WHALES, DOLPHINS & MANATEES, ABACO: BMMRO NEWS


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WHALES, DOLPHINS & MANATEES, ABACO: BMMRO NEWS

BMMRO COLLABORATES WITH NEW PARTNER, ATLANTIS BLUE PROJECT

The ATLANTIS BLUE PROJECT is managed by the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation, a private non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of global marine ecosystems through scientific research, education, and community outreach. BMMRO is excited to now be a part of this project and in turn has received two grants from the Atlantis Blue Project for 2014 

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Stranding Response to Support Conservation of Marine Mammals in the Bahamas 

Increasing capacity and available funds to respond rapidly to strandings in The Bahamas will increase our ability to determine cause of death and/or successful rehabilitation of marine mammals. At the first stranding workshop held in the Bahamas in 2008, the Honourable Lawrence Cartwright, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources officially opened the workshop stating “I believe the establishment of a Marine Mammal Stranding Network in The Bahamas will serve to promote the conservation of marine mammal species and their habitat by improving the rescue and humane care of stranded marine mammals, advancing stranding science, and increasing public awareness through education.” This funding will provide the resources to train veterinarians on how to work with stranded marine mammals as well as provide the resources to respond to strandings.

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Field Research & Outreach to Support Conservation of Bahamas Marine Mammals

Cetaceans are long-lived, highly specialised animals with delayed reproduction and low fecundity, which makes them incapable of rapid adaptation and thus particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic impacts. BMMRO has compiled an unprecedented long-term dataset for the region, which has become increasingly valuable to inform about the baseline ecology of some odontocete species. This research will ensure that this important work continues to fill key gaps in our knowledge about the ecology of marine mammals. Additionally, we will increase awareness and build capacity amongst Bahamians, both of which will contribute to local conservation needs.

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JANUARY SIGHTINGS

For Abaco, the excitement is the sperm whale seen just off the Rocky Point area. More generally for the northern Bahamas, in addition to the manatee Georgie (former temporary resident of Abaco) and others, there was a manatee reported on Eleuthera. It looks as though these gently creatures continue to find the area to their liking.

BMMRO Sightings Jan 2014

I must be going now – thanks for visiting Rolling Harbour…blue6

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(Thanks as ever to Charlotte & co at BMMRO for permission to use and adapt their material!)

3 MONTHS ON ABACO WITH THE BMMRO: AN INTERN’S STORY


BMMRO whale pic

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation LogoClick logo for website

BMMRO Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation Banner

3 MONTHS ON ABACO WITH THE BMMRO: AN INTERN’S STORY

My name is Jack Lucas and I am Marine Biology Student at Plymouth University in the UK. I came to the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation on Abaco in July 2013 for a 3 month internship, which has been an amazing experience from start to finish. Heres a summary of my summer spent at BMMRO.

Sperm Whale Fluking

I arrived at the start of July and was fortunate enough with my timing to be part of an assembled crew of scientists from all over the world coming together to start work on what was to be this summers main project; collecting faecal samples from Blainville’s beaked whales to assess stress hormones produced. This team included Dr Roz Rolland and Dr Scott Kraus from New England Aquarium, who are collaborating with BMMRO for the work, and the samples will be analysed back at their lab in the US. Also along for the ride was Roxy Corbett; a whale observer and field researcher from the US, and Dr Stephanie King; a acoustician from the Sea Mammal Research Unit in Scotland. The first day after arriving it was straight out on the boat to search for these elusive creatures and the beginning of a crash course in how to collect and store the faecal samples when we found them. For the first week the work was a mix of boat work when the weather permitted and practicing poop collection using custom-made fine-mesh nets and coffee grounds (as close to the real thing as we were willing to try!), as well as clearing out BMMRO’s garage and, under the direction of foreman Scott, the construction from scratch of a lab to prepare samples for storage.

An example of the use of coffee grounds to practise whale poop-scoop technique269RH note: NOT Jack’s arms / snappy diving suit…

Unfortunately, despite days of poop collection practice and endless hours searching for the whales at sea, the original poop team never got a chance to employ these by now highly developed skills or to see the lab being used, as the weather was so windy we barely encountered the animals let alone spent long enough with them to collect any samples. 

Despite the lack of beaked whales, we did encounter loads of marine mammals in the first few weeks, from sperm whales to three different species of dolphin; including the little-seen and even less-studied rough-toothed dolphin.

Rough-toothed Dolphin

After discussion with Charlotte and Di about a possible project for me to complete during my stay, it was to be this species that I would focus on and in between the usual office jobs it was my task to sort through the photos from 20 rough toothed encounters in the Bahamas since 1995 and create a catalogue of individuals. This initial task consisted of careful inspection, comparison and sorting of what turned out to be over 5000 photos, into an organised catalogue of 167 separate and distinctive individuals. Despite the hours of endless staring at fins, it was very rewarding as there were 13 resighted individuals found (we were not necessarily expecting any!) which suggests long-term site fidelity and association of these animals, in addition to year round use of the Grand Bahama Canyon. Even more rewarding; the results of this work have recently been submitted for a poster display at an Odontocete workshop in New Zealand this December and I am also writing up the results in a formal scientific paper, with the hopeful goal of publishing a note in a peer-review journal. 

 Scott, Jack, Stephanie and Di in the new lab at Sandy Point

Around a month in I was lucky enough to be sent by Di and Charlotte to Great Harbour Cay on the nearby Berry Islands to work with the manatees there, in particular Georgie; a recently released juvenile whose status is being carefully monitored after her rehabilitation at Atlantis’ Dolphin Cay following health problems. The work here for a week under the guidance of Kendria; a Bahamian contracted by BMMRO to monitor the manatees on the Berry Islands, consisted of tracking Georgie using a satellite tag attached to a belt around her tail. Once located, we logged her position and made any notes on her health and behaviour aswell as the other manatees that were often found with her (there are currently 6 located on Great Harbour Cay). Two days in her tag was found unattached at a locals dock (it has a weak-link incase of entanglement) and we had to locate her using underwater hydrophones to detect her belt. Once found, I had the rare opportunity of entering the water with her in order to re-attach a new tag to her belt; it was amazing and one of the best encounters I have had with any animal! It is impossible not to love these amiable and gentle creatures, especially when you observe their infamous ‘hugs’ in person! 

Georgie the Manatee

For more about Georgie’s re-release in the Berry Is. after her earlier shenanigans on Abaco, see HERE

After returning from the Berry Islands (and incidentally missing the first two poop collections of the season made by Charlotte!) it was back to hunting for the elusive beaked whales around South Abaco. During my time I had the chance to work with several interns coming to BMMRO including local marine-enthusiasts Tristan and AJ, and Courtney Cox from Florida. Oscar Ward from the UK also joined the team as Charlotte left for Scotland to complete her PhD, and was on hand during the poop-collection and other little excursions. In wasn’t until the last month of my time here that we managed to get close enough to the whales for me to get in the water and be towed alongside in the hope of seeing one defecate. One amazing morning two whales surfaced right off the bow of the boat and what resulted was again, one of the most amazing moments; swimming just a couple of feet away from an animal only a handful of people in the world have seen underwater. After nearly two months with no samples, the two weeks that followed were a flurry of boat days, poop-collection and whale watching; with a total of 7 samples collecting from beaked whales (5 in one day!!) and another 3 from sperm whales. This was the best possible end to my time here and I finally got a chance to use the much-practiced poop collection techniques. The samples included a number of squid beaks, and in one very deep dive collection a mass of parasitic worms and a weird cephalopod-type animal! We also got a chance in the last few weeks to test-run a new addition to the fleet, that included a dive compressor.

Ready to collect some poop…

Finally my time in the Bahamas had to come to an end, and I had to return home. The last 3 months has flown by and has been one of the most enjoyable and most importantly educational periods of my life and I cannot thank Di and Charlotte enough for making it all possible. The day-to-day boat runs, office work, equipment maintenance and station chores has given me a good insight into all aspects of field research. It was my first taste of life as a marine mammal scientist, and it has made me even more determined to pursue a career in this field; a perfect stepping stone from which to move forward. In addition my work with BMMRO (and what must of been a brilliant reference from the girls!) made it possible to secure a highly competitive internship in the Farallon Islands this winter tagging elephant seals amongst other work! I cannot wait to continue working in this field and finish writing up the results of my project here, and hope I have the chance to come to Abaco again to work with these amazing people and animals!Sperm Whale supplier of poop BMMRO

BMMRO would like to thank Jack for all his help during the summer, and all our interns for their assistance! To our sponsors, Friends of the Environment, Disney Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives and Rotary of Abaco, we thank you for your continued support.

To read more about the work of Interns on Abaco with the BMMRO at Sandy Point and Friends of the Environment in Marsh Harbour, check out Oscar Ward’s excellent blog SEVENTYPERCENTBLUE. There are articles on Life in the Mangroves, the Bahamas Climate, Whale Poop Collection, and most intriguing how he and co-intern Jack both came very close to being Black Tip  Fodder… real live Chums!

The Author researching underwater creatures

GEORGIE THE (FORMER) ABACO MANATEE RETURNS TO THE BERRY IS.


Georgie the Manatee, Hope Town, Abaco (© Stafford Patterson) 1

GEORGIE THE (FORMER) ABACO MANATEE RETURNS TO THE BERRY IS.

Last year I posted about Georgie, the young manatee that made Abaco her home for several months. Georgie was born in Spanish Wells. She and her mother Rita travelled to Nassau Harbour, where in April 2012 they were rescued from the multiple shipping hazards and  released in Great Harbour Cay, Berry Is. Both were equipped with tags to monitor their movements. In June, the newly-weaned Georgie embarked on a big solo adventure by swimming to Abaco. Her tracking device showed that she called in at the Marls, before continuing right round the top of Abaco and down the east side, calling in at various Cays on the way. In all, her journey was some 200 miles long. She eventually settled down in the Cherokee and Casuarina area, and in a modest way became a lettuce-chomping celebrity.  DANA & TRISH FEEDING GEORGIE (2)

Georgie-related posts include these:

WEST INDIAN MANATEES AND THE BAHAMAS: THE FACTS

GEORGIE THE ABACO MANATEE – CHEROKEE’S SIRENIAN VISITOR STAYS ON…

GEORGIE THE ABACO MANATEE: FAREWELL CHEROKEE, HELLO ATLANTIS

The BMMRO has recently updated Georgie’s story: “Georgie remained in Cherokee Sound throughout the fall, including during hurricane Sandy but in January she was beginning to look slightly underweight. Concern was raised about her general appearance and the decision was made… to conduct a field health assessment and relocate her to the Atlantis Marine Mammal Rescue Center. “recap1

“Georgie underwent a series of general health evaluations and was fed approximately 75 pounds of lettuce each day. She gained more than 200 pounds during the course of her care and weighed 569 pounds upon her recent release”. recap4

“We are pleased to announce that Georgie has now been released once more to Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands after a successful rehabilitation at Atlantis’ Dolphin Cay. She was successfully released on Wednesday 14th August by the Atlantis Animal Rescue Team from the Atlantis Dolphin Cay Marine Mammal Rescue Center, with the help of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO). She has a satellite tag attached to her which will help post-release monitoring, currently being conducted by representatives from BMMRO and Dolphin Cay.”

Georgie being let down from the boat, back into Great Harbour Cay (K. Ferguson)
Georgie with her tag shortly after release (K. Ferguson)

Georgie socialising with a young male manatee in Great Harbour Cay a few days later (K. Ferguson)

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“The first 3 weeks of Georgie’s release  showed her venturing on longer and longer journeys, with the blue circles showing her first weeks’ movements, the red her second, and finally the yellow circles her locations up to Saturday. She is doing very well and often seen with the other manatees in the area.”

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GEORGIE: THE MOVIE OF THE MOVIE

Apologies for using an iPh*ne to capture the movie – I wasn’t able to embed it directly. Updates on Georgie will be posted on BMMRO’s FACEBOOK PAGE

Credits and thanks to BMMRO and Kendria Ferguson for use of photos and the maroon text…

‘JUMPING FOR JOY’: CHEERFUL DOLPHINS IN ABACO WATERS


Dolphin, one of a pod of 50

‘JUMPING FOR JOY’: CHEERFUL DOLPHINS IN ABACO WATERS 

To be totally accurate, one or two of these photographs may have be take from the BMMRO research vessel at some point during an expedition to Andros. But since the boat set off from and returned to Abaco, with an Abaconian team on board, I have stretched a point  with the title… 

It would be hard to view a dolphin leap as high as this (top photo) as anything other than an expression of pure enjoyment. Difficult to tell the exact height, but it’s fairly spectacular. Dolphins always seem to be looking, or acting, happy. Here are a few more, a mix of bottlenose and spotted dolphins,  to spread some cheer… 

Dolphin Leap Abaco ©BMMROSpotted Dolphin, Abaco ©BMMROSpotted Dolphin Abaco ©BMMROHappy Dolphin Abaco ©BMMRO

This dolphin was one of a large pod of 28 seen on a recent BMMRO research tripOne of a large pod of 28 dolphins

Time to get my… erm… paintbox outLeaping DolphinPhoto credits: Bahamas  Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO

In an earlier post I name-checked BMMRO intern Oscar Ward’s blog SeventyPercentBlue.  You can read Oscar’s account of his continuing adventures HERE

‘FAMILIAR FECES’: CETACEAN POOP-SCOOPING BY SPECIES


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‘FAMILIAR FECES’: CETACEAN POOP-SCOOPING BY SPECIES

UPDATE I name-checked BMMRO intern Oscar Ward’s blog below. Now he’s been out on the ocean on ‘poop patrol’. You can read Oscar’s account of his experiences HERE

Among the many pleasures for cetacean research scientists must be the joy of whale poop collection. Followed by close inspection and analysis. The Bahamas  Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO conducts research expeditions, in conjunction with such organisations as the New England Aquarium NEAQ and Friends of the Environment FOTE, in Abaco waters and further afield in the Bahamas. The attention this year has been on beaked whale feces, though available sperm whale feces are not to be sniffed at. Images and info below are courtesy of the organisations mentioned above, with thanks for use permission

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A researcher working with BMMRO demonstrates feces collection using coffee grounds. She collects the coffee granules in her net and places the entire sample into a ziplock bag, ready to hand to the boat for processing 269

The purpose of feces collection is to look at the stress and reproductive hormones of the whales and to gather a baseline for these animals with which to compare other populations that are under threat3

An alternative method of collectionpoop15

Blainville’s Beaked Whales (suppliers of raw research material)Blainville's Beaked Whale AbacoBeaked whale - supplier of poop BMMRO

There are some conditions – dare I say windy ones – when Blainville’s beaked whales may be hard to locate. At such times, collection of pieces of other species feces rarely ceases… Here is a sperm whale in the act of producing laboratory samplesTail_18Jun10_01_Pm_CAD_123

Weather of the sort that makes the day’s collection more complicated. Indeed, it looks and uphill task…GOPR0109

That’s enough on the topic for now. Later in the month there will be some great dolphin pictures to enjoy. Below is the BMMRO sightings chart for July, which I forgot to publish sooner.

Finally, a young UK friend of ours, Oscar Ward, has recently won his place to study marine biology at university next Autumn. He has just arrived on Abaco to start an internship with the BMMRO at Sandy Point. He will then be moving to Friends of the Environment in MH. He has set up an excellent blog to record his experiences, with his first Abaco post going up today, I notice. You can follow Oscar at SEVENTYPERCENT.COM And if you see him around, do say hi! to him.

BMMRO SIGHTINGS JULY 2013

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

HOPE TOWN, ABACO: DOLPHINS & A LIGHTHOUSE IN THE SUN


Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 13

HOPE TOWN, ABACO: DOLPHINS & A LIGHTHOUSE IN THE SUN

A trip to Hope Town and Elbow Cay is a always a treat. Especially if it includes lunch with friends. Most of my previous visits have been in cloud or rain, so the glory of the historic and indeed iconic candy-striped lighthouse has been rather marred. I left Delphi in hot sunshine, but it began to cloud over ominously during the half-hour drive north to Marsh Harbour and Albury’s Ferry Terminal. I was still optimistic when I arrived, though…Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 2…until I looked the other way. The 20-minute crossing of the Sea of Abaco to Elbow Cay was characterised by a sudden pelting rain storm and a churning sea. A passenger lay down greenly, and I began to count the minutes.Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 1However, as we approached Hope Town we emerged from the gloom into bright sun, and a fine view of the lighthouse. This edifice has one of the last remaining kerosene-lit lights in the world, attended to every 2 hours throughout the night by volunteers. The mechanism sits on a bed of mercury, and the light shines through the original fresnel lenses. Much of the original british-made machinery is still in place. For a tour round the interior, with excellent photos taken by Mrs RH, and views from the top platform, click HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 3 Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 4Lunch at the pleasant Harbour’s Edge Restaurant was enhanced by two – or was it three? – bottlenose dolphins that swam around the harbour. I was torn between eating, chatting  and photographing them. I didn’t catch the wonderful lazy arcs they made as the broke the surface and slowly arched back into the water. It was near impossible to predict where they would surface next. Here are a couple of less dramatic shots… Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 11Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 5After lunch there was time for a quick wander round the attractive little town, with its pastel-coloured houses. Hope Town 1a

There was a YELLOW ELDER tree in bloom, the national flower of the Bahamas. [Later: as it turns out, I was caught in the act… of photography]Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 7Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 6996860_10200325236513792_581389694_n

Hummingbird Cottage Art Centre and Gallery

I was taken to see the new HUMMINGBIRD COTTAGE ART CENTRE & GALLERY  a fine work of building restoration in the centre of town that provides a surprisingly large exhibition space and an idyllic place for art classes and related activities.

DSC_0076-150x150Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 10Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 8Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 9Later, I took the ferry back to Marsh Harbour, taking a final good look at the lighthouse, still thankfully in full sunlight against a vivid blue sky.Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 12Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 15  Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 14Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 16

LINKS

HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE: THE WORKS

YELLOW ELDER: BAHAMAS NATIONAL FLOWER

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ALBURY’S FERRY SERVICE

and for a comprehensive overview of Hope Town and Elbow Cay

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Hummingbird Cottage ©Brigitte Bowyer