HURRICANE SANDY – AND AFTER
A report by Kendria Ferguson on the impact of Hurricanes Sandy for the BMMRO
After all the exciting but unexpected events of October, slowly life is returning to normal. As the whimsical but intimidating winds of Hurricane Sandy encompassed the research center, we felt a few limited blockbuster hits. Without power for four days and no contact with the world outside of Sandy Point, we felt like we were in a twilight zone! Hurricane force winds crept up on Abaco during the wee hours on Thursday, October 25th; predicted to be a Category 1, Hurricane Sandy surely made her presence felt! Luckily, we only had a few minor leaks at the research center but the community of Sandy Point and other parts of Abaco had severe flooding and extensive damage.
Trapped in a house for four days with a hurricane that refused to leave, our concern for Georgie (the Christopher Columbus of our Bahamian manatees) began to grow. Georgie recently separated from her mother (Rita) in June of this year, and shortly thereafter decided to take a detour to Abaco, over 70 miles from the Berry Islands, Northern Bahamas, where she previously resided with a small population of manatees. Having travelled a tremendous distance around Abaco, she finally settled in at a small community called Cherokee Sound, located on the eastern side of Abaco. During Hurricane Irene, October 2011, Georgie and her mother swam from Spanish Wells, Eleuthera to Nassau. Whether this shift in locations was entirely due to the passing of a hurricane is unknown but scientists feared that Georgie could possibly get confused during the storm and take off to an unknown location.
Last sighted on the 24th of October, Georgie wasn’t seen again until November 4th, almost a week after Sandy had passed the community of Cherokee. She returned with a back covered in moss, an outstandingly healthy looking figure and thankfully no visible injuries/wounds as a result of the storm (these photos were taken on November 5th).
After hurricanes, an increase in shark bites has been documented amongst the dolphin population that inhabit the Little Bahama Bank (Fearnbach et al. 2012). Scientists believe that hurricanes may be the driving force for the relocation of dolphins to waters deeper than their preferred habitat which therefore makes them more accessible to predators such as oceanic sharks. Increase in wave height, storm surge, sediment erosion and deposition can make these once tranquil shallow habitats confusing for dolphins and manatees to navigate.
|Photograph of a juvenile dolphin with a fresh and severe shark-bite wound on its flank
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, a decline in adult survival rate after the passing of major hurricanes (Category 3 and higher) among manatee populations in Florida were attributed to possible injury from debris, strandings and displacement of animals as a result of habitat loss and strong water currents (Langtimm et al. 2003).
As we hoped, Georgie appeared to have tucked herself into the nearby mangroves and returned within eyesight when she felt it was safe enough to leave the shelter she sought out during hurricane Sandy. Now that the storm has passed, falling debris has been cleared and our shallow water habitats have returned to the calm and often crystal clear waters we remembered them to be. We can all now let out a huge sigh of relief! We all survived Super-Storm-Sandy!
Fearnbach, H. D. (2012). Seasonality of calving and predation risk in bottlenose dolphins on Little Bahama Bank. . Marine Mammal Science, 28(2), 402-411.
Langtimm, C. A. (2003). Lower survival probabilities for adult Florida manatees in years with intense coastal storms. Ecological Applications, 13:257-268.
Story by Kedria Ferguson, BMMRO’s education officer and manatee expert