WHALE TALES FROM ABACO (1): BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES


Blainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

WHALE TALES FROM ABACO (1): BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES

Back in March we were invited by Charlotte and Diane of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO to spend a day out with them on the research boat, a chance we jumped at. I had been writing on and off about the organisation’s whale, dolphin and manatee research since the very early days of this blog. We’d seen bottlenose dolphins in Abaco waters, but never whales. This was the big day…

Our first sighting was a short distance south of Rocky Point, as we moved beyond the turquoise water of the low sandbanks into the deeper, darker ocean waters of the Bahama canyon beyond. Whale territory. The shoreline was plainly in view to the east; and to the north, on the horizon, was the massive bulk of the ‘fun ship’ parked at Castaway (Gorda) cay.

Beaked whale or fun ship for a day out? You decide…Blainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

A Blainville’s beaked whale noses towards the research vesselBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

The Blainville’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris) is also known slightly less politely as the dense-beaked whale.  It is named for the French zoologist Henri de Blainville who first described the species in 1817 based on his examinations of a piece of jaw or ‘rostrum’ — the heaviest bone he had ever come across — which resulted in the name densirostris (Latin for “dense beak”).

The beak breaks the surfaceBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

The BMMRO has carried out intensive research on the species for a number of years in the northern Bahamas, with detailed documentation of sightings and photo identification of individual animals. More recently, these whales have been the subject of incredibly detailed research into their species intercommunication through vocalisations – mainly clicks and click patterns. To view Charlotte’s PhD thesis for St Andrew’s University click HERE (and many congratulations, Dr Dunn…). Just reading the contents table will give a good idea of the scope and complexity of the research. 

The blowhole, used for breathing, in close-up. You can hear this in the video below.Blainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

Our amazing first encounter with 6 whales lasted nearly an hour. Usually, they stay near the surface for 20 minutes or so, then they do a deep dive lasting roughly 20 minutes before resurfacing. But on this occasion they behaved more like huge dolphins, swimming towards the boat, around it, under it, then drifting away again before returning.

Blainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

Given their length of some 15 feet and weight of about 2000 pounds, it was a extraordinary experience to see them at such close quarters.

Whale showing healed circular wounds caused by COOKIECUTTER SHARKSBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

The Blainville’s range is extensive and in general terms they may be found in tropical and sub-tropical waters worldwide. They are by no means uncommon, but apart from the data collected by the BMMRO it seems that comparatively little is known about them. Their diet is thought to consist mainly of squid found at depth. They are protected by a variety of Agreements, Memoranda of Understanding, Protocols and so forth throughout the worldwide range.

Cetacea_range_map_Blainvilles_Beaked_WhaleBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

The research boat is equipped with sonar the can pick up the click and whistles of whales and dolphins from a considerable distance. It was remarkable to watch a group of cetaceans and to be able to hear them loudly and animatedly communicating with each other..Blainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

Another vital aspect of the research is poop scooping. As soon as the whales had gathered round the boat, Charlotte slid into the water with her scoop net… the cloudy poop yields a mass of information about an individual creature. I wrote about this interesting job, often tasked to interns (who practice with coffee grounds) in ‘FAMILIAR FECES’.

Charlotte expertly wields the poop scoopBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) 11 16.46.13

Then, all too soon, it was deep dive time. The whales moved off from the boat and slowly, without show or splash, disappeared. And we went to investigate HOLE-IN-THE-WALL at close quarters. The next post will feature an adult male Blainville’s beaked whale, with his massive barnacle-encrusted teeth protruding upwards from his lower jaw.

The remains of a neat and undramatic deep diveBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

In this very short video of two whales right by the boat: you can actually hear their breathing.

BMMRO research RHIB with Diane           BMMRO HQ, Sandy Point, AbacoBMMRO Research Boat, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) BMMRO HQ, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: All photos RH; Charlotte & Diane for a brilliant day out; Mr Blainville for a brilliant whale

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BAHAMAS WHALES & DOLPHINS IN ABACO & ANDROS WATERS


Melon-headed Whale breaching - BMMRO copy

Melon-headed Whale breaching – BMMRO

BAHAMAS WHALES & DOLPHINS IN ABACO & ANDROS WATERS

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO)  has its HQ at Sandy Point, Abaco. We recently went out in their research boat, a RHIB, to spend an unforgettable day with Blainville’s beaked whales and bottlenose dolphins. I posted some of the dolphins HERE; and a two-part beaked whale post is a work in progress.

Male Blainville’s beaked whale with its extraordinary barnacle-encrusted teeth that protrude upwards from its lower jaw. The prominent beak is plainly visible. Sighted off the south-west point of Abaco during our second encounter with a group of these whales – the only male we saw that dayBlainville's Beaked Whale KS 1

Abaco waters are ideal for marine mammals, especially off the southern shores where the walls of the Great Bahama Canyon drop vertiginously down from the shallow coastal waters to depths of up to 3 miles below. This is one of the deepest ocean canyons in the world.  The area provides a rich source of food and nutrients for the whales and dolphins and many different species are regularly sighted there, from huge sperm whales to small pilot whales (including plenty of species I had never heard of before). 

Great Bahama Canyon Map edit

As the name suggests, the BMMRO’s remit extends far beyond Abaco. The researchers often spend time exploring and recording cetaceans in other Bahamian waters. For the last few weeks the team have been off Andros and have encountered quite a few target species. I have included a selection below taken within the last month to illustrate the importance of the area for a remarkable assortment of wonderful whales and dolphins.

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALEBlainville's Beaked Whale copy

DWARF SPERM WHALESDwarf Sperm Whales - BMMRO copy

PANTROPICAL SPOTTED DOLPHINSPantropical Spotted Dolphin - BMMRO Pantropical Spotted Dolphin leap - BMMRO copy

On board the research vessel, every sighting is recorded in detail – where possible by species, numbers, ages, sexes, and individual identifying characteristics. Thus ‘SW34’ may have a damaged fluke, whereas ‘RD49’ may have a long scar on its back. 

PILOT WHALESPilot Whale - BMMROPilot Whales - BMMRO copyPilot Whales 2 - BMMRO

The research boat is equipped with sound devices which, when the microphone is immersed, are capable of picking up whale or dolphin sounds from a considerable distance. It’s astounding to be able to listen in ‘live’ to the wide assortment of clicks and whistles produced as the creatures communicate with each other. The recorded sound patterns are studied and can often be matched to enable an individual animal to be identified. 

MELON-HEADED WHALESMelon-headed Whales - BMMRO Melon-headed Whale - BMMRO

RISSO’S DOLPHINRisso's Dolphin - BMMRO copy

Other work, including photography, is done underwater. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect is the collection of poop specimens, from which a great deal can be ascertained about the diet and health of an individual animal. I wrote about this task and the methods used a while ago inFAMILIAR FECES‘.

I’ll be writing more about whales soon. Meanwhile, here’s a short BMMRO video of a large group of melon-headed males. At the start, you can clearly hear communication sounds between them.

Credits: Charlotte & Diane of the BMMRO for taking us out with them and for all the photos except the male Blainville’s beaked whale (mine, for once!)

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS IN ABACO WATERS (2): MOTHER & CALF


Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas 12

Sometimes things happen that completely take my breath away. Here is one of those moments, from our recent trip with Charlotte and Diane in the BMMRO research boat. As we returned from whale-watching to base in Sandy Point and moved from the deep dark ocean to the bright blue shallows, we encountered a group of bottlenose dolphins. You can see my recent post featuring some of the adults HERE. That was exciting enough, as they played around the boat. Then another participant appeared… 

 Notice the dark area behind the adult dolphin… Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

…which soon separated into a small dark splashing creature with its own fin cutting the waves…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

…and next seen keeping pace with its parentDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

The sharp line between the light and the dark sea is where the sandy shallows abruptly give way to the deep waters of the Grand Bahama Canyon, a massive trench up to 2.5 miles deep with almost vertical cliff walls to the depths in some places

Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

There were less active and splashy moments as the pair swam around togetherDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, BahamasDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Then it was back to doing what they like best…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, BahamasDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Then some more restful moments…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

And finally the pair moved away. On the far horizon, the Massive Mickey Mouse Cruise ship moored at ‘Disney’s Castaway Cay’ (formerly the sober-sounding Gorda Cay), where you can be a Pirate of the Caribbean. Or anyway a very happy Tourist. The choice is yours. Would you like fries with that?Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

And looking out to sea from the cheerful place that is Castaway Cay, I wonder if a small child was wondering “Ok, love Mickey and his Friends – but I’d also really love to see a wild dolphin swimming free… 

Disney Magic docked next to the Castaway Cay Family Beach copy

All photos RH (except Castaway, Wiki). Huge thanks to Charlotte, Diane and Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO for a truly wonderful day photo 2

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BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS IN ABACO WATERS (PART 1)


Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 7

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS IN ABACO WATERS (PART 1)

DCB GBG Cover Logo dolphin

This seems to be a excellent early Spring for dolphin and whale sightings in Abaco waters. I’ve noticed that people have been posting dolphin sightings on FB recently. In our brief window of opportunity each March, I usually reckon to see 2 or 3 dolphins at most – maybe crossing over to Hope Town on the ferry, or more probably on a fishing trip. This year we saw 2 groups of about 6 off Cherokee while fishing, including calves. On another day, 4 adults made a leisurely progress the whole length of Rolling Harbour while we watched from the balcony of the Delphi Club. I don’t think they have ever been so close to the shore there before. The best was to come.Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 3

Near the end of our trip Charlotte Dunn and Diane Claridge invited us to go out with them on the BMMRO research boat. This is equipped with a hydrophonic system that can detect the bleeps, whistles and clicks of cetaceans, and record them for comparison with previous data. This enables particular animals to be identified from their vocalisations. The other method is to note particular features of an animal – damage to a fin, markings on the flank and so on. During the day C & D happily conversed in code: “Is that 132 over there?” “No, it’s got a nick in the fluke, it must be 127…”BMMRO Research Boat, Sandy Point, Abaco

As we returned in the RHIB from an amazing day spent at close quarters with beaked whales [more on these soon], we moved from deep dark blue ocean to sandy turquoise shallows. There, just off Rocky Point (near BMMRO HQ at Sandy Point) were half a dozen bottlenose dolphins, including a mother and calf. This post contains a small batch of photos of adults – there’ll be another post shortly featuring the calf… Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 4Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 1Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 5

Here’s a taster for the next post – the calf, just visible close alongside its mother, was being given leaping practice. Watch this blog…

Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 6

All photos RH. Huge thanks to Charlotte, Diane and Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO for a truly wonderful day (and for my cool sweatshirt!) photo 2

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CETACEAN SENSATION: SPERM WHALES & DOLPHINS ON ABACO


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CETACEAN SENSATION: SPERM WHALES & DOLPHINS ON ABACO

July has been ‘Whale Camp’ month for the BMMRO, when a small group of lucky youngsters get to spend time out at sea searching for whales and dolphins, and learning the intricacies of data recording and research. One target was the sperm whale, a species that may be found off the coasts of South Abaco. This is a favoured place because the deep trench of the Great Bahama Canyon throws up the food these whales need (see map below).

After some time spent searching, the BMMRO reported  “the sperm whales are back! We found a single animal yesterday, and finally in the evening found the rest of the group, 10+ animals including 3 mother-calf pairs, and dolphins at Rocky Point!” Here are some of the photos from the trip.

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) Sperm Whale, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) Sperm Whale, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)

This map of the northern Bahamas shows the V-shaped tails of the Great Bahama Canyon, and explains why the east coast and (in particular) the shallower south-west coast between Hole-in-the-Wall and Rocky Point is so attractive to feeding whale species.

Great Bahama Canyon

The dolphins were quite prolific in July, in particular bottlenose and spotted dolphins. These photos were mostly taken while the search for sperm whales was going on: the BMMRO posted “lots of dolphins up at Gorda Cay yesterday… still not hearing any sperm whales in the area, has been a couple of weeks without sign of them so they should be showing up again soon…” As they obligingly did!

Bottlenose Dolphin, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) Bottlenose Dolphin, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)Spotted Dolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)

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Today is the first day of the crawfish season and Facebook Abaco has been crawling with crawfish for a couple of days in feverish anticipation. So I decided to stick with whales and dolphins instead because there are enough crawfish images out there to keep anyone happy. However I did particularly like this offering today from Albury’s Ferry Services, always a byword for tastefulness and decorum. I’ve borrowed their picture (they borrow mine sometimes) – I wondered if it need a little more exposure, then decided there was probably quite enough already….

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Photo credits: all cetaceans, BMMRO; Crawfish Ladies, Albury’s Ferries; ‘Keep Calm’, Mariah Sawyer

AMAZING WHALE, DOLPHIN & MANATEE PHOTOS FROM ABACO


Whale Fluke (BMMRO Abaco Bahamas)AMAZING WHALE, DOLPHIN & MANATEE PHOTOS FROM ABACO

The BMMRO (Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation) had a great June for sightings of cetaceans and sirenians. Here is a sample of their wonderful photos from recent research expeditions (with thanks as ever for use permission).

RANDY THE WEST INDIAN MANATEE

After the recent excitement of Abaco’s manatee GEORGIE having returned to Cherokee after another of her epic journeys, another West Indian manatee has arrived at Sandy Point (conveniently the location of the BMMRO HQ). Sirenians and cetaceans are generally recognised from particular patterns to flukes or fins. The second image shows the notch in Randy’s tail that confirms ID.

Randy the West Indian Manatee, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas Randy the West Indian Manatee (tail), Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINSBottlenose Dolphins - BMMRO, Abaco, BahamasBottlenose Dolphins - BMMRO, Abaco, BahamasBottlenose Dolphins Abaco BMMRO FV

SPOTTED DOLPHINSSpotted Dolphins, BMMRO Abaco, Bahamas

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALESBlainville's Beaked Whales BMMRO Abaco, BahamasBlainville's Beaked Whales BMMRO Abaco, BahamasBlainville's Beaked Whales BMMRO Abaco, Bahamas

TWO COMPLETE FLUKES (THIS IMAGE & HEADER)

(note minor damage to the edges, from which ID of an individual can be made)Whale Fluke (BMMRO Abaco Bahamas)

SPERM WHALE & DIVER

Compare the diver’s fins in the foreground with the (partial) length of a huge sperm whale… Sperm Whale and Diver

RELATED LINKS:

DOLPHINS

WHALES

MANATEES

DOLPHINS OF ABACO: WONDERFUL PHOTOS FROM THE BMMRO


Dolphin, Abaco - BMMRO

DOLPHINS OF ABACO: WONDERFUL PHOTOS FROM THE BMMRO

The BMMRO (Bahamas Marine Research Organisation) is based at Sandy Point, Abaco. It is dedicated to researching, monitoring, and protecting the marine mammals of a very large area. Not just cetaceans – the dolphins and whales. Recently, a small number of West Indian manatees (sirenians) have been making the northern Bahamas their home. I’ve written plenty about Georgie the adventurous manatee in the past – and in April she returned to her favourite place, Cherokee, after a bit of time away from Abaco.

Recently, photographer Shane Gross spent some time with the BMMRO and took stunning photos of dolphins. It’s impossible to say, or think, anything unpleasant about these lovely, intelligent, playful creatures. Say you ‘don’t much care for dolphins’, and you’d be more than halfway to having a down on kittens. Here are some magnificent images that deserve a wide audience.

Dolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane GrossDolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane GrossDolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane GrossDolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane GrossDolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane Gross

WHALES & DOLPHINS  PAGE

MANATEES PAGE

BMMRO WEBSITE

BMMRO FACEBOOK

SHANE GROSS PHOTOGRAPHIC

Thanks as ever to Charlotte & Diane at the BMMRO for ongoing use permission of material including the header pic; and to Shane for his outstanding photos