WHALE & DOLPHIN RESEARCH, PHOTOS & SIGHTINGS REPORT


WHALE & DOLPHIN RESEARCH, PHOTOS & SIGHTINGS REPORT

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) has recently been involved in a major tagging and monitoring program  around Andros, in particular using sonar to test the responses of beaked whales. Being all at sea for a few weeks meant that many other marine mammals were encountered. Thanks to Charlotte and Diane for permission to use some of their photographs taken during the research trip – and also in Abaco waters – to illustrate the amazing diversity of cetacean life in the waters of the northern Bahamas.

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RESEARCH VESSEL “SLUMBER VENTURE”'Slumber Venture' survey vessel

WHALES

A Sperm Whale with unusual pigmentation

SPERM WHALES OFF ANDROSSperm WhalesSPERM WHALE TAILINGSperm Whale tailingTHAT GULL SURELY CAN’T BE CRAZY ENOUGH TO…Gull landing on Sperm WhaleWELL, IT JUST DID!Gull landed on Sperm Whale

MELON-HEADED WHALES – MOTHER & NEW-BORN CALF

Melon-headed Whale mother with new calf

THE FIN OF A MALE BEAKED WHALEBeaked whales - the fin of a male

DOLPHINS

BOTTLENOSE DOPHIN & CALFBottlenose Dolphin & Calf, Abaco

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINBottlenose Dolphin near Gorda Cay

DOLPHINS BOW-RIDINGDolphins bow-riding

SPOTTED DOLPHINSSpotted Dolphins Spotted Dolphins x 4

ROUGH-TOOTHED DOLPHINS

The research, tagging and monitoring programs pay dividends in conservation and species preservation terms… but then along comes a brutal reminder, way out in the pristine ocean, of the far-reaching extent of man’s reckless damage of the planet and the creatures in it. This poor animal has become swathed in plastic.  The likelihood is that its stomach will have dozens of pieces of plastic in it, from microscopic to potentially damaging – or fatal. We made it all, and we chucked it away.Marine Mammals & plastic

Moving into less contentious areas, here is the BMMRO sightings list for the last month, with a great deal of activity recorded. For once there is even a sighting included of my very own, of 3 bottlenose dolphins in Hope Town harbour one lunchtime in mid-June. See HERE

BMMRO June Sightings

Finally, the latest news from the BMMRO is that Dr Diane Claridge, besides being awarded her PhD earlier this year for her research on beaked whales, has graduated from the ancient scottish university of St Andrews, founded in  1413. It is the third-oldest university in the english-speaking world (and the oldest in the scottish-speaking world…).Dr Diane Claridge, St Andrews Uni

Georgie Manatee BMMRO SUPPORT LOGO

Credit: savethemanatee.org

UNDERWATER BAHAMAS: REEF GARDENS & DENIZENS (1)


Christmas Tree Worms ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

UNDERWATER REEF GARDENS IN THE BAHAMAS (1)

Animal, vegetable or mineral? If you dive down and take a close look at a reef, you’ll soon find that it isn’t easy to tell what is what… That ‘plant’ is a magic worm;  this ‘creature’ is a tentacled plant…

ANEMONESAnemone ©Melinda Riger @ GB ScubaAnenome ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaAnenome (Giant) ©Melinda Riger @GBS

BASKET STARS

A species of ‘brittle star’ that, as the images suggest, like to ‘hang’ togetherBasket Star ©Melinda Riger @ GB ScubaBasket Star ©Melinda Riger @GBS

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CHRISTMAS TREE WORMS Spirobranchus giganteusChristmas Tree Worms ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

               

Thanks to scuba photographer extraordinaire Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; & wiki-minipics

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ABACO WHALES & DOLPHINS, BMMRO SIGHTINGS & NEWSLETTER


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ABACO WHALES & DOLPHINS: BMMRO SIGHTINGS & NEWSLETTER

I haven’t posted Abaco whale, dolphin & manatee news for a while. Time for a catch-up. Georgie the young manatee that left her mother Rita and came to Abaco from the Berry Is. alone, is no longer here. She survived a very long journey, and investigated various coastal areas of Abaco – all the while being tracked. In the end she settled down in the Cherokee area. There were anxious times during Hurricane Sandy when she went missing (having by now shed her tracking device) but she eventually reappeared at Cherokee having found a safe haven from the storm. Sadly, however, her condition deteriorated and in the New Year she was relocated to Atlantis Dolphin Cay Marine Mammal Rescue Center. Some weeks ago a healthy Georgie was moved to a sea-pen to acclimatise her for release back into the wild.

Read more about Georgie the Manatee’s epic trip HERE and about the operation to relocate her HERE

ABACO DOLPHINS – A MOTHER & HER CALF 428475_595355517150345_807197303_n-1

The Bahamas Marines Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) is based at Sandy Point, Abaco. A number of research projects are underway, and recently these have involved work on Andros. The team are now back, and encountering Abaco’s own dolphins and whales. The main photos on the page have all been taken in the last week or so. [The header is by Norwegian artist Roll Inge Haaver]

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN, ABACO971695_596998516986045_1649965583_n

SPERM WHALE ‘TAILING’, ABACO (1 of 3 found yesterday using acoustic tracking)374338_596998896986007_1736456956_n

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BMMRO CHART OF CETACEAN SIGHTINGS FOR MARCH 2013

Of special note are the big whales – 3 sperm whales, and a humpback whale reported close to Cherokee.
BMMRO SIGHTINGS March 2013

Sperm whales. Humpbacks. How big are they? This useful chart shows the average lengths of various whales. I grabbed it off the internet a while ago, but regrettably forgot to mark the source. So, apologies to the originator for using it uncredited, a cyber-sin I try to avoid.what-largest-whale-cetacea-size-comparison-chart-590x338

Finally, the BMMRO’s latest 4-page Newsletter contains a wealth of information about their current activities, some great pictures, and even a quiz – check out BMMRO NEWSLETTER_Apr13

Click logo to linkbmmro_logo

ABACO’S UNIQUE PARROTS IN PICTURES, VIDEO & SOUND


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ABACO’S UNIQUE PARROTS IN PICTURES, VIDEO & SOUND

Abaco parrots. The only ground-nesting parrot species in the Bahamas. In the world, in fact. I’ve posted quite often about them – indeed they have their own page HERE – because, frankly, they are special and their story is one of encouraging success for intensive research and conservation programs. In 1492, Christopher Columbus was amazed by the vast number of parrots he saw in the Bahamas (not that the islands were called that then). In his journal he noted: “flocks of parrots darken the sun…”  Not many years ago, parrot numbers on Abaco had dwindled to fewer than 1000 – below the critical point for sustaining a viable population. Extinction of the Abaco parrot loomed, accelerated by increasing habitat change, predation, and (*euphemistically*) ‘human intervention’.  Thanks to the campaign of conservation, habitat preservation, anti-predation measures and vigilance, numbers have been restored to a sustainable level, perhaps as many as 4000. They are now a fairly common sight – and sound – in South Abaco. But not everyone who looks for them finds them, or even hears them. Especially not if they take pot luck in the vast areas of pine forest in the National Park, where they breed…

I’ve covered much of this ground before, but there is a slightly wider audience these days, so a few newcomers may be interested to learn about these lovely birds. The best thing is to have a look. All photos were taken by me during two early evenings in March.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 1Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 2 Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 4aAbaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 5

The parrots are extremely agile, and have very strong feet and claws that enable them to move around in the tree-tops – or to hang upside down if they choose to. The next photo is a close-up a foot; below that is short video showing a parrot manoeuvring itself in a tree. You’ll also see how the birds use their beaks as an extra limb, so to speak. The uninspiring title shown is only because I forgot to label it ‘Abaco Parrot’ in the first place, and can’t find how to edit it…Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 6

In this image you can clearly see how their ‘opposable’ claws wrap round a branchAbaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 8

If you suspect that this one has had some ‘work’ done, you’d be right. I normally leave my photos largely alone, apart from cropping and maybe basic light balancing where needed. Sometimes an image is nearly there, but needs a bit of extra cosmetic business – but one can usually tell. The left wing? Hmmmmm (users of ‘noise reduction’ will know what I am talking about!).Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 9 Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 10 Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 11 Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 12

The flocks of parrots are incredibly noisy. Sometimes they split into two or three groups, close together, and seem to compete in raucousness. Around 5.00 pm seemed to be the noisiest time. I took recordings of the racket, using the voice memo app on an iPh*ne, simply holding the phone with the speaker / mike end towards the parrots. Some come out pretty well – good enough to post on the excellent XENO-CANTO bird sound site. Here is a recording, with the first few seconds transcribed into a sonogram. I made a ring tone from this recording for Caroline Stahala, the scientist who, with her team, looks after the birds. She’s been too polite to say whether she uses it or (more likely) not!

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 13Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 14Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 15I find the parrots very hard to nail in flight (see above), possibly because of a shutter-speed issue (mine, not the camera’s). I nearly junked the picture below, but I liked the clash of the parrot colours with the purple bougainvillea, so I spared it.Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 16B

If anyone is interested in making a small contribution towards the continuing research into and protection of these birds, please have a look at my ABACO WILDLIFE CHARITIES  page, where the relevant link to Parrots International can be found. Or visit doudoubirds, where you will find endearing Abaco Parrot prints by dou dou herself for sale in aid of the parrots. Or contact me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.comAbaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 7

If anyone had a problem with the Xeno-Canto sound file above, here is a simplified version of the recording

‘MEN AT WORK': CLEANING UP MAN’S DEBRIS IN THE OCEAN


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‘MEN AT WORK': CLEANING UP MAN’S DEBRIS IN THE OCEAN

I keep an eye on the website SCUBAZOO. As ever, the alert ABACO SCIENTIST (highly recommended to follow) has beaten me to this latest post from Jason Isley, diver / photographer and creative thinker. He demonstrates the wonders and (human) blunders of the deep with wit and style. In the gallery below, he tackles the issue of man’s pollution of pristine waters. In a simple way, he manages to use humour to get across a message  that can easily become obscured by lengthy sermonising. See what you think.            

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BOTTLENOSE DOPHINS (VIDEO) & BMMRO ABACO CETACEAN SIGHTINGS


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BOTTLENOSE DOPHINS (VIDEO) & BMMRO ABACO CETACEAN SIGHTINGS

The legendary CONCH SALAD TV is a great resource for Bahamas wildlife and way-of-life enlightenment. Their instructive videos are very well put together, and cover Nature, Marine, Art, Science, Music, Culture, Cooking, and broader Bahamas issues. The video below is 9 minutes of Bottlenose Dolphin action, and is recommended for relaxation, gentle instruction, and Kalik-swigging accompaniment…

BMMRO Whale Camp Dolphin Image FV

It time to catch up with last month’s Cetacean sightings around Abaco. The Manatee reports are of Georgie in the Cherokee area – alas no longer resident on Abaco but safely at Atlantis where she is being cared for. To know more about the Blainville’s beaked whale on Abaco, click HEREBMMRO sightings 2013

stop pres gif BMMRO’s executive director DIANE CLARIDGE has been awarded her PhD by St Andrews University for her research on beaked whales.  Dr Claridge’s new status is celebrated by humans and cetaceans alike (see image ©BMMRO below…)Bottlenose Dolphins Abaco ©BMMRO

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MANGROVE JELLYFISH: AN UPSIDE-DOWN UNDERWATER LIFE


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MANGROVE JELLYFISH: AN UPSIDE-DOWN UNDERWATER LIFE

220px-Status_iucn3.1_LC.svgThe Mangrove Jellyfish Cassiopea, also called the ‘upside-down jellyfish’ for reasons I needn’t dwell on, is the only member of its particular jellyfish family. These creatures prefer warm waters, and typically live upside-down on the sea-bottom, which no doubt makes catching prey very simple. They can be found individually, though more likely in large groups, with individuals displaying different shades and colours.

NEW An excellent video by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba

The Mangrove Jellyfish has one of the milder stings of the numerous species, though human reactions to the sting will vary with the individual. A greater problem may come from swimming around or over a mass of these creatures. Their stinging cells are excreted in a transparent mucus which may invisibly cover the unwary swimmer. Apart from skin-irritation and a rash, the stings are apparently very itchy. My guess is that scratching can only make things worse (cf No-see-ums…). The first of the two videos below was taken recently by Sarah Bedard (to whom thanks) who “found a great tidal pool full of them at the end of Rock Point Road, Treasure Cay (Abaco)”. The second is short, but with some amazing footage of the Jellyfish in action.

A RARE ABACO PARROT DISPLAYS A RARE TALENT…


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A RARE ABACO PARROT DISPLAYS A RARE TALENT…

WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MY LITTLE TRICK?ABACO PARROT CS 13-3

I’M A BIT CAMERA-SHY – I’LL JUST TURN ROUNDABACO PARROT CS 13-4

THAT’S BETTER. ARE YOU SURE YOU ARE READY FOR THIS?ABACO PARROT CS 13-2

TA DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAABACO PARROT CS 13-1

The Abaco Parrot is a unique subspecies of Cuban Parrot found on only Abaco. They are the only parrot to nest underground, in limestone caves in the pine forest. Their numbers have increased from near extinction to a sustainable population as the result of an intensive program of conservation and anti-predation. They get plenty of publicity hereabouts, and have their own page HERE. We normally avoid too much whimsy in these parts, but I am in parrot territory right now, so I have given myself permission to break my own rule. Photos: ©Caroline Stahala (who looks after them)

THE CUBAN AMAZON PARROT: A WORK OF ART & NATURE


THE CUBAN AMAZON PARROT: A WORK OF ART & NATURE

FEATURED BY ‘ARTMAGENTA

I have just posted a gallery of bird art by Artmagenta, showing varous species from his global ‘Bird of the Day’ series that can be found on Abaco. He asked for further suggestions, so naturally I suggested the avian symbol of the Abacos. A few days later, it has flown in, in all its glory, with his description below it. So I’ll step back and let the bird do the talking.Abaco-Parrot

“The Cuban Amazon (Amazona leucocephala) also known as Cuban Parrot or the Rose-throated Parrot, is a medium-sized mainly green parrot found in woodlands and dry forests of Cuba, the Bahamas and Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. The Cuban Amazon lives in different habitats on different islands. It was once found throughout Cuba, but it is now mainly confined to the forested areas of the main island and Isla de la Juventud. On the Cayman Islands the parrot lives in dry forest and on agricultural land. Cuban Amazons nest in tree cavities throughout most of its range, the only exception being that the parrots living on the Abaco Islands nest underground in limestone solution holes, where they are protected from pineyard wildfires.”

YELLOW STINGRAY Uboritas jamaicensis: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (4)


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BAHAMAS REEF FISH (4) – YELLOW STINGRAY Uboritas jamaicensis

The YELLOW STINGRAY (Uboratis jamaicensis) is one of several ray species found in the tropical western Atlantic ocean. They live  in shallow water on sandy or seagrass bottoms, and are commonly found near coral reefs. Their light and dark splotchy colouring can rapidly change according to the surroundings and the need for camouflage. Look at the photos below with half-closed eyes and (apart from knowing perfectly well that there’s a ray there), the blending in is remarkable.

The yellow stingray feeds on small invertebrates and fishes. It can use its ‘wings’ to uncover buried / hiding prey by disturbing the sand. It also has a subtle ‘passive’ method of hunting by using its mantle to form a lethal ‘cave’ that attracts shelter- or shade-seeking prey.Yellow Stingray ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba Bahamas

Yellow stingrays breed in seagrass. They are quite prolific, breeding year round and usually having two litters a year of up to 7 young. This species is ‘aplacental viviparous': the developing embryos are sustained initially by yolk and later by uterine milk. To find out more about viviparity, you’ll find a section at the bottom of this post where the inquiring may opt in… Not everyone’s sac of yolk, I quite understand.

The yellow stingray is innocuous towards humans, but can inflict a painful injury with its venomous tail spine. The threats to the species are (1) taking as bycatch by commercial fisheries;  (2) collection for the aquarium trade; (3) negative impact from habitat degradation, both of reef areas and seagrass breeding grounds. For now, it remains common and widespread and retains its IUCN LISTING of ‘Least Concern’.Yellow Stingray

REPRODUCTIVE STRATEGIES (Marine Biodiversity, Canada)

As with all elasmobranchs, skate and rays are internal fertilizers.  Internal fertilization is beneficial because it increases the likelihood and efficiency of fertilization by reducing sperm wastage.  In addition, it ensures that the energy-rich eggs produced by the female are not consumed by predators, and that all the energy allocated to reproduction is passed to the embryos and not lost to the environment.  This is especially the case for species that retain their embryos until the embryos have completely developed, a reproductive mode termed viviparity.  Elasmobranches that practice viviparity are called viviparous (or live-bearing).  There are many types of viviparity, which can be divided into two broad categories: aplacental and placental viviparity. Placental viviparity is the most advanced mode of reproduction, during which the embryos are initially dependent on stored yolk but are later nourished directly by the mother through a placental connection.  This type of reproduction is not exhibited by any type of batoid.  Ovoviviparity (or aplacental viviparity), on the other hand, is the only mode of reproduction employed by rays.  In rays, the embryos rely on the substantial yolk within the ovulated egg only during the initial stages of development. After the nutrients stored in the egg have been consumed, the embryo ingests or absorbs an organically rich histotroph (or “uterine milk”) produced by the mother and secreted into uterus.  The most highly developed of these strategies occurs in some rays in which the lining of the uterus forms tiny, finger-like projections (termed trophonemata) that increase the surface area for histotroph secretion.  This form of nutrient supply (or maternal investment) results in very large offspring, which is characteristic of most species of ray.

For those now fluent in viviparity, the treat of one of Melinda Riger’s fabulous aquatic close-up photos –  keeping a close eye on you…Up close of the eye of a yellow stingrayCredits: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba, with thanks; Wiki for other images / source material; selected online pickings

SHARK FINS – OOOP! A MODEL USE OF HUMOUR TO CONVEY ASERIOUS MESSAGE (VIDEO)


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SHARK FINS – OOOP! A MODEL USE OF HUMOUR
TO CONVEY A SERIOUS MESSAGE
(VIDEO)

The CAPE ELEUTHERA FOUNDATION has produced a short video about sharks and shark fins that manages to be both amusing and to carry a powerful conservation message. It’s a hard trick to pull off successfully. Attempts to use humour to leaven a serious message or to modify earnestness in presentation so often trespass into the no-man’s land known as ‘Meh’ (twinned with ‘Wotevah’). I’m grateful to the always-interesting ABACO SCIENTIST for sharing this item. Photo credit: Melinda Riger, with thanks for use permission [I am posting this from NYC via iPhone, so any weird formatting or typos will have to be dealt with next week]

GRAY ANGELFISH (Pomacanthus arcuatus) BAHAMAS REEF FISH (3)



Gray_angelfish
Gray Angelfish

GRAY ANGELFISH (Pomacanthus arcuatus) BAHAMAS REEF FISH (3)

I recently posted about the highly coloured QUEEN ANGELFISH, a striking coral reef resident glowing with fluorescent blues and yellows. It’s the Angelfish that went into showbiz and succeeded. Its close cousin the Gray Angelfish is a more sedate creature, with the appearance of a professional – law, possibly, or medicine. That thin blue fin-edging suggests a flamboyant streak. Slightly mean mouth? Lawyer.**Gray Angelfish ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba

This species is found in the warm waters of Florida, and south through the Bahamas and Caribbean as far as Brazil. They are found at depths from 2 m. down to 30 m. You are most likely to encounter one on a coral reef feeding on sponges, its main diet.  The fish below with the bluer face is a teenager, in transition between juvenile and adult. Gray Angelfish between juvenile and adult phase

It’s clear from side on that Gray Angelfish are ‘upright flat’, but it’s surprising just how slim they actually are. Photographer Melinda Riger has captured this front view against a stunning red backdrop. Disappointingly, these fish seem to lead blameless and anodyne lives as reef-foragers, and I’ve been unable to turn up a single interesting fact about them. That’s lawyers for you.**Gray Angelfish (front view) ©Melinda RigerGray Angelfish ©Melinda Riga @ BP ScubaPhoto Credits: main images ©Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba; Header – Wikipix

** I can say this – I am one…

GEORGIE THE ABACO MANATEE: FAREWELL CHEROKEE, HELLO ATLANTIS


Georgie the Mantee Abaco clip

GEORGIE THE ABACO MANATEE: FAREWELL CHEROKEE, HELLO ATLANTIS

Many people have shown an interest in the adventures of Georgie the Manatee over the last 18 months or so, and the work of the BMMRO in monitoring her movements and welfare. She has travelled a great many miles in that time, to and around Abaco; settled down eventually in Cherokee; successfully shed her satellite tag; gone awol a couple of times; and happily reappeared at Cherokee each time. Recently there have been increasing concerns about her wellbeing, and a joint venture has overseen her capture & return to the Atlantis Marine Mammal Rescue Center for observations and health evaluation. The full story published in the Bahamas Weekly [click logo below] with photos by Tim Aylen is set out below. I have also included some very good pictures of Georgie and the preparations for her journey, taken by Cindy James Pinder (with thanks for permission to use them). So Abaco – and Cherokee in particular – has sadly lost its only (briefly) resident manatee. I can’t make out when the last resident manatee was recorded on Abaco, but not very recently I think. Fingers crossed for Georgie’s future – I will continue to post updates on how she gets on.

UPDATE 1 FROM BMMRO “On January 26th, Georgie was captured in Casaurina canal and transported to Dolphin Cay-Atlantis. Videos taken by BMMRO on January 15th highlighted areas of concern in regards to Georgie’s current body condition. Those videos were then circulated amongst a group of manatee researches abroad and their opinions and advice were taken into consideration by the Department of Marine Resources (DMR). Georgie had lost a considerable amount of weight since her arrival to Abaco (September 2012) and need medical attention. DMR gave Dolphin Cay permission to capture Georgie and transport her to their marine mammal rehabilitation facility until she was healthy enough to return to the wild. Health assessments were conducted the day of capture (prior to transporting her to Nassau) and on January 27th. BMMRO’s Manatee Lady (and Educational Officer), Kendria Ferguson, visited Georgie on January 29th and is happy to report that Georgie is doing well. She is currently on a meal plan that will assist her with getting the necessary nutrients she needs to get healthy. BMMRO will continue to monitor Georgie’s progress and will provide updates here on our FB page. Thank you for all your support, please help us to continue to monitor manatees in The Bahamas by making a donation on our website www.bahamaswhales.org.”

Bahamas Weekly Logo

ATLANTIS RESCUES ENDANGERED MANATEE & RELOCATES HER TO DOLPHIN CAY

By Atlantis, Paradise Island and One&Only Ocean Club     Jan 31, 2013  6:22:53 PM

W-Georgie-the-manatee-is-placed-into-a-medical-pool-at-Dolphin-CayPhoto: Tim Aylen

PARADISE ISLAND, THE BAHAMAS The Atlantis Animal Rescue Team, under the direction of the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources (BDMR) and with assistance from The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization (BMMRO), successfully rescued Georgie, a West Indian manatee and relocated her to the Atlantis Dolphin Cay Marine Mammal Rescue Center.  Dolphin Cay is home to the only live marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation center in The Bahamas and is a member of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Stranding Network.  Manatees in addition to all marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 2005 and only authorized facilities are able to respond such requests from Government.

Georgie was first sighted in Spanish Wells in June 2010 where she was born to Rita, a known Florida Manatee.  In October of 2011 both Rita and Georgie appeared in the busy Nassau Harbor and at the request of the Bahamas Government, the Dolphin Cay Team rescued them and brought them to a safe environment at the Atlantis Dolphin Cay Marine Mammal Rescue Center where health assessments and evaluations could be conducted.  With the assistance of the BDMR, BMMRO, United States Geological Survey, and Save the Manatee Club, the Atlantis Animal Rescue Team released both Rita and Georgie in April of 2012, equipped with tags to monitor their movements for several months.  In October of 2012, it was observed that Rita and Georgie had split up and Georgie made a dramatic move from the Berry Islands release site to Cherokee in Abaco, The Bahamas.   The Dolphin Cay team made several trips to Abaco, meeting up with BMMRO to try to get a good look at Georgie’s overall body condition.  Concern was raised by BMMRO recently about her general appearance and the decision was made by the Department of Marine Resources for the Dolphin Cay team to conduct a field health assessment and relocate her to the Atlantis Marine Mammal Rescue Center.

W-Atlantis-Animal-Rescue-team-members-arrive-from-Abaco-with-GeorgiePhoto: Tim Aylen

Georgie will undergo a series of general health evaluations.  Once she is healthy, the teams will pull together once again and relocate her back to Great Harbor Cay in the Berry Islands with the hope that she rejoins with the resident group of manatees in that area.  At this time, Georgie is under observation at Dolphin Cay and doing well in her new environment.

Atlantis is the home of world’s largest open-air marine habitat with over 50,000 marine animals in lagoons and displays as well as Dolphin Cay, the state-of-the-art dolphin interaction and education center. Dolphin Cay and Atlantis are accredited members of both the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. Both the marine habitat and Dolphin Cay were created with the goal of enlightening visitors about the wonders of these remarkable ocean inhabitants. Dolphin Cay is also the residence of the Katrina Dolphins and Sea Lions some of whom were swept to sea during Hurricane Katrina.

PHOTOS OF GEORGIE DURING HER CAPTURE (©Cindy James Pinder)

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SEABIRDS, SHOREBIRDS & WADERS: 30 WAYS TO DISTINGUISH THEM


Magnificent Frigate male Wikipics
Magnificent Frigatebird

SEABIRDS, SHOREBIRDS & WADERS: 30 WAYS TO DISTINGUISH THEM 

I have recently been looking at hundreds of photos of birds, many with aquatic or semi-aquatic lives. These can be broadly categorised as seabirds, shorebirds or wading birds. But with some bird breeds, there can be doubt as to which category applies. There is the strict Linnaean ordering of course, but in practice there is a degree of informal category overlap and some variation in the various bird guides. This is especially so between shorebirds and the smaller, less exotic wading birds. Shorebirds may wade, and wading birds may be found on shores. Then I remembered a past blog post by the estimable BEACH CHAIR SCIENTIST that I thought deserved an outing here. I re-blogged the chart from BCS early last year. In the meantime site followers and site hits have surprisingly increased considerably, but I suspect only the dedicated make time to sift through any blog’s archives…  Even if you have no problem distinguishing birds in the 3 categories, there are avian characteristics within each list that are interesting observations in themselves. 

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SEABIRDS 

Whitetailed Tropicbird WikiPicWhite-tailed Tropicbird

(Examples include albatross, auk, booby, frigatebird, fulmar, gannet, penguin, petrel, puffin, shearwater, and tropicbirds)

1. Seabirds are pelagic, spending most of their lives far out at sea.
2. Seabirds move toward to coastal areas to breed or raise young for a minimal amount of time.
3. Seabirds are light on their undersides and dark on top (an adaptation known as countershading).
4. Seabirds have more feathers than other types of birds for more insulation and waterproofing.
5. Seabirds have flexible webbed feet to help gain traction as they take off for flight from the sea.
6. Some seabirds have unusually sharp claws used to help grasp fish under the water.
7. Some larger seabirds (e.g. albatross) have long, slim wings allowing them to soar for long distances without getting tired.
8. Some smaller seabirds have short wings for maneuvering at the surface of the water.
9. Seabirds have specialized glands to be able to drink the saltwater and excrete salts.
10. Some seabirds (e.g. gannets) have a head shape that is usually tapered for more efficiency in plunge diving.

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SHOREBIRDS 

Wilson' Plover male Wikipic

Wilson’s Plover

(Examples include avocets, black skimmer, oystercatchers, plover, sandpiper, and stilt)

1. Shorebirds have long legs, pointed beaks, and long pointed wings.
2. Most shorebirds are migratory (Impressively some shorebirds fly non-stop for 3-4 days, equivalent to a human running continuous 4-minute miles for 60 hours).
3. Shorebirds wade close to the shore and poke their bills into the ground in search of food.
4. Shorebirds are small to medium size wading birds.
5. Shorebirds tend to frequent wetlands and marshes and are biological indicators of these environmentally sensitive lands.
6. Shore birds are of the order Charadriiformes.
7. Shorebirds are very well camouflaged for their environment and their appearance may vary from place to place as plumage (feather colors) are gained or lost during breeding.
8. Shorebirds typically range in size from 0.06 to 4.4 pounds.
9. Oystercatchers have a unique triangular bill that is a cross between a knife and a chisel.
10. The black skimmer is the only native bird in North America with its lower mandible larger than the upper mandible, which helps the bird gather fish as it skims the ocean surface.

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF WADING BIRDS 

Great Egret Wikipic
Great Egret

(Examples include crane, egret, flamingo, herons, ibis, rail, spoonbill, and stork)

1. Wading birds are found in freshwater or saltwater on every continent except Antarctica.
2. Wading birds have long, skinny legs and toes which help them keep their balance in wet areas where water currents may be present or muddy ground is unstable. Also, longer legs make it easier for them to search for food (forage) in deeper waters.
3. Wading birds have long bills with pointed or rounded tips (depending on what is more efficient for the types of food the bird consumes).
4. Wading birds have long, flexible necks that can change shape drastically in seconds, an adaptation for proficient hunting.
5. Herons have sophisticated and beautiful plumes during the breeding season, while smaller waders such as rails are much more camouflaged.
6. Wading birds may stand motionless for long periods of time waiting for prey to come within reach.
7. When moving, their steps may be slow and deliberate to not scare prey, and freeze postures are common when these birds feel threatened.
8. Adult wading birds are quiet as an essential tool for hunting. Wading birds may be vocal while nestling or while in flocks together.
9. Many wading birds form communal roosts and breeding rookeries, even mixing flocks of different species of wading birds or waterfowl.
10. Wading birds fully extend their legs to the rear when flying. The neck may be extended or not while in flight, depending on the species.

These lists were put together in useful chart form. Please check with BCS (link above) if you want to ‘borrow’ itseabird shorebird wading bird chart ©beachchairscientistImage Credits: Table – ©Beach Chair Scientist; Pics – good old wiki

RICKY JOHNSON, ABACO NATURE GUIDE & ENTHUSIAST 1964-2013


Ricky Johnson, Abaco, Bahamas

FOR RICKY JOHNSON, ABACO NATURE GUIDE & ENTHUSIAST 1964-2013 

Ricky Johnson Bahama Palm Shores 1

No one who knew Ricky, or even merely met him, could doubt his charisma, his infectious enthusiasm for life, and for Abaco and its natural history. His Abaco Nature Tours were legendary. As non-islanders, we knew that a day out in Ricky’s company would be a hectic and memorable one. He knew where all the birds were to be found – and enticed the shy ones out of the coppice with his trademark calls. He was all-seeing and all-knowing – information about Abaco’s natural history, social history, geology, poisonous plants and bush medicine would stream from him irrepressibly throughout the day. Ask him a question? He’d know the answer. He seemed never so happy as when he spotted something and pulled the truck over, leaping out with the door open so all could hear his running commentary as he explained the properties of some small plant that most would have failed to notice. Accompanied, of course, by a gag and THAT laugh.


Ricky Johnson Bahama Palm Shores 3

In many ways, it is impertinent for occasional blow-ins to become involved in what is the island’s grief over Ricky’s tragically young passing. However in the short time we knew him – far too short – we both came to feel we had known him for many years. That was the Ricky effect. He was a joy to know, and we will remember him with joy as well as with sadness.

Ricky Johnson Pishing Woodstars Crossing Rocks Abaco

Land Crab : Ricky Johnson 2

SPOTTED DRUM FISH – BAHAMAS REEF FISH (1)


SPOTTED DRUM FISH Equetus punctatus BAHAMAS REEF FISH (1)

This post is the first of a planned series on Bahamian reef fish. Those who follow this blog (I thank you both) may recall with horror (or worse, pity) my own efforts with reef fish, using a tiny cellphone-sized video camera.  Misty stills culled from video footage. Enthusiastically wobbly movies as I struggle to swim and breathe simultaneously in an alien element. I am more underwater CLOUSEAU than COUSTEAU. However, thanks to Melinda Riger, who with husband Fred runs GRAND BAHAMA SCUBA, I have kind permission to borrow and display images from her stock of wonderful reef fish photographs.

The spotted drum fish (or Jack-knife fish) belongs to a large worldwide family, the Sciaenidae. Besides other drum varieties, the family includes ‘croakers’. These species are all named for the repetitive throbbing or drumming sounds they make. This involves the fish beating its abdominal muscles against its swim bladder. If I find out the reason for this (Species communication? Food call? Alarm? Warning? A piscine ‘advance’? Happiness?) I will add it here in due course. Here an example of an atlantic croaker from the excellent DOSITS site (Discovery of Sounds in the Sea)

The spotted drum is one of the few fish of the species to inhabit coral reefs – most are bottom-dwellers (often in estuaries), avoiding clear water. These fish tend to be nocturnal feeders, feeding on small crabs, shrimp and small invertebrates. As far as I can make out they are solely (or primarily) carnivore, and do not graze on algae of other reef plant life.

Drumfish

Drumfish

The photos above are of adult spotted drums. The ones below are of juveniles, and show the remarkable growth-pattern of these fish, from the fragile slender creature in the top image, through the intermediate phase of the one below it (with the amazing brain coral), to the striking adult versions above. People like to keep these pretty fish in aquariums; fine, I’m sure there are plenty to go round, but these ones look pretty happy to me in their natural reef environment…

Juvenile Drum Fish (pre-school)Juvenile Drumfish 2 ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba

Juvenile drum fish (school-age)

Juvenile Drumfish ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba(Header image credit: Wiki-Cheers)

Finally, I’ve just come across this short video from a “Florida Aquarium”, showing how these fish swim. It rather looks as though it has been fin-clipped for some reason… or just damaged, maybe

BMMRO: WHALE ETC SIGHTINGS; BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES; WINTER NEWSLETTER


D

Blainville’s Beaked Whale, Abaco, Bahamas

SIGHTINGS REPORT OCT – DEC 2012

The last quarter of 2012 produced relatively few open-ocean CETACEAN sightings, not least because of a reduction in spotting trips during the period, with some members of the team elsewhere in the world completing their research. SIRENIAN activity is thankfully on the increase, with reporting opportunities increased by the manatees’ preference for sticking close inshore, usually in harbour areas. Georgie has gained her first yellow spot as Abaco’s only resident manatee following her long trip over from the Berry Is. (and away from mother Rita) last summer. She has  taken up residence in Cherokee. She performed a worrying vanishing trick during Hurricane Sandy, holing up (presumably) in seagrass off-shore, and (definitely) in an inshore channel for some of the time. She went AWOL again before Christmas, but has returned to Cherokee in good condition after a short vacation. Having shed her tag (several times) it was not possible to track her. The big plus is that she has proved capable of independent living, and has not become reliant on proximity to humans and their offerings of cabbage leaves etc… This photo was taken at Cherokee a few days ago.

Manatee Georgie, Abaco, Bahamas

The other notable new entry is a manatee sighting in the Freeport area of Grand Bahama. A single photo exists – a head shot – but it hasn’t been possible to identify the creature as a known one. (S)he may be a new visitor to the Bahamas. People in the area are asked to report any further sightings in the area to the BMMRO – and if possible to get a picture!
BMMRO CETACEAN SIGHTINGS OCT:DEC 12

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES

RANGE MAP                                                         IUCN RATING “DATA DEFICIENT”

        

Mid-frequency broadband sounds of Blainville’s beaked whales

Recent research has been carried out on the sound variations of this relatively little-understood species of whale. “Recordings from acoustic tags show that five Blainville’s beaked whales produced mid-frequency broadband sounds on all of their deep dives, with each sex producing two different sound types. These broadband sounds are atypical of the regular echolocation sounds previously described for this species. One male produced a total of 75 sounds over four dives, between the depths of 109 and 524 meters, and four females produced a total of 71 sounds over 18 dives, between the depths of 305 and 1289 meters. Ninety-six percent of the male sounds and 42 percent of the female sounds were produced before the onset of foraging echolocation sounds, and all were produced before the deepest point of the dives. These sounds may be candidate communication signals, with their production timed to mitigate the risk of both predation and hypoxia (oxygen deprivation).”

The report includes sample sounds from the 3 BBWs shown below, and the one heading the page. I haven’t found a way to embed the sounds, but I am working on it (there’s a time -consuming method involving conversion to MP3, but maybe another day…)

Blainville’s Beaked Whales, Abaco, Bahamas Blainville's Beaked Whale AbacoDA

Thanks to the prolific DEAR KITTY for a cross-reference to this topic on her website, featuring a fine video of  BBW in French Polynesia

Finally, the action-packed, information-filled, image-laden 4 page winter newsletter. Click below to open.

BMMRO WINTER NEWSLETTER 2012 (Jan13)

Georgie Manatee BMMRO SUPPORT LOGO

mantsw~1

THE LIFE CYCLE OF THE ATALA HAIRSTREAK BUTTERFLY (Eumaeus atala)


Atala Hairstreak Logo

THE LIFE CYCLE OF THE ATALA BUTTERFLY Eumaeus atala

I’ve been planning a post about this lovely small butterfly for some time. I posted a close-up photo of one taken last summer at ATLALA PICS  (worth clicking to enlarge to see its cute curly tongue) but I wanted to find out more about them and their strikingly-coloured abdomens. This led me to the excellent butterfly (& co) website of STEPHANIE SANCHEZ. Click her name to be transported to her intriguingly and Greekly named HEURISTRON pages for a wealth of Florida-based lepidoptera information. With Steph’s kind approval, the following post is based on her Atala work, and includes her amazing images of the life cycle of the Atala with captions. The blue links below will take you  to the relevant pages of Steph’s site, where you will find plenty of advice about Atala-friendly plants.

THE STAGES FROM EGG TO BUTTERFLY

Atala Butterfly lays eggs on Coontie

 EGGS are laid on COONTIE the Atala Butterfly HOST PLANT (clusters of 10 – 50)

LARVAE Red caterpillars with yellow markings, hatch from the eggs and eat the host plant. They shed their skin several times while they’re growing up. (You can look up “larval instar” if you want to get more technical than that.)

CHRYSALIS The caterpillars eat, and grow, and then they hang from the bottom of a leaf on the Coontie, shed their skin one last time, and turn into a chrysalis.

BUTTERFLY Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar turns into the butterfly. When it’s done, it crawls out and hangs upside-down to extend and dry its wings before it flies away.

==========================

Up close, the white rounded eggs have tiny hairs on them

Atala Butterflies lay eggs on Coontie        Atala Eggs on Coontie

COONTIE (Zamia floridana or pumila)

Coontie

The eggs hatch into these bright red and yellow caterpillars

Atala larvae on Coontie                                                          Atala butterfly larvae (caterpillar)

When the caterpillars have eaten and grown enough, they hang under the leaf, shed their skin a final time, and turn into a chrysalis. The one below is undergoing the change; you can see how different it looks from the bright red caterpillars

Atala butterfly larvae making a chrysalis

On a very new chrysalis the yellow dots on the back of the caterpillar are still visible

Atala butterfly chrysalides

Then as it ages, the chrysalis darkens to a more opaque soft brown that darkens more the older it gets

 Atala butterfly chrysalis

Finally, a day or so before the butterfly is ready to emerge, you can start to see the red abdomen through the bottom of the chrysalisAtala butterfly chrysalides

 The little spiky brown splotches near the chrysalides are the shed skins of the larvaeAtala butterfly chrysalis

When they first crawl out of their chrysalis, their abdomen is swollen with fluid and their wings are squished and tiny. They hang upside-down and excrete fluid, and also pump fluid into their wings to expand them

Atala butterfly emerging from chrysalisAtala butterfly emerging

This is a good time to hold them; they can’t fly away. Be sure to let them hang upside-down though, or their wings will dry wrong and they will be unable to fly. Also watch out for the goo they poo because it can stain your clothes

Atala butterfly emerging

emerged Atala butterfly expanding wingsAtala butterfly on fingeremerged Atala butterfly expanding wings

All of these Atala Photographs were taken in Broward County, Florida by ©Stephanie SanchezAtala butterfly on chrysalis

WHY THE BRIGHT RED ABDOMEN? I suppose it’s obvious that this is one of nature’s warning signals. But are these insects inherently toxic, or are the toxins acquired by ingestion or some other process? Lifting wholesale from Wiki, which puts it as well as I could (+ useful links), “The host plants contains toxic chemicals, known as cycasins, and the bright coloration of the adult is believed to be aposematic. Birds and lizards attempt to prey on the adults, but find them distasteful and learn to avoid the brightly patterned butterflies.”

Steph advises “if you want Atala Butterflies in your butterfly garden, you’ll need at least a dozen Coontie plants to keep a colony alive; more is better. They tend to stay close to home, so they’re a fun butterfly to garden for because you can continue to enjoy watching them in your garden after they become butterflies. Some other butterflies tend to emerge and fly off.”

STEPH’S LINKS BUTTERFLIES -∞- ATALA NECTAR -∞- HOST PLANTS

RH LINKS BUTTERFLIES -∞- HEURISTIC  (because I didn’t know what ‘Heuristron’ means… we learn stuff here!)

OTHER LINKS LITTLE BUTTERFLIES (Atala etc page of Barbara Woodmasnsee’s butterfly website. Nice pics!)

ART FOR THE [NATIONAL] PARKS: 3 DAY EVENT IN AID OF ABACO’S WILDLIFE


Atala Hairstreak LogoSUPPORT ABACO WILDLIFE CONSERVATION AND THE WORK OF THE BNT

LOCAL ARTISTS & ARTISANS; LECTURES; ENVIRONMENTAL GAMES; FRESH MARKET

(Help to make sure that the creatures pictured below stay off the IUCN ‘threatened species’ list) 

Art for the Parks: Abaco National Parks

“PROBABLY THE BEST BAHAMAS WILDLIFE & SCIENCE APP IN THE WORLD…”


Click242 Nature Logo

“PROBABLY THE BEST BAHAMAS WILDLIFE & SCIENCE APP IN THE WORLD…”

Actually, there’s no “probably” about it! This brand new app CLICK242 NATURE is undoubtedly the ‘ne plus ultra’ and ‘canine’s orchids’ of the Bahamas natural history app world. It’s available now on iTunes for iPad, iPhone, iTouch and iWotsit  – and it’s totally free, gratis, and owt for nowt. Some of you may have wandered onto my APPS REVIEW page, perhaps in error, where I have look at various sorts of useful app pertaining to wildlife or the Bahamas (or preferably both). Some are excellent, some a bit ‘ho hum’, and there’s been one shocker where no star rating was possible…

Click242 Screenshot

And now this shiny app has arrived just in time for you to give to yourself for Christmas, and at no personal cost. You can even afford to give it to family and friends and bathe in the warm glow of their happy smiling faces…

This app does a great deal – indeed it is a one-stop portal for many of the Abaco, Eleuthera and wider Bahamas organisations, NGOs, science & environmental sites, wildlife blogs etc that many follow. And with a photo section! It is designed to make sharing easy in all familiar formats. The official description will give you a pretty good idea of what is covered, so I will  add it in full below.

I can’t help but notice in the image to the left the words “Rolling Har…” in the top menu. And yes, astonishingly this frankly somewhat haphazard blog finds itself in exalted company on the Planet of the Apps. It’s a bit uncomfortable with that, but delighted to have been allowed a small part to play in the venture.

My minor participation in the project (and natural diffidence) inhibits me from giving this excellent resource the 5* rating it so obviously deserves, so I’ll simply say that I think the many people interested in the natural history, the science and the environmental issues of the Bahamas will welcome this new app as a valuable, constantly updated resource.

Piping Plover Charadrius melodus 1

CLICK242: NATURE

“The Click242 app is your daily dose of what is going on in the Bahamian environmental field. This FREE app is designed to increase public awareness about the Bahamian environment and the organizations which work to educate the public and manage the country’s natural resources, including protected areas.

It allows resource managers, users, scientists, students, teachers, visitors and interested persons to connect with various environmental groups and stay up to date with the latest blogs, activities, photos, videos and events within the environmental arena”.

Bird of Paradise Flower (Strelitzia) Abaco

EASILY CONNECT WITH FEATURED ORGANIZATIONS

Andros Conservancy and Trust (ANCAT)
Bahamas National Trust (BNT)
Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF)
Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO)
Bahamas Sea Turtle Research (BSTR)
Bahamians Educated in Natural and Geographic Sciences (BEINGS)
Community Conch (CC)
Friends of the Environment (FRIENDS)
Gerace Research Centre (GRC)
Leon Levy Preserve (LLP)
Nature’s Hope for South Andros
One Eleuthera (1E)
Young Marine Explorers (YME)
and more…

Inagua Flamingos MM 14

CLICK242: NATURE INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING FEATURES Science Blogs from the Abaco Scientist, Rolling Harbour and the Cape Eleuthera Institute. Featured Content covers projects and new efforts in the environmental arena.

Land Crab BPS 5

HIGHLIGHTS Photos from across The Bahamas, posted by featured organizations; Current Facebook pages for various environmental organizations and groups; Easily navigate to and watch videos from featured groups and YouTube; Articles, news, blogs, photos and videos can be shared with your friends via facebook, twitter and email.

  Delphi Beach Shadows