break, we tried to get ahead in the sighting data, and the photo sorting for a good length of time. I was sorting photos that consisted a lot of dolphins that were considered either a C2 or C3, which were hard to tell apart from each other. The spot pattern on the different dolphins is what makes it easier for me to sort the different individuals. After a while, the dolphins started to blend together, and I looked over at Nat to signal that I really needed a break from the work and the heat inside the cottage. She came to the same conclusion, and we both decided to go to Big Game restaurant for dinner. It was a very nice to overlook the water, and see all the boats that had anchored at the dock for the weekend.
After dinner, we decided to watch a movie to relax from the day. After the movie was over we read our books for a little bit. Suddenly, we were visited by a strange creature that was too big to be a bug of any sort. It turned out to be a little lizard friend that sought refuge inside our cottage. We tried to catch him, but he was too fast for both of us. After the excitement we were met with a quick lights out because the power went out (again). We are both patiently awaiting more boat trips to come our way!
Until next time, Cheers!
Taylor and Nat
PS: Did you know that you can support DCP’s research through our Adopt-A-Wild-Dolphin program? It’s easy – you pay $30 or $35, choose a dolphin and get all sorts of fun info, photos and videos! Click here to check out the details.
These past couple of days have been filled with office work and short trips to the beach. We have just entered our long stretch of no boat days, which gives Taylor and I a great opportunity to get some photo sorting, video logs, and sighting sheets recorded and analyzed. On Thursday we began our day with a little bit of photo sorting and then headed over to Kel’s house to place a video call over to Marineland! We were happy to leave our little cottage because our cottage did not have power all morning. They needed to change the power box, so they had to shut off the power, which means our little home on Bimini got really hot, really quickly. We took the beautiful ocean view walk over to Kel’s where Taylor and I introduced ourselves to the students at Marineland and then Kel gave a full lecture about dolphin identification and why it is important. It was a lecture I remember hearing from last year, but I still enjoy listening to it and re-familiarizing myself with the photo identification materials.
After Taylor and I came back to the cottage, the power was still shut off because of the power box exchange. We decided to go down the street to CJ’s deli to get a bite to eat and sit by the beach. Hank said it would only be able 20 more minutes until the power was back on, so we decided to wait stretched out on the beach. After going swimming to cool off, we came back to our cottage but the power on the entire island was now off! Since our computers were low on battery and our cottage was now at a steamy 95 degrees, we decided to hit the beach again and do some snorkeling in our backyard. It was a nice snorkel around the rocks and Taylor and I say a cute little stingray that swam with us for a while. We relaxed on the beach for a while, and would periodically return to the cottage to see if the power returned, but we had no such luck. We decided to stay on the beach and continue to stay cool in the water, even if it meant having to constantly reapply all of our sunscreen. Soon, Kel arrived with kids in tow – they had the same idea, beating the heat by floating in the sea. It wasn’t until around 5:30 that Kel spied a nearby streetlight turn on: power was back! Taylor and I headed inside so we could try and get some more office work done since we had spent most of the day at the beach. We did some photo sorting and had leftover lasagna for dinner. It was one of our hottest days on Bimini with the power going out, but Taylor and I tough it out and still love our island life all the same.
Until next time! Cheers!
-Nat and Taylor
PS: Here's a pic from our beach clean-up with Sacred Heart University - with all the dolphin sightings, we never posted it!
Tuesday was an unusually long day aboard Renegade. We boarded our vessel at 11:00am and we headed due South, instead of our normal course to look for dolphins. Little did we know, that today was going to be one of our busiest days consisting of three different snorkel stops and looking for dolphins at the very end. Our course was chartered for our first stop, the ray encounter, which was the furthest South. The very chaotic encounter involved a lot of friendly stingrays that seemed to love the human’s presence in the water. We had the opportunity to feed the stingrays, which was my favorite part. I held the piece of shrimp out for the stingrays to see, and soon enough I was greeted by two stingrays going after the same shrimp. One stingray got there first, and vacuum suctioned the food right out of my hand. The “sea pancakes” were so smooth and slimy to touch due to the fact that they don’t have bones like we do, but they are one of the most graceful creatures to watch under the surface. Pretty soon the stingrays got wise to the idea that we were out of food and moved on to the next group of people. We said “bye” to the stingrays and made our way back to Renegade to head toward our next stop.
Our second stop of the day was at Triangle Rocks, a specifically good location to see Caribbean reef sharks. These weren’t little, tiny reef sharks; they were sharks of decent size that were swimming all around us. To see these sharks up close was an unbelievable sight. They were mostly there for some easy food, but some did try and check us out as well which made a great encounter. After being one with the sharks, we could snorkel near one of the rocks. It was a beautiful snorkel along the reef that was made up of sea fans. Nat and I saw a big barracuda that crossed our paths right before we headed back to the boat to look for some more sharks. Captain Kat saw a hammerhead that was below the surface among all the sharks. Nat and I didn’t see, but we wished we had. Next: we headed to a shipwreck known as the Sapona.
The Sapona was another good snorkel stop – it’s a massive, concrete wreck in shallow water. It’s pretty deteriorated, but has a rich history and is now home to plenty of fish. Because this group missed a dolphin trip due to weather, we used the last bit of daylight after the snorkel to search for dolphins. Unfortunately, today was met with no sighting of our dolphin friends, but we enjoyed the boat ride, nonetheless. We said goodbye to the students and the professors of Manhattan and Hunter colleges because it was their last day in Bimini. Today was our last boat trip for a while, but it gives us an opportunity to catch up on the office work. Overall, the past eight boat trips aboard Renegade was our form of nirvana. We both are happiest being on a boat in the middle of the ocean looking for dolphins. More adventures ahead!
Taylor and Nat
We have not been too lucky these past few days with the weather: Sunday’s boat trip was canceled due to poor weather conditions. Although Taylor and I waited with our things prepared to hop aboard Renegade, the weather still remained not in our favor. We hoped the weather would improve for Monday’s adventures, and although it was not perfect by any means, we were still able to find a window to search for dolphins!
In the morning, Taylor and I joined Hunter and Manhattan Colleges for their beach clean-up. It was cloudy and windy, but so far there were no thunderstorms. The wind was actually a blessing in disguise because it warded off all the sand flies that have been eating our legs alive! We cleaned the beach of Styrofoam boxes, plastic straws, bottle caps, and other plastic items and collected at least 10 trash bags full of trash! It was a very successful clean up. We love participating in these clean ups because we love to help keep at least some plastic out of the sea. Afterwards, Taylor and I peddled our bikes over to the little grocery stores, to restock for the week. On our way back home we got stuck in a torrential downpour and at first we were worried that our boat trip would be canceled again. We were supposed to depart at 1:00 to make a snorkel stop for sharks and rays, but with the thunderstorm above us, Captain Al pushed the departure time back. Taylor and I waited with our bags packed by the door for the storm to clear. Eventually, our luck changed and the storm passed! We were able to depart at 2:45 to search for dolphins. We didn’t make it to the snorkel stop, but at least we were able to get out on the water.
The boat trip was definitely a bumpy ride because of some moderate swells, but nothing we couldn’t handle. There was some light rain here and there, but luckily it never poured while we were looking for dolphins. After searching for a couple of hours, we finally came across a group of 8 spotted dolphins! From the surface I was able to identify Inka (#93), Romeo (#10), Swoosh (#36), and Stefran (#82). Soon we were able to try an encounter and we swam with the dolphins for a solid seven minutes. Then in a second they were gone! We got out of the water to try and find them again, and found them we did… with more dolphins! The dolphins we found previously met up with another group of spotted dolphins, and among this new group was Sulphur (#102) and Vee (#110)! Now there were about 16 + dolphins in the water. We were able to have another encounter for 14 minutes with this new group! Despite the poor weather in the beginning of the day, it turned out to be a great dolphin day. After this group of spotted dolphins left, we made our journey back home because there was another thunderstorm lurking in the distance. We made it back just in time, and later that night, sure enough, it was raining again. We had the perfect window for dolphin searching and timed it perfectly with the weather. I guess good things, or dolphins, come to those who wait!
Until next time, cheers!
-Nat and Taylor
PS: Snag one of the spots on our August 11 – 16, 2019 (yes, this summer!) ecotour. We added this session late, but we know we can get five more sign-ups. Are you one?! Click here for more info.
The dark storm clouds surrounded us on either side, I could see the rain in the distance. The captain of Renegade stayed our course to the snorkel stop, hoping the weather would clear. We stopped at a location known as Bimini Road. The rocks were stacked on either side of a sand path making a highway for fish underwater. We all jumped in the water excited to explore this new area and be one with the fishes for a while. I happen to see one of my favorite fish among them, a French angelfish, one of the most elegant fishes under the surface. Nat and I also had some fun practicing our free diving (with no dolphins in sight) and being one with the school, a school of fish that is. After a good snorkel it was time to return to the vessel and resume our search for our daily dolphins.
The search continued even though nasty weather was upon us. We were searching for the dolphins for hours with no luck. The captain had to change course multiple times to try and out run the storm that seemed to be surrounding us. Miles upon miles of blue ocean was ahead of us with no dorsal fins or flukes breaking the surface. The storm by now unexpectedly caught up to the boat. It started to pour, and the waves grew in response to the roaring wind (but don’t worry – we were safe!). It didn’t look like the storm was going to clear up, but we continued the search. Luckily, we did, because it the far distance captain Kat saw some dorsal fins in the distance and turned Renegade sharply heading toward the dolphins. I eagerly climbed down the ladder and got all my gear on as quickly as I could in hopes of entering the water. We started our encounter with this massive group of 39 dolphins (Captain Al’s final count) all around us. I started to swim and saw the group of dolphins on the bottom exhibiting social behavior towards each other. By the time we swam to them, they swam off. So, the captain called the swimmers back to the boat, only to drop us off at another group of dolphins up ahead.
With my gear already on, I waited patiently for the signal to enter the water once again. This second encounter was my favorite as compared to the first one I witnessed. As soon as I entered the water, I heard loud clicks and buzzes. They seemed close, but I didn’t know how close. I looked down and to the right and to my surprise three dolphins were below me who seemed to be trying to join the big group up ahead. I just froze in awe; I froze in awe because I felt like any one movement could lead to unintentional interaction between me and the dolphin. I looked to my right and left, I was accompanied by the professors of Manhattan and Hunter Colleges on both sides. We were all trying to get video footage of the dolphins’ behavior. The group of three dolphins that I previously mentioned stopped up ahead and were hanging out in the waves. Meanwhile two juvenile dolphins were being playful and showing us tail slaps and jawing. The dolphins seemed to get away from us because we didn’t want to chase the dolphins up ahead. I thought the encounter was over and it was time to return to the boat. Suddenly, the dolphins up ahead came towards us. From the surface, they startled one of the swimmers in the water. We all looked down below to find the dolphins returned, even for a short period of time. After a rocky day at sea it was good to finally see some action. Over the course of these observations, we saw Split Jaw (#22), Tim (#069), Sulfur (#102), Weiloo (#110, pictured here - and we're fixing her adoption link soon!) and many others that we’ll need to ID from video and photos.
After Nat got in the water for another attempted encounter, Renegade was headed home to the island. The storm had cleared up quite a bit, but it was still drizzling on our way back. The trip back was a lot of fun because the boat was hitting some big waves. Today was a great day at sea, following the routine of having a perfect ending to rough starts. Ready for more adventures!
Taylor and Nat
Slowly, Taylor and I are starting to get into our island routine. Wake up with the sun, do some DCP office work, hit the beach for 15 minutes because it gets too hot, then head over to the boat at the Sea Crest for dolphin expeditions. Today we joined Manhattan and Hunter Colleges again on their search for dolphins. Taylor and I sat up top so we could scan the horizon for dorsal fins. It seems our boat trips are starting to get into a routine of their own because our luck sighting dolphins has not been in our favor during the first couple hours of the trips. I scan the horizon, hoping to catch a glimpse of flukes, dorsal fins, or splashes, but there were no dolphins in the beginning of our trip.
With a creeping storm behind us, I almost gave up hope that we would be seeing dolphins today, but you really never know! And sure enough, as we were heading home with cloudy skies above us, we were able to spot four spotted dolphins! They were two mother-calf pairs. One of these pairs was Tina (#14) and her calf, un-named #121! Her calf is very distinct because of his unique dorsal fin notch (I was able to see he was a male underwater). Once I saw the calf’s dorsal fin, I was quickly able to ID check Tina and find the white spot on her peduncle I remember noticing last year! Luckily, there was still time to try an encounter with the mothers and calves so we all grabbed our snorkel gear and cameras and got ready to slide into the water.
As I slowly entered the water, the two calves were immediately noticeable because they were right next to the boat. I started recording them as they swam in between and around the snorkelers. At one point they were both playing with a clump of seaweed. One would have it against their dorsal fin, then slowly brought it down to their fluke. The other calf used their rostrum to take the seaweed from the other’s fluke. Needless to say, I was charmed by this cuteness overload. Tina and the other mother in the meantime were off in the distance, but eventually they got closer to their calves and we were able to see them up close as well. Soon the calves were swimming in infant position to their mothers and we got to see one calf nurse! It was so exciting to see the mother-calf pairs swimming in infant position! Definitely one of my favorite behaviors. I didn’t want to get out of the water, but after a 15-minute swim, the dolphins swam out of view and it was time to climb back onboard to make our journey home. When we got back it was time for dinner and a quick lights out after an exciting day!
Until next time!
-Nat and Taylor
On Thursday, I found myself sitting, waiting for the dolphins to make their location known to me. But looking upon miles of blue ocean with no dolphins in sight really damped the mood. Traces of any dolphins were not being seen by any one on the boat. The captain tried to set a course that was close to the spots where we saw the dolphins at the end of the previous day. But her plan didn’t work, so we changed course to try and find some action in another direction. That didn’t work, so we changed course again in hope of seeing some dolphins. Hours went by without seeing any dolphins. All hope seemed lost, and I was about to give up looking for the difficult dolphins. (Note: though it may have felt like we were just aimlessly zigging around, the search is, in fact, fairly consistent and somewhat methodical. Captain Al and DCP want the boat to behave predictably; even though we always want to see the dolphins, we know it is important that they can avoid us if they prefer. And, it is not uncommon for it to take a few hours to find the dolphins. Such is research – or vacation – with wild animals!)
It was getting late, and the captain decided to head back to the dock, and I was ready to put my gear away. Finally, we come across a big group of dolphins. At first, I thought they were bottlenose, but it turns out they were the spotted dolphins. The best part is the massive group of dolphins were just casually hanging around the boat. Al made the decision to put swimmers in the water as quickly as possible. Nat rushes down to get her gear on and get the GoPro ready to take video footage of these beautiful creatures. The encounter lasted about 10 minutes, with lots of mating and/or socio-sexual behavior, before we moved onto another group of dolphins up ahead. The best part of this encounter for Nat was amongst all the chaos, one of the dolphins touched* her fin. The first encounter of the day was a good one!
As we approached the second group of dolphins that were farther in the distance, Nat turned to me and asked if I wanted to take a turn. Naturally I said “yes,” and rushed down the later as quickly as I could so that I could get all my gear on before we arrived at the dolphin’s location. Once ready, I slid into the water and kicked as hard as I could to reach the dolphin that was at the bow. It was only one dolphin sitting there right below the surface waiting for us. He or she was more interested in picking up a piece of floating sargassum then in the humans. I was able to follow this one dolphin for a while. There is always calm before a storm. Little did I know there was a group of spotted dolphins bow riding trying to be steered toward us in the water. I could see blurry shaped in the water and suddenly, I exchanged eye contact with three dolphins that were heading straight for me. I thought they were going to ram right into me. Lucky for me, they ducked right under me at the last possible second (as they always do, I’m told!). All I could in this moment is freeze and be completely still because I felt that any one motion, I could touch the dolphin – including Split Jaw (#22). Those moments under the surface are what makes me fall in love with dolphins. To top this day all off, on the ride back the sun was setting but there were dolphins spotted by Nat in the distance. A picture-perfect moment happened, where the dolphins was diving up in the air with the beautiful sunset behind it. I think it was the prettiest seen I have witnessed while on a boat with the sun setting.
What seemed to be a rocky start to our daily search of dolphins, turned into a day that was nothing short of amazing. I am so blessed to be a new member of the Dolphin Communication Project team, and calling Bimini my home for the next month. Can’t wait for another day on the water!
Taylor and Natalie
*DCP feels very strongly about not touching wild dolphins. We never touch the dolphins on purpose and when a dolphin does touch us (which is very rare among the Bimini-born dolphins), it is not an invitation to touch them back.
My return to Bimini has been nothing short of amazing since nothing can beat the incredible boat expeditions we go on in search of our daily dolphins. Taylor and I have been soaking up island life and getting into the groove of photo ID sorting, video logging, and recording the 2019 sighting sheet while we search for dolphins on the boat. We especially had a blast as we joined the Manhattan and Hunter Colleges for their snorkel and boat trip on Wednesday!
First we arrived 15 minutes early to the docks over by the Sea Crest in order to get everything ready for the boat trip. Making sure water bottles were filled, sunscreen was applied, and GPS was turned on, we made our way to the top level of the boat so we had a good vantage point for searching for dorsal fins or fluke slaps. We made a note that a storm was approaching in the distance from the Northeast. We were crossing our fingers the storm was moving away, but as we traveled North we quickly realized maybe the storm was getting a little too close. Captains Al and Kat turned Renegade around and started heading South in order to wait the approaching storm out. Shortly the storm cleared and we were able to continue our journey North in search of or dolphin friends. There was one pit stop by the Three Sisters rocks for a 45-minute snorkel stop. Taylor and I were able to see a little nurse shark and tons of fish against the sister rocks.
After the snorkel stop, we continued onward for our search. It wasn’t long until we came across a single bottlenose dolphin. Taylor quickly recorded the latitude and longitude of the sighting and I retrieved the surface camera to snap shots of the bottlenose’s dorsal fin. Soon the dolphin went on their way and we continued to look for the spotted dolphins. We searched for a long time with no luck. Eventually, we started to turn around and head back home thinking we might not get to see the spotted dolphins that day. But, our luck changed and there were a couple of spotted dolphins looking for a bow ride. We had a couple of sightings of different groups which included dolphins #113, Sulphur (#102), and Inka (#93). The feeling of recognizing these same dolphins after a year was very rewarding and it was so good to see these familiar spots. The dolphins suck around for about a whole hour! It never gets tiring to watch them play around the bow. Eventually, the spotted dolphins went on their way, and we went on ours back home. Taylor and I were exhausted after a long day on the boat. We cooked dinner, did a little photo sorting, then had a quick lights out (literally since the power went out), and went to bed.
-Nat and Taylor
PS: Still time to snag your space to come experience Bimini, the dolphins and truly make a difference in DCP’s research. August 11 – 16, 2019 – click here for more info!
Tuesday’s blog was written by first year intern, Taylor. We hope you enjoy her thoughts!
The anticipation builds as I get closer to the boat. Being a new intern, I had a lot to learn in a quick amount of time. I had to learn how to work the GPS unit, how to take the compass direction of the boat, and how to take accurate field notes and if we could identify any individuals in the water. I was responsible for a lot of information as a new member of the DCP team in Bimini. A lot of things seem familiar to me since this was my third time returning to Bimini, but at the same time I forgot a lot of the beauty this island had to offer. As we head out onto the glass turquoise water, we begin out search for dolphins.
The very first sighting of these beautiful creatures occurred not long after we left shore. We were surrounded by a big group of dolphins that seem to be waiting for us. We could see the dolphins from both sides of the boat and I found myself saying “hello,” as if greeting a friend I have not seen in a while. The visibility was clear, but unfortunately, after the surface dwellers entered the water the dolphins swam off looking for something other than us. This was one of the two big encounters of the day. Being a new intern, it was a lot to keep track of, and write down.
Out of the three encounters that took place today the best one was saved for last. A total of sixteen dolphins were seen at one point during the encounter making it very exciting. Among the individuals Romeo (#10, pictured here), Tina (#14) and her calf (#121), and Weiloo (#110) were present. Nat, my fellow intern, was in the water with the video camera trying to collect as much footage of the individuals as possible. The individuals started to approach the boat from many different directions to contribute to the mass swarm of dolphins in the water. Every instinct in my body wanted to resume my place in the water amongst these beautiful creatures. But as an intern on my first day I watch the encounter happen with a bird’s eye view. I was overwhelmed with excitement watching the dolphins from the surface. Even as the students were approaching the boat at the end of the encounter more dolphins were seen off the back of the boat. After this long encounter I had to write down the GPS coordinates of the boat at the end of the dive, what time the encounter ended, and go down the later to grab the camera from Nat. It was an awesome encounter to end a beautiful day on the ocean.
Today was a successful day of spotting dolphins. Three encounters occurred during our search for S. frontalis. We saw dolphins about six times while on this trip, as opposed to seeing none on the water. Being a new intern with the Dolphin Communication Project, I learned a lot about working in the field with dolphins even though I didn’t get in the water with them today. Students from Hunter and Manhattan Colleges were on the trip today (& all week), so I also socialized with them for a bit. It was a great first day on the job, and I can’t wait to learn more tomorrow!
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
Our wrap up with the SHU group was busy busy! Last Wednesday, we swapped morning blog writing for photo-ID practice before the group headed out to a small mangrove island on the edge of Bimini harbor. Once they were back at the Sea Crest, we dove back into photo-ID, this time working to match photos they took this week to DCP’s photo-ID catalog. They all did great, finding Speedy (#78) and Sulfur (#102)!
Then, it was boat trip time, first stopping at “Bimini Road” (aka “Atlantis” or “The Road to Atlantis”). Kel gave the backstory on how this came to be such an important snorkel site for Bimini and everyone hopped in to make their own observations. Then, it was dolphin searching time! First up was some scattered, feeding bottlenose dolphins. Then, we caught up with some Atlantic spotteds. Throughout the day we saw several immigrants from the northern Bahamas, as well as relatively recent Bimini catalog additions (which you can tell by their high numbers) Sulfur (#102), #104 (aka “Lamda”) and un-named #105 and #107.
The big show was the escort home we got from Split Jaw (#22), Prince William (#64) and Speedy (#78). They joined the dolphin group as we picked up speed toward home. Soon, the original dolphins departed, but not this trio. They rode the bow of the boat for a whopping 90 minutes! It was incredible! At one point, Split Jaw and Speedy were at the ends, putting Prince William in the middle. Prince William proceeded to roll under and over and under and over and under and over Split Jaw. It was a very cool sight!
Back on land, we wrapped up with our final group dinner and a social evening out. We danced, sang and even played dominos with some encouraging locals. In the morning, we did our beach clean-up (it was already hot by 9:15 a.m.!), did last minute shopping and packing, and then discussed ecotourism before having lunch and saying goodbye.
What an incredible experience for the SHU students. We are so grateful to Dr. Yeater for recruiting and staying dedicated to this program and we are already looking forward to the next one. The next few days mean wrap up and catch up for us, but stay tuned for more stories from Bimini!
Nicole & Kel, on behalf of The Conch-erers (SHU 2019)
PS: Time is running out to grab a space on our just-added 11 – 16 August 2019 ecotour session. Come see bow riding wild dolphins for yourself – maybe, just maybe, you’ll see Split Jaw and his buddies too! Click here for more info.
Monday night ended with Spoons and riddles, but that fun didn’t compare to the amazing adventure of the day. We began the day with a simple competition, but with this group, well, let’s just say it got a little heated (but still fun!). We searched for answers at the Bimini Museum and visited the Straw Market. We had an early lunch because the boat was departing at 1300 – for sharks! Nicole hooked us up with a Bluetooth speaker, which set the mood for the day as we cruised through (slightly) choppy seas to our first destination: Honeymoon Harbor at Gun Cay. It was a stunning view and we popped on “Baby Shark” only to learn that this was a bonus stop to see southern stingrays. Some of us felt a pang of disappointment, but then found out that we got to feed and touch them, which made us excited to jump in and interact with these smooth creatures. We were feeding the rays and suddenly, some great white – we mean, nurse – sharks came cruising through. Most of us were tentative at first and how the rays took the shrimp from our hands was unexpected. They really have no need for personal space, swimming up behind us, through our legs and right up to our shoulders and faces. Maybe they needed a snuggle! The rays’ skin was super soft, compared to the nurse sharks which felt like sandpaper. The nurse sharks’ eyes were weird; it almost made them look scarier than shark species #2….
Snacking through our cruise to the main attraction, we arrived at “Blood Rocks” – just kidding! It’s called Triangle Rocks. Caribbean reef sharks at this site have been feed for decades, so as soon as the boat pulled up, we could see the sharks circling, investigating if this boat would give them a snack. Though we were told the safety rules before the boat departed, we were reminded of them and shown exactly where and how to swim. At first, when we got in, we were nervous, swimming on top of each other (safety in numbers!), but as the swim continued, we got more and more comfortable. The stingray experience warmed us up for sure…
We noticed one shark with a tag and another had a hook and line on it. There were dozens of chubs swimming around, stealing the bait. Four spotted eagle rays even cruised through. They were so majestic, cruising through seemingly effortlessly. It conjured up images of the teacher in Finding Dory – and we are impressed with how the animation captures the real-life creature! After we all had a good swim, Captain Al threw a little bit of bait in, bringing the sharks to the surface and giving us a different view. The crew kept some bait aside and once we were on the boat, we gathered to watch how the feeding looks from the surface.
Back at the Sea Crest, we went over our museum questions and were highly competitive. For the first time in DCP history, there was a tie – but everyone shared the prize: Ms. Stefie’s banana bread! We then carried dinner supplies down to the marina for the mid-course BBQ. After dinner, Abbie taught us all some good camp-style riddles. Let’s just say some of us took it more seriously than others! Good group bonding before bed.
Until next time,
The Conch-erers (SHU 2019)
In the morning, we wrote our daily blog then had a morning break. The Three-Oh-Five Stooges headed to the acclaimed CJ’s….to wait 90 minutes for cheeseburgers. They observed tourist “Brad” being not so patient with the delay, but The Stooges stayed strong and were rewarded with their delicious burgers. They promised the CJ’s cook-extraordinaire that they had her back. Back in Room 305, our class topic was photo-ID. It was interesting how you can pick out a certain characteristics and find that dolphin again; it isn’t always something huge that sticks out, sometimes it’s a smaller spot pattern. We went over the age classes and it was cool to learn how to tell them apart (and then apply that knowledge in the field!).
We grabbed lunch (pasta salad, sandwiches, chips….super good) and then it was boat time! The boat departed an hour early so that we could snorkel at “3 Sisters” where we met the big sister up close. Just as we’d been told, the site was extravagant and incredible. The only issue was the mines of jellyfish on the journey from the boat to the rock; we fought them off, parting the jellyfish sea. Thankfully, these are only walnut jellies and don’t have a powerful sting. And, seeing them was actually really cool. There were coral, fish – the fish were different sizes, shapes, colors. We were good visitors to the sea and, per Kel’s instructions, we didn’t touch anything. The current tricked us and the swim back to boat was a challenge, but well worth it.
Back on the boat, we weren’t done with the water – it was a jumping festival off the bow of the boat. Then it was our dolphin search. The seas were crazy flat and at one point we thought a tourist boat was “poaching” “our” dolphins (just kidding a) we do not own the dolphins, so they aren’t really ours and b) the other boat was just snorkeling not raging killers – though, were they littering?) Soon, we could see other dolphins in the distance: Jesse shouted, “Dolphins off starboard! Oops, I mean, port!” There was a discarded Mylar balloon (grrrrr), but with Captain Al’s boat maneauvering, Nicole pulled it from the sea. The Stooges were sure they saw Split Jaw (#22) – but, hmmmm, we’ll have to see if they were right when we’re back in class*. We watched the dolphins from the boat and 30 minutes later, we were in the water! Today’s adventure included a lot of fecal matter. We swam right thought it (because, well, why not) and noticed that different individual’s feces were different consistencies and colors. Today, the dolphins were not as interactive with us, but there was so much to see. We also saw more mating and socio-sexual interactions. It was quick – we could often confirm that the inverted dolphin was male, but we could not confirm the sex of the horizontal dolphin. They were more vocal than previous encounters and it was amazing to hear their sounds. From the boat, we saw tail slaps, chuffing, rostrums out, spyhopping and big, repeated leaps. Toward the end of the day, we came upon more dolphins, including Romeo (#10), Swoosh (#36), Leslie (#80), Inka (#93) and calves – could Inka have been with her own calf??!! One of the calves was really small…but, no fetal folds.
Back at the marina, we watched at least three bull sharks, plus nurse sharks, scrounging for scraps at the fish cleaning stations. Then, it was dinner, camera downloads, a rowdy game of Spoons (go Ana & Cass!) and….a power outage. The generator kicked in (but not before we made use of the darkness to do some stargazing) and gave us enough time to finish our games and get ready for bed. Just after midnight, the city power returned and we snoozed….
The Conch-erers (SHU 2019)
PS: While writing this blog, students went through the catalog and made the ID match – it was Stefran (#82) and her distinct dorsal they saw from the boat and under water! And remember, if you’d like to come experience Bimini, DCP and these amazing dolphins, reach out to Kel about the 11 – 16 August 2019 eco-tour!
On Saturday, we had a chance to visit Mr. Ashley Saunders, local historian and artist. We toured his “Dolphin House” and it was amazing to see how dedicated he is to the project. He’s dedicated the most important years of his life to this creative masterpiece, utilizing “trash” and of course the almighty conch. He melts the conch shells down and used it as his cement. He really is the Bahamian Picasso. We were able to go inside the house, viewing all the mosaics and seeing the notes in so many languages. The lookout, from the third floor, was just beautiful – you could see the whole island. We went into the museum room and there were quotes and business cards and money from all over the world. There was a preserved baby shark and a Bimini boa. We wrapped up with the gift shop…and spent plenty! We were pleasantly surprised at this quirky gem.
Upon our return to the Sea Crest – bam! Surprise! Conch salad for all – peppers. Chopped. Onions. Chopped. Tomatoes. Chopped. And of course: Conch. Chopped! This island surprise was delicious along with the hot (hot) hot sauce. Andrew put a dab of sauce on his finger, took a taste and bam! His mouth was on fire! With our salad, we headed to class, led by Nicole. We learned more about DCP, the spotted and the bottlenose dolphins. We even discussed potential hybrids – the “spottlenose” – which may exist but haven’t been genetically confirmed. The sociogram was overwhelming – lines going everywhere! But, learning about the proximity of the ID#s and the thickness of the lines helped clarify. Her research is very interesting.
Our short break led us to the ocean side of Bimini and some of us got some extra snorkel practice in. Some of us even saw a barracuda, but it seemed frightened of us. We came back, on time, to meet up with the DCP crew and Captain Al said, “All aboard!” The conch-erers climbed aboard, watched some nurse sharks from the bow and departed the marina. Leaving the marina, we were able to see several spotted eagle rays. It took longer than Day 1 to see the dolphins and first – bottlenose again! These bottlenose were cruising, not very interested in the boat. We watched for a while and then said goodbye. Next up, a small sea turtle and then….Atlantic spotted dolphins! Gigantic. Boom. Pow. A group of dolphins coming toward the boat like a herd of buffalo. We watched this group from the surface, noting how easy it was to see them as sea conditions were so flat and clear. At first, there were about 15 dolphins and later the group size grew to at least 25, with even more dolphins in the distance. From the boat, we could see a variety of behaviors – from synchronous breathing to adult pairs swimming in infant position.
We got in the water three times, seeing different dolphin behaviors each time. There were more jellyfish – but we can handle them! The dolphins were busy and playful, but more vocal than yesterday. We could hear different types of vocalizations and it was all much louder than yesterday. They were often doing their own thing, swimming in close proximity to each other. We got to see mating behaviors again (which led to some nice questions after dinner) and we saw one subadult vomit. There was a lot of jawing, but not a lot of actual biting, sometimes followed by melon to melon behavior. As the day went on, and more dolphins joined, the dolphins stayed active. At one point, the dolphins were staying just out of our view and Captain Al recommended we approached them as if we were approaching someone sleeping (though they weren’t). His advice worked and we got more close views. Sometimes they approached us straight on or snuck up on us from below. It was a little intimidating, but in a really exciting way.
At the end of one swim, Jesse lost his fake tooth (no joke: it’s really called “The Flipper”) when he took out his snorkel. Kel had just passed the DCP MVA to Nicole, so Kel, just like the dolphins she studies, dove down and grabbed The Flipper. We gasped in shock and awe and she returned The Flipper to Jesse. Little did we know Kel is part mermaid. After reuniting Jesse and The Flipper, Kel went down for another treasure: the magical conch. We all got a chance to see a live version of what we found so tasty earlier in the day. After some photos and kisses, we returned the conch to the sea.
We ate a delicious dinner – Italian night was a hit! After clean-up, we watched the last two days of video data.
The Conch-erers (SHU 2019)
PS: Are you hooked? Sign up for our 11 – 16 August 2019 eco-tour! All the fun of a field course, but more free time! Click here for info.
More student blog posts headed your way! On Thursday, Nicole returned to Bimini and on Friday we welcomed our third 2019 university field course. This time: DCP Research Collaborator Dr. Deirdre Yeater and students from Sacred Heart University. They have 6 packed nights ahead of them. We hope you enjoy their stories!
-Kel & Nicole
We got up waaaaay too early. At JFK, our plane got stuck on the tarmac for over an hour, due to a malfunction. But our pilot took off with courage and grace, getting us safely to Fort Lauderdale in a jiffy. We waited for a shuttle – it was a cool shuttle bus. Our driver was perhaps a bit fed up with other passengers, so repeatedly instructed us to pay attention to the stops. Meanwhile, one of us was waiting patiently at Terminal 1, already having arrived. We ran through security and only made the flight thanks to a delay. We didn’t grab lunch, but we happily boarded the flight of a lifetime on the little prop plane after Cass sorted out a plan for her lost bag! She got on the flight despite pressure from airline folks to stay. The plane was hot and the other passengers were, ummm, entertaining. We landed at the tiny airport (Bumpy! Wiggly!). At customs, Andrew got his bag searched but thankfully he’s not a rule breaker, so he was fine. 12/14 of the group hung out in the van, enjoying the local music, as Cass tried to firm up a plan for her bag. The van brought us to the water taxi – we weren’t sure why someone was jokingly asking us if we brought candles. (There have been some electricity issues on the island).
We arrived at the Sea Crest and immediately saw two sharks and a stingray in the marina. We met the lovely DCP crew and got the rules – “so we could break ‘em” (says Jesse, with a glare from Kel. Just kidding!). Then….
We hopped on the boat. As we cruised out of the harbor, Kel explained all of the boat rules and hand signals to ensure that we and the dolphins are safe during this experience. BOOM. BOOM. Dolphins on the bow! Within what felt like five minutes, the crew saw dolphins up ahead. It was group of bottlenose dolphins. It was amazing; we were awestruck. They were bigger and closer to the boat than we expected. There were moments when it seemed like they were teasing us – “We can swim faster than you!” There were nine dolphins in the group, and they were initially seen at about 330° from the bow in a Beaufort sea state of two. These dolphins were moving, so we watched them for a bit, while Nicole snapped photographs for photo-ID, and then headed in search of others.
We cooled off and tested our snorkel gear, making sure we were comfortable getting on and off the boat. We searched and searched, eating apples and goldfish and then taking a swim break to wake ourselves up. As we headed back to the island, we were thinking about the end of the day, losing hope for dolphins – then, we heard Nicole echo, “Dolphins off the bow, dolphins off the bow….” Though we would normally have watched the dolphins for a while, it was late in the day so we headed to the stern to get our snorkel gear on. Under water….
We saw it was a group of Atlantic spotted dolphins, a mix of juveniles and sub-adults. There was a lot of belly-to-belly swimming and pec to pec rubbing. At times, their mouths were open, jawing at each other. Dr. Yeater and Kel commented on how quiet the group was, but as first-time students we noted their vocalizations. There were some small jellyfish in the water, but thankfully these stings are nothing worse than a mosquito bite. The dolphins were so close to us in the water, swimming toward us. Abbie was amazed when one swam right under her. It was an incredible adrenaline rush!
We got back on the boat, very happy with the day. On the bow, we watched the group ride the bow of the boat; soon most dolphins left, but two stayed on for a long cruise. We got back to the dock a little late, but grabbed our showers and then met for dinner. Nicole made us an incredible stirfry – we were so hungry there was almost no talking at dinner as we scarfed it down.
The Conch-erers (SHU 2019)
PS: Find this all intriguing? Sign up for our 11 – 16 August 2019 eco-tour! All the fun of a field course, but you don’t have to wash dishes! Click here for info.
On Thursday, our students from Eastern Kentucky University didn’t have a boat trip, but they still had a busy day! Writing Wednesday’s blog and then heading to the one-room Bimini museum led the students to some free time, including a chance to take themselves out for local food. We came together again in the early afternoon, covering our last class topic: eco-tourism. Students discussed scientific studies on the impact of dolphin-watching tours and then put it in the context of their experience with DCP here in Bimini. Then, we sampled conch fritters (thank you, Lady Barbara!) went over the answers to their info-scavenger hunt at the museum. Let’s just say, this group was one of the liveliest yet! The winning team was awarded a fresh loaf of Mr. Charlie’s coconut bread, which they graciously shared with the rest of us. A short reflection assignment for the folks back at EKU and class was a wrap!
Our evening was still spent together with our last 305 dinner and a fun night out at Sherry’s with Nishka. Kel interrupted the students’ home town favorite playlist for a little Stevie S and everyone got into “Hold ya head.” The expected treat: we all lined up at the beach and saw a rocket head off into space! You read that right. On clear nights, rockets launched from Cape Canaveral/Kennedy Space Center can be visible from Bimini. It’s one of my (Kel’s) absolute favorite things and I didn’t hid my enthusiasm!
The evening wore down and everyone got to take the morning slow as the water taxi didn’t pick the group up until 11:00 a.m. We were there to wave the students goodbye….We’re so grateful for Dr. Radhika Makecha and her enthusiasm and dedication in collaborating with DCP on this program, and of course, the students themselves. As always, thank you to Al Sweeting Jr and Sea Crest Hotel & Marina. We’re proud to support local businesses as we collect our data and provide education programs on Bimini. For now, we’ve got one week to breath, catch up and prep – Sacred Heart University is next up!
Kel & Nicole, signing off for Roll Kerns (EKU 2019)
PS: Intrigued by these exciting blog posts? Join DCP in Bimini yourself! It's last minute, but we're trying to pull together a group for 11 - 16 August 2019. Check out the details here: https://www.dolphincommunicationproject.org/index.php/get-involved/ecotours/bimini
Wednesday morning, we got out of the classroom and headed across the harbor to a little mangrove island. It was great to see this endangered habitat first hand, and not just discuss them theoretically. Dr. M squealed when a stingray surprised her and Holly spotted a stingray snoozing in the sand. There was really cool bright orange thing….we think it was a sponge growing on the mangrove. Behind the island, we saw the conch-mounds, conch graveyards of sorts where the local fishers discard their conch shells. Caitie and Gillian spied a baby conch on the way back to the boat and Dr. M found a beautiful, intact bivalve shell and LiEllen thought she found a vacated shell, but soon realized it was still inhabited! Later, she found a really big, beautiful snail. Devin joined Kel’s hydra-sting club, but fear not, she’ll live to tell about it. We watched a little fish who had found shelter in a conch shell; it was cool to watch it go in and out, in and out, in and out. We snorkeled around the mangrove and made our way back to the boat….and that was a workout, swimming against the current. We had a nice gift waiting for us: a ladder. Captain Al showed his modesty, declaring, “I am still the best captain.”
We came back and had delicious baked potato bar. Yum. And then, Boat Part 2 – our last trip in search of dolphins. It was choppier than expected, but still sunny. We saw at least two different turtles, one if which was really close to the dolphins. It took four hours (John was keeping track!) to find the dolphins, but they came through in the end. We came upon a group of eight, including 3 calves. The calves were doing perfect, little leaps out of the water and showing the bellies. One calf went belly up at the surface and started just repeatedly slapping its fluke at the surface. We watched an adult (presumed mom) give one fluke slap and saw the calves race toward it. We got in the water for a hot second and the dolphins cruised past us. Kel and Nicole confirmed Cerra (#38), Niecey (#48), Leslie (#80) and an adult from the White Sand Ridge. We cruised home, pausing to get our group photo. When we got back, some of us wandered the beach before heading to dinner. Post-dinner, the playing cards came back out before we all called it a night.
Roll Kerns (EKU 2019)
Tuesday morning Deric caved and got four braids in his beard at the straw market! The ladies weren’t so sure about this request….Our class topic was contact behavior, associations and alloparenting. Our boat trip began with a snorkel stop at “3 Sisters.” We were happy to see this extension of “Atlantis” and there were fish everywhere at this beautiful spot. The archway was cool and we were able to see the fishes’ schooling behavior. Back on the boat, but before resuming our search, we got to have a little fun by jumping off the bow of the boat. There was definitely a dive contest going on.
When we found the dolphins, it was a group of seven Atlantic spotted dolphins. We watched from the boat as these dolphins were quite active at the surface and not traveling too fast. Suddenly, there was a loggerhead turtle just off the side of the boat. We got some good looks as it took three big breaths and then dove. Included in the dolphin group were Split Jaw (#22), Prince William (#64) and Speedy (#78) – a trio with strong COAs that Nicole had told us about in class (Kel & Nicole were left wondering what Tim, #69, was up to). There was a lot of play and socio-sexual interactions within this all male group. Even though we noted lots of “aggressive” behaviors, thanks to our conversations in class we were able to see the individual behaviors within the broader context – though there was jawing and fluke slapping, the angles of approach were oblique, the dolphins were fairly quiet and there was pectoral fin contact and rubbing in between the “aggressive” interactions. It was cool to hear how loud the fluke slaps are under water. Kel saw one of the juveniles regurgitate – and grabbed some fish bones for us to see! Captain Al and Denver both thought that the jaw at least was from a mackerel. From the boat, surface observers could see spyhopping and more “flippity flips.”
Back on land, we cleaned up and then headed back to the marina for a BBQ! It was fantastic! Props to the chef – (Kel says “You’re welcome!”). Nicole made great yellow rice and even Captain Al made an appearance.
Roll Kerns (EKU 2019)
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)
Friday was the UNBSJ students’ last full day on Bimini. It has been a really great group! Nicole and I always look forward to our Bimini field courses and this was no exception. The students spent the morning writing yesterday’s blog post and discussing eco-tourism in the context of their experiences this week. Then it was skiff rides to a small mangrove island on the edge of Bimini harbor. A little free time and a quick lunch and suddenly it was time for our last dolphin trip.
We headed out and though there was still a stiff wind, it was calmer and sunnier than yesterday. We hoped this would make it easier to find dolphins, but first up: “3 Sisters” for a snorkel stop. We all had a great swim to the big sister and enjoyed searching for new creatures, including parrotfish. Back onboard, we resumed our search. While an underwater observation wasn’t in our cards, we did enjoy some great views of a pair of dolphins who were surfing about and riding the bow of our boat. We’ll be reviewing the surface photos (the older dolphin had a very distinct dorsal fin) soon.
Back on land, we enjoyed our last group dinner and most of us ventured to Sherry’s on the beach. Sherry’s daughter ‘Nishka treated the students not only to tasty treats, but a dance lesson to the local song, “Hold Ya Head” by Stevie S. That got them started on goofy dance song after goofy dance song. What a great finale!
Nicole and I will say farewell (for now!) to this group on Saturday morning. The week flew by!
Thank you to Dr. Turnbull and the whole 2019 UNBSJ crew! And, thank you to Captain Al and the Sea Crest Hotel & Marina for providing logistics for another great program!
Until next time,
Kel, Nicole & the Crispy Canadians
Thursday morning, we had lecture time – topics included coral reefs, lionfish and the Bahamas Marine Mammal Stranding Network. During the network talk, we learned about DCP ID#104 (aka “Lamda”) who stranded last summer and was rescued, rehab’d and released. His tagging info was really interesting (he went so far!!) and Kel is clearly obsessed with seeing him again (see this blog post for details on his last sighting).
Our boat trip began with a snorkel stop at “The Bimini Road” (aka Atlantis, The Road to Atlantis). Jen & Shandraya found a rock that really looked like a skull. We were on the lookout for turtles, but Joy had to shiver back to the boat without a sighting. Dolphin searching began after the snorkel. Our first sighting ended up being a group of seven bottlenose dolphins. At first, it was just one dolphin, surfing straight toward our boat (unusual for a bottlenose, so at first we thought it was a spotted approaching). Soon there was a second, a third and suddenly four more dolphins were surfing near our boat. This group stayed longer and closer to the boat that our other bottlenose sightings. They weren’t crater feeding (as far as we could tell), but rather cruising the gnarly waves. After a nice surface observation, we said bye to these dolphins and continued our search…
Only a few minutes later, we spotted the first spotteds (ha) of the day. And how considerate: there was one dolphin for each student! This group of 13 was very busy. They were breaching, bow riding, porpoising, sort-of-spy hopping; there was a tail slap or two, and a lot of surfing. We followed them a pretty far way, getting close to the edge of the drop-off (deep Gulfstream water). The group was a mix of ages – some very spotted (old C5s/adults), sub-adults and even some young juveniles. They were often seen in pairs or groups of three. Twenty-four minutes into the sighting, there were only two dolphins with us, but they continued their activities, surfing, bow riding and leaping. Kel & Nicole were getting awfully suspicious of the dark spot on both sides of the sub-adult’s dorsal fin….Hmmmmmm…..
At least some of the original dolphin group returned (perhaps some different individuals too) and we watched them for a bit longer as the wind picked up. With building seas, we said bye to these dolphins and headed closer to shore. In slightly calmer seas, we saw a different group of spotteds: two presumed mother/calf pairs. We grabbed a swim break, hoping it might include some dolphins – and it did! We saw the smaller calf nursing (!) and the older calf perhaps getting a lesson in a feeding at the sea floor. The older calf had its first few spots, so hopefully DCP will be able to add it to their catalog. It seemed like its mother was finding fish, digging them out and then letting the little one catch them. The tiny calf “was the most adorable thing you’d ever seen in your life.”
Back on land it was dinner and a serious homework session. Kel and Nicole were huddled around their laptops, comparing photos of the sub-adult with the strange dorsal spot….and…it was #104!! Lamda’s tag is out. The dorsal fin is well healed, as you can see in this photo. And Lamda seemed well integrated into yesterday’s dolphin group, behaving typically compared to the rest of the group. To say that Kel and Nicole were excited would be the understatement of the year. Yay!! Kel relayed the info to the team who worked so hard to rescue, rehab, release and monitor Lamda: Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation, Wild Dolphin Project, Atlantis Bahamas and Sarasota Dolphin Research Program. Next, time for bed - tomorrow is going to be a busy last full day!
Crispy Canadians (UNBSJ 2019)
On Wednesday, the gnarly wind continued so we were trapped inside – which gave the crispiest of us a break from the sun. It was very nice to have the break, but after several lectures, we were getting antsy. Our lectures covered sharks and photo-ID. In between lectures, some of us discovered The Dolphin House and got an impromptu tour from its builder, Mr. Ashley Saunders. Others visited Bimini’s “Straw Market,” just across from the Sea Crest. The ladies in the stalls were so nice to us. Thank you, Ashley & Straw Market Ladies! After the photo-ID lecture, we practiced on archived DCP photographs before working to ID the two spotted dolphins we observed on Sunday. They were Romeo (#010) and Vee (#101)! It’s not that photo-ID is hard, but it is a slow process, kind of like doing a puzzle.
After “school,” we headed to the beach and did our beach clean-up. Our preschool friend from Sunday was back and he helped carry the bags. We were surprised by the comments from the tourists; some thought it was a very noteworthy, rare effort. Hopefully we inspired them to do something similar in their travels. The locals seemed appreciative too. There was a lot of variety of trash, lots of bottles (& broken glass), straws, broken items (phones!) and even dirty diapers (gross). As our reward, we headed into the sea for a nice snorkel. The wind and waves had the water a bit murky, so our octopus search wasn’t successful, but we did see a barracuda and a turquoise and yellow fish we have yet to identify. Then, we just enjoyed the break, playing a bit of coconut football.
After supper (yum burrito/fajita/wrap things!) we had our lecture on mangroves. The late night music selections, while we worked on our field books, were “LIT” and may or may not have included a little dance party.
Crispy Canadians (UNBSJ 2019)
On Tuesday, after breakfast, we wrote our first blog entries for DCP’s website. Then, after three days, we finally had our first lecture of the course – not complaining! Nicole gave us an overview of DCP, including their methods, study sites and species. Next up, the first teams presented their assigned cetacean research papers before lunch. Luckily, the weather cooperated enough for us to get out on the water. We headed out around 2:00, checking the coastline for dolphins before the waves got too big due to the “gnarly wind.” We were fortunate to see two bottlenose dolphins! One was small, so we presume that it was a mother/calf pair. At first, they seemed interested in the boat, checking it out briefly. After that, we got good glimpses of them when they came to the surface to breathe, but then we’d lose sight of them as they spent time on the bottom. It seemed they were mostly just minding their own business.
Next up: Shell Beach. The fish were beautiful, but we did notice a lot of sediment and bleaching in the small area. Some of us saw another spotted eagle ray and others got a glimpse of a hiding yellow stingray. We noticed less production and diversity compared to Triangle Rocks and most of the fish at today’s site were hiding in the rocks. Was this because they were smaller? The environment? Boat traffic? Predators? Soon, we headed back to the boat and made one more check of the shoreline for dolphins. We didn’t find any more dolphins, but we did save four of the five hats that blew overboard. Windy day!
The evening wrapped up with a BBQ at the marina, and even though the lettuce tried to blow away, the stars were beautiful! We saw the Big Dipper and admired how it looks different at this latitude.
Until next time,
Crispy Canadians (UNBSJ 2019)
On Monday, officially the best day of Mia’s life, we shifted our boat schedule and departed shortly after 10 a.m. The weather forecast for mid-week is windy, so we’re trying to get in lots of experiences before potentially getting stuck on shore. Before we even reached our destination, we saw three loggerhead turtles. We got really great views of two confirmed males, and a possibly third male. As we continued on, we saw another turtle on our way to Honeymoon Harbor. As we pulled up, we immediately saw southern stingray, a green turtle and nurse sharks. In the water, got really up close and personal with these creatures and saw a sharpnose shark and a lemon shark. Some of us may or may not been given hickies. The nurse sharks were getting really close, sometimes sneaking up behind us or trying to get between our feet. The gulls were trying to steal the bait. As Shandraya hung out by Captain Al and the bait bag, she felt covered by rays – and she loved it! It was sooooo fun, even if some of us got chilly, since we didn’t have to do much swimming. One ray had fishing line stuck on him, but Al was able to get it off (yay!).
Back on board, most of us ate our lunches as we cruised to stop #2: Triangle Rocks. As soon as we dropped anchor, we couldn’t believe how quickly some Caribbean reef came straight to the boat. When we first entered the water, we explored close to the rocks. The fan-favorite fish was a juvenile yellowtail damselfish with beautiful, nearly florescent, aqua spots. We couldn’t believe how many sea fans there were and we were surprised at how shallow the water was where they grew. After enjoying the reef, it was time focus on the sharks – but not before we saw a massive spotted eagle rays. Al threw bait in from the bow as we watched. There were at least 17 reef sharks and two sharpnose. The sharks’ behavior changed once the food was in the water – they came much closer to each other and to us and were, perhaps obviously, more active at the surface. There were some schools of fish and it surprised some of us how they close the fish stayed to the sharks. Emil is disappointed that he survived without any shark bites (he jokes!) - it was amazing!
Back on board, we all went to the bow and watched Al toss is the very last of the bait. It was definitely a different view watching them race for the food. We said goodbye to the sharks and continued our sunburn day in the waves that felt like riding a roller coaster.
At 17:48, Nicole spotted a bottlenose dolphin. Soon it was two, then three, until finally the group size was four. They were crater feeding so we even though the seas were a little rough, were able to get in the water and observe. We stayed at the surface so that we didn’t interrupt their feeding. We could really hear their echolocation and got some very good views of the dolphins as they came up to breath, often checking us out at the same time. At one point, one dolphin was crater feeding in one spot, a second joined very close. When a third dolphin then came over, the second dolphin immediately left. Hmmm….wonder what was going on there? From the boat, we noticed that they were all at the surface around the same time, then all feeding at the same. From both perspectives, it seemed that three of the four hung out more closely, with the fourth somewhat on the outskirts.
We swam with them until it was time to head home. Our sunburned selves cruised home, showered and ate. What a day!
Until next time,
Crispy Canadians (UNBSJ 2019)
Nicole, Manon and I are thrilled to have Dr. Turnbull and students from UNBSJ back for their Bimini field course! We hope you enjoy the student blog posts for the rest of the week.
On Sunday morning, we flew to Bimini in two tin cans. Well, okay, there were two planes, but they were really small! They got us to Bimini around 10:30 a.m. We left the airport and in no time were at the South Bimini water taxi dock. We could already see several different fish species before boarding – it was Maia’s first ferry ride! Our chilly Canadian (honorary or otherwise) bones were already impressed with the weather. We reached the Sea Crest, met Kel & Nicole and threw our bags in our rooms, ready to get started. We heard the general rules and then hit the beach to test out our snorkel gear. Joy needed a crash course (1st time!) and Jen was quickly befriended by a local preschooler. The water was so warm and super clear. Some of the boys tried to swim to Miami, but Kel called them back. After snorkeling it was time for a quick lunch and boat and photography orientation. We headed to the boat and began our search for dolphins. Before we had even left the harbor, we saw spotted eagle rays.
At 15:35 we came upon our first dolphins! It was two bottlenose dolphins. They came and gave a quick look at the boat; soon we could only see one dolphin and it was gone at 15:41. As we searched for more dolphins, we saw many of the mystical creatures: flying fish! At one point, we even saw a mackerel chase some! At 16:30 we saw our first Atlantic spotted dolphins! There were two: one had a lot of spots and was slightly larger; the other had fewer spots. We saw the younger one carry seaweed on its pec fin and its flukes. The older one blew a bubble burst, breached and later tail slapped. For the most part they came together, swimming parallel. At times, they were playing around the bow, bow riding briefly and then surfing the waves. It was interesting to see that the two often took their breaths around the same time. After the dolphins began slowly swimming around the boat, DCP’s Nicole and Manon geared up and got in the water to see how much underwater data they could record. At 17:15, we had the chance to join them. The dolphins would swim away together, return to the group and check us all out, then come back together and surf away, return to the group, etc. Jake tested out his freediving skills and found the two followed him down! At least twice, we saw the older dolphin drag its fluke through the sand. We noticed both were females and were amazed at how close they came to us. We watched them swim belly to belly. None of us expected to feel the emotional connection to the animals that we did – it was amazing! We got to watch them in the water for about 40 minutes, much longer than any of us, including DCP, expected. They left us at the perfect time, as we had to head back to the boat and back to shore anyway.
On the way home, at 19:06, we saw two more bottlenose dolphins much closer to shore, right at the harbor entrance. These didn’t stick around and we noticed that compared to the spotteds, these bottlenose did not spend time swimming close to each other. But, we still got a good look at them and DCP was able to take some dorsal fin photographs for their photo-ID work. We cruised into the harbor, got into the boat slip and couldn’t miss the seagulls mating on the dock!
Some of us watched a beautiful sunset while others headed back to the marina to try to catch a glimpse of a bull shark (no luck). Then, we grabbed our showers, inhaled supper and had a nice chat about our initial thoughts on “eco-tourism.”
Crispy Canadians (UNBSJ 2019)
Pictured here: Student collecting still photos for DCP’s photo-ID catalog. We’ll tell you who the dolphins are after the students figure it out. No spoilers!
After the cancellation of Friday’s trip due to bad sea conditions, I was able to join Bimini Adventures’ guests once again on Saturday morning. And it didn’t take time before we find some dolphins, just half an hour…
A dozen bottlenose dolphins were feeding not far from the shore, accompanied by few nurse sharks! The group was mostly composed by the same individuals that we saw earlier. The guests got into the water and observed them few minutes, before moving on for spotted dolphins. But, time went by and still no dolphins…
So, we decided to head back to try to find the group of bottlenose dolphins before going home. I was honestly very unsure we could find them, but there they were! At the exact same spot than earlier. The time, I was able to join the guests. We observed them a bit, feeding surrounding by three nurse sharks.
Soon it was time to go back to Bimini! Hoping that our spotted dolphins will be there tomorrow…!
PS: The UNBSJ students arrived on Sunday – and are off to a great start. Stay tuned for their blog posts!
Are you singing the song now? I began my day with Kel and her two kids, learning about – sharks! We had a private tour of the Bimini Biological Field Station (aka SharkLab). With preschool attention spans in mind, Chessie took us straight out to the pens. Here, we had a nice encounter with Dave the nurse shark and a lemon shark we nicknamed “Sour.” We got lots of great information and even got to touch (kids) and hold (grownups) Dave. Thank you Chessie! I got back to North Bimini and soon, it was time to go out again! And this afternoon had some surprises for us…
We found a group of more than 20 spotted dolphins today! A lot of juveniles and females with calves. The guests had three separate encounters (= swims/underwater observations) with them and each time four juveniles came to play! But the first encounter was definitely the most intense and incredible… when a tiger shark came very close to the dolphins and the people! No worries though – the shark swam away all by itself (seemingly as soon as it noticed the swimmers). Such a beautiful animal!
On our way back, we came across about a dozen bottlenose dolphins. From the water, the guests reported that there were probably as many nurse sharks as dolphins! We stayed half an hour with them to enjoy the encounter before coming back to Bimini!
A wonderful day!
Until next time,
PS: Remember to snag your spot on the freshly added 2019 eco-tour! Come to Bimini yourself!
On Wednesday, I was able to join my first official DCP dolphin trip with Bimini Adventures. We left the Sea Crest marina around 1:30pm to look for dolphins. After two hours of searching and despite our twelve eyes scanning the sea, nothing. But as Kel has told me, we don’t always find them, sometimes they find us… And suddenly, there they are, five spotted dolphins coming straight at us! One juvenile and four adults, among which two well-known females: Romeo (#10) and Swoosh (#36, pictured here, with her tell-tale half-pec fin)!
It’s time for the guests to go in! Because these guests have privately chartered the boat so they can focus on their photography, I stay on the boat and gather surface observations. Al’s guests enjoyed a very close encounter with Romeo, who kept swimming around them! Another juvenile joined us and the little group stayed with us most of the afternoon, riding the bow and swimming around to keep up with the boat.
They left us on our way back to Bimini, riding the boat’s waves one last time.
PS: Did you hear? We’ve added a new chance to come to Bimini and experience DCP’s research and Bimini’s dolphins first-hand. The new session is Aug 11 – 16, 2019. Click here to read more and get your deposit in!
Manon is in Bimini during DCP’s off-season, doing data analyses her Master’s project. But, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want a chance to see the dolphins! Soon after arriving, she and Kel went in search of #104 (“Lamda”), but didn’t see any dolphins. Here, Manon describes finally getting to see the Bimini dolphins!
“Several weeks have passed and after few failing attempts to go out for dolphins because of poor weather conditions, last Thursday was the day. DCP did not have any research trips scheduled, so I played tourist and joined a dolphin trip from North Bimini. A beautiful sunny day, calm sea, the perfect conditions to go out looking for them. After more than an hour and a half at sea and no sight, even the crew started doubting until… “Dolphins!!”. Finally, my first sight of our spotted dolphins! And even if I am just a tourist today and not with DCP, the first encounter was amazing. We came close to a little group of two adult females with older calves/young juveniles. As you can see, one of the young came very close to us… We stayed few minutes with them before heading back home.
On our way back we stopped at the Three Sisters, a nice snorkeling spot near the island. There was a lot a large schools of fishes with bright colours! But it was time to go home… to share all of this with Kel and just in time to watch a rocket launch from Florida – online anyway!
I look forward going out with DCP in few weeks for more dolphins!”
The following Tuesday, with her kids home from preschool for Easter break, Kel gave a casual presentation to the swimmers at a local swim camp. The week-long swim camp is free to local kids and hosted by Waterkeepers Bahamas with Swim Tayka and Save the Bays. It was so much fun talking about different species of whales and dolphins, including those found right here in Bimini’s backyard and elsewhere in The Bahamas. And stretching the rope out to see the length of a blue whale was pretty impressive. We could hardly shout that far! Thank you so much to the swim camp instructors for not only welcoming Kel’s kids, but welcoming Kel and providing this great service and experience. Keep swimming, Bimini!
Until next time,
Manon & Kel
PS: Did you hear? We’ve just added a new chance to come to Bimini and experience DCP’s research and Bimini’s dolphins first-hand. The new session is Aug 11 – 16, 2019. Click here to read more and get your deposit in!
With our 30 June – 5 July Bimini (The Bahamas) eco-tour nearly filled (only one spot left!), we’ve decided to try for a second session!
If you’ve always been curious about DCP’s wild dolphin research and think it would be awesome to observe and swim with wild dolphins, sign-up today!
Check-in Sunday 11 August, Check-out Friday 16 August
Click here for more details and get your deposit in today!
Introducing, DCP’s spring intern, Manon! Manon is a Master’s student from France who has spent about 5 weeks working at DCP’s Florida office and is now continuing her research project at our Bimini, The Bahamas field site. We hope you enjoy reading Manon’s perspective over the coming weeks! ~Kel
I got the first stunning sight of Bimini Islands from the plane, and it was only the beginning…
After one month of data processing in Florida, it was time for me to go into the field, hoping to see some of our well-known dolphins. On Friday, I had time to unpack my suitcase, get a personalized island tour (thanks to Kel) and I was ready for my next two months here. On the schedule: data entry, data processing and (hopefully) boat trips and dolphins.
Saturday was my first morning and my first surprise! I was expecting to see some nice sea creatures during my time in Bimini, but not on my first day and even less ten meters away from the shore. Coming from open sea and heading North, I got to join a manta ray that morning. And then in the afternoon, it was a group of dolphins that I could see, jumping behind a boat in front of the beach!
Speaking of dolphins, I got my first boat tour on Sunday. Nice weather, nice sea, nice people, but … no dolphins! Well, I still have two months to see them.