Indigo Hamlet ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba


It’s a couple of years since I originally posted about the various species of HAMLET that inhabit the reefs of the Bahamas. I feel you are (geddit?) ready to see some more of these colourful little fish. Last time out, I worked over the Shakespearean possibilities quite thoroughly so I’ll spare you a repeat (apart from the inevitable title pun). If you really want to revisit the famous Hamlet Cigar ad or hear the theme music (Bach’s Air on a G String, shamelessly ‘borrowed’ by Procol Harum for ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale), you’ll find them HERE. Or just move straight on to 5 related but very different looking Hamlets cruising the Bahamas coral reefs.

INDIGO HAMLETIndigo Hamlet ©Melinda Riger@ G B Scuba

BARRED HAMLETBarred Hamlet ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba Barred Hamlet ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

BLACK HAMLETBlack Hamlet ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

SHY HAMLETShy Hamlet ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

BUTTER HAMLETButter Hamlet ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Credits: all photos Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba


Blainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 14 (Keith Salvesen

Adult male Blainville’s Beaked Whale with barnacle-encrusted teeth protruding from its lower jaw


This second post about the Blainville’s Beaked Whales of Abaco, Bahamas, relates to a prolonged encounter with a group of mothers, calves and a male. This was our second BBW sighting on the same day in March: the first is described HERE. Click the link to find out more details about these wonderful creatures, with plenty of close-up photos.

We had been invited by Charlotte and Diane of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO to spend a day with them on the research boat. This was our first chance to get close to whales, a chance made far more likely by (a) being with experts and (b) their specialist equipment…

Our first sighting was a short distance south of Rocky Point, as we moved into the deeper, darker ocean waters of the Bahama canyon, with the shoreline still clearly visible. We then visited HOLE-IN-THE-WALL in the RHIB and took a close look from the sea at the damage and destruction of the famous Hole caused by HURRICANE SANDY

On the way back we paused as we got to the same area where we had seen the group earlier in the day. Within minutes, several whales came straight towards us. This photo shows 3 adults and, almost submerged, a calf.Blainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 8 (Keith Salvesen

For the next hour or so, they played around the boat like very large dolphins moving in slow motion. Usually these whales make a deep dive every 20 minutes or so and stay underwater for about the same time before resurfacing. These ones stayed with us throughout. 

3 adults with 2 calvesBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 7 (Keith Salvesen

Mostly they stayed quite – or very – close to the boat. Sometimes they swam across the bow or even under the boat. From time to time, they would move off some distance. Each time we thought they were moving on, and each time they soon returned.  After a while the females and calves were joined by another whale – the less common sighting of a male replete with barnacle-encrusted teeth  protruding upwards from his lower jaw.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 21 (Keith SalvesenBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 13 (Keith SalvesenBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 12 (Keith Salvesen

The male initially stayed slightly further away from the boat than the others, perhaps assessing the threat to the group. Then he too joined in, passing and repassing the boat, swimming away and returning, remaining on the surface and offering a wonderful view of his noble head (see header image and below).

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 15 (Keith SalvesenBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 16 (Keith Salvesen

Looking at my photos later, I realised that a second male must have joined the group for a short time. The image below shows a male with far fewer barnacles – certainly not the male we had been watching.Blainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 20 (Keith Salvesen

It was remarkable to see these huge creatures behaving in much the same way as dolphins, swimming playfully around and under a boat, moving away, then returning for more. These whales are some 15 feet long and weigh about 2000 pounds. They were inquisitive, unafraid (even with calves in the group) and gentle. Maybe they sensed that they have been to subject of years of intricate research by Diane and Charlotte that will materially assist with the preservation their species. More likely, the group were simply enjoying themselves in the sun with a peaceful intruder in their territory.

You don’t have to go miles offshore to see whales in Abaco watersAdult male Blainville's Beaked Whale, Rocky Point, Abaco (Rolling Harbour)FullSizeRender

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 except one; Charlotte & Diane for a brilliant day out; Mr Blainville for a brilliant whale; Mrs RH for snapping me snapping the whale – a photograph that was featured in a competition in the Guardian Newspaper. 



Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)


Two sisters, Chelsea and Danielle, grew up by a Florida beach. With their parents,they learned from an early age to collect rubbish from the beach and to keep it clean. When they were little, the problems weren’t so great. Gradually, the tide changed. Literally. And indeed littorally. As is a common experience with any shoreline these days however remote and unspoilt, all manner of debris washes in on every tide, from plastic straws to SPACE ROCKET FAIRINGS. There has been a massive increase in ‘single-use’ plastic items. Most of it will take years, decades or even centuries to decompose. And there are deflated balloons, with their strings.

A typical haul of a lot of plastic and several balloons from just one beach collectionMarine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)

As ‘business’ on the Florida beach increased, so it became clear that balloons were becoming a significant problem. The increasing popularity of mass releases of balloons at sports events, civic or institutional occasions, and smaller celebrations means 100s or even 1000s of balloons being released into the sky. In most cases they are filled with helium – a finite resource – which carries them high over the earth. Very festive. Then the problems begin. They get caught in thermals, winds and crosswinds, gales and storms. Whether onto land or water, they all have to come down eventually. The problems caused therefore affect creatures inland, on the shoreline and out to sea.

Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)

Eventually the sisters decided to take action. They started a website BALLOONSBLOW.ORG, linked to a FB page. They post regularly about their beach clean-ups, now extended to other beaches on the south-west coast of Florida. They also produce balloon-based information sheets and flyers such as these:

Balloons Blow fact sheet

Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)

I have a folder in which I keep some horrific images of incapacitated, dying or dead creatures. I use them sparingly because in the main they are upsetting. Almost every one of them involves entanglement in or ingestion of such materials as plastic, mylar, styrofoam, rubber or latex. Here are just 3 examples involving balloon strings – I’ll spare you others I have collected (e.g. a turtle that died trying to excrete the remains of a balloon).

Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)Sea Turtle tied up in balloon string (Blair Witherington : NOAA)

I don’t have a down on ‘fun’ – and nor do Chelsea and Lucy I’m sure. But, now in their 20s, they have had years of direct hands-on experience clearing their beach and one can see why they decided to take wider action. From one area they have accumulated a vast collection of balloons that will take many decades to break down. Even then, the degraded pieces and micro-pieces will be eaten by fish, turtles and birds.

Here’s an illustration of the problem of creatures nibbling away at latexMarine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)

Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)

The Delphi beach is very regularly cleaned up, of course, but there’s nothing that can be done to stem the arrival of debris large and small on every tide. Beautiful and remote though the one-mile curved strand may be, one cannot walk far without seeing plastic of some description. As a matter of interest, I tried a test: walking south on the beach in the tide-line, how long would it take to find balloon evidence? The answer was, less than 10 minutes.

Marine Debris: RH on DCB beach - balloon strings

The decomposition rate of various common itemsPlastic trash -5 Gyres Infographic

The Balloons Blow website is constructive in offering festive alternatives to mass balloon releases, rather than merely chronicling the downsides. The balloons and other plastic junk mostly arrives from the western fringes of the North Atlantic Gyre, in the Sargasso Sea, where the trash gets caught in the sargassum and is eventually forced onto the shoreline by currents, winds and tides. 

             North Atlantic Gyre hotspot infographic                           North Atlantic Gyre Garbage Patch wired_com

Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)

This post has concentrated on the dangers to wildlife caused by latex and mylar balloons that are sometimes claimed to be biodegradable but are not. There’s more to be said about plastic marine trash, but I’ll keep that for another day. 

Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)







Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)


Seahorse (Bahamas) 4 ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba


Melinda Riger, doyenne of the deep and photographer to the stars (brittle stars, basket stars, starfish etc), undertook her 5000th dive a few days ago. She swims with sharks almost daily, and points her lens at the varied reef life she encounters along the way. Her gold prize for the dive turned out to be one of the smallest creatures she encountered: the seahorse. Hippocampus (Ancient Greek: Ἵππος, horse and Κάμπος, sea monster) is a unique fish, deriving from the pipefish, with more than 50 species known worldwide. I can feel a Rolling Harbour fact list coming on…

Seahorse (Bahamas) 3 ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba


  • Only seahorses and razorfish swim upright / vertically all the time
  • Their tails are prehensile and enable them to moor on coral, seagrass etc
  • They have no scales, but skin stretched over bony plates arranged in rings
  • The ‘coronet’ on a seahorse’s head is unique to the individual
  • Seahorses are pathetic swimmers: the slowest have a top speed of 5′ per hour
  • They feed by ambush, rotating the head and sucking prey in with their snout
  • A seahorse’s eyes can move independently of each other, like a chameleon 
  • The Bahamas is home to H. erectus and the dwarf seahorse H. zosterae
  • Despite rumours, they don’t mate for life. Some may stay together for a season
  • The smallest seahorse in the world – the pygmy – is a maximum of 15mm long

Seahorse (Bahamas) 2 ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba


There’s no getting round it: seahorse courtship and reproduction is highly unusual. Here is a summary of how it goes (there’s a lot more to it, but life is short):

  1. COURTING This may last for many days. They may change colour; they swim together; they entwine tails; they attach themselves to the same strand of coral or seagrass and turn slowly round it in unison (a so-called ‘pre-dawn’ dance). The final courtship dance may last several hours while the male & female prepare for the next stage.
  2. EGG TRANSFER When the time is right the female transfers her eggs – hundreds of them – via her ovipositor  to the male, in the process of which they are fertilised. Handily, he has inflated a special egg pouch located on his abdomen. She then buggers off.
  3. GESTATION The fertilised eggs grow inside the egg pouch of the male and develop into baby seahorses. This process may take from 10 days to a few weeks. During this time, the female will visit for a short ‘morning greeting’ and some intertwining action.
  4. ‘BIRTH’ In due course the male ejects the baby seahorses from his pouch using muscular contractions. These may number from five to (get this!) 2,500 at a time; on average 100–1000. Job done. Then the tiny seahorse babies are on on their own…

Seahorse (Bahamas) 1 ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba


The attrition rate of baby seahorses through predation is high (as for most fish species), but the prolific breeding rate reduces the effect on the overall populations.  As so often, there are human-related threats, not least habitat destruction, overfishing and pollution. There’s a less expected problem: the importance of seahorses in Chinese medicine.  Their presumed healing qualities are used to treat impotence, wheezing, enuresis, pain and to assist labour. For these purposes, some 20 million seahorses a year are caught and sold. Increasingly they are reduced to pill or capsule form. 

Seahorse values depend on the species, but weight for weight dried seahorses retail for *unbelieving face* more than the price of silver and almost that of gold in Asia, from US$600 to $3000 per kilogram. Ours not to reason why.



  • Seahorse is an anagram of seashore
  • The Seahorses were an English rock band, formed in 1996 by guitarist John  Squire following his departure from The Stone Roses. They split in 1999
  • Devendra Banhart’s song ‘Seahorse’ contains these inspiring lyrics:
    I wanna be a little seahorse
    I wanna be a little seahorse
    A little seahorse
    I wanna be a little seahorse
    I wanna be a little seahorse
    I wanna be a little seahorse
    I wanna be a little seahorse
  • I’m losing the will to live. Let’s meet Otis.

Introducing Otis, Melinda’s seahorse that lives under her dockSeahorse (Otis), Bahamas ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba



All photos: many thanks to Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; sources, many and manifold including Wiki which is pretty good on this kind of thing! Fab seahorse gif by Alex Konahin 

Seahorse by Alex Konahin copy


Mangroves, The Marls, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen, Rolling Harbour)


For some time now, there has been understandable concern about the increasing evidence of mangrove die-back in the Abaco Marls and elsewhere in Abaco waters. Scientific investigations are ongoing and you will find some of the survey results so far on the excellent Abaco Scientist interactive map HERE. You’ll find other relevant and authoritative mangrove material if you check out the BLOG menu of the website.
Abaco - The Marls

The ‘200 sq. miles’ in my map is debatable, depending what one includes. Other estimates are of 300 or even 400 sq. miles. Whichever, the Marls cover a massive area of mangroves, islets, flats, channels and wonderfully diverse wildlife. A large proportion of the many species – fish, birds, turtles etc – depend on the complex ecology of the mangroves for food, shelter and breeding. Depletion of the mangroves from whatever cause will have a direct effect on the creatures of the Marls.

Stingrays Abaco Marls 6

Ryann Rossi, a PhD student with North Carolina State University, has been researching the worrying phenomenon of mangrove die-back in the Marls this summer. She has written an interesting and informative  account (conveniently in the RH ‘Facts about…’ style) that was published in Abaco Scientist last week. The blue links will take you to the ABSCI site for further information on each topic. I’m grateful to Ryann and ABSCI for permission to use the material.

Five Things to Know About the Mangrove Die-back in The Marls (at this point, anyway)

1. This die-back appears to be the result of multiple stressors acting together. Think of it in the sense of our own body – when our immune system is down, we are often more susceptible to getting sick. The same thing is likely happening to the mangroves.Mangrove Die-back 1 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi)

2. It appears as though a fungal disease may be taking advantage of already stressed mangroves and causing die-back. We did preliminary surveys across Abaco and found fungal lesions nearly everywhere. However, the fungus was present in different densities in different areas. In the die-back area nearly all the leaves remaining on trees have lesions. We think that this pathogen capitalized on the mangroves being weakened by other stressors such as hurricanes, which cause extensive leaf drop, change in the movement of water, change in sedimentation and erosion.

Mangrove Die-back 2 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi) jpg

3. We are still working on identifying the pathogen associated with the lesions we’ve found. We are confident that it is a fungus and are currently growing fungal cultures in the lab to examine defining morphological characteristics in addition to using DNA sequencing to identify the culprit.

4. We have documented the presence of the Robust Bush Cricket (Tafalisca eleuthera) in the die-back areas as well as other areas with high densities of lesions. These crickets are documented to consume Red and White mangrove leaves. As such, we were concerned about their potential role in die-back. We set out a caging experiment to exclude the crickets from certain dwarf Red mangrove trees to see just how much grazing they may be doing in the die-back area. This experiment is ongoing.

Mangrove Die-back 3 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi) jpg

5. The take home: there is likely more than one causal agent of the die-back in The Marls. Many factors govern mangrove productivity and functioning: nutrient availability, salinity, sedimentation rate, herbivory, and disease are just a few of the factors that contribute to overall mangrove function making it very difficult to pin point which factors may be driving the die-off. On the bright side, we are confident that we have a lead on the causes and we are working hard in the field and laboratory to fully understand what is going on in The Marls.

By Ryann Rossi|August 26th, 2015|Disease, fungus, Insects, Mangroves and Creeks, The Marls
All pics below taken while fishing on the Marls except Melinda’s shark (I’ve never got a good one)
Hawksbill Turtle, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)Bonefish Abaco Marls 4Shark 4 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyOsprey - Abaco Marls 1 Reddish Egret (White Morph), Abaco MarlsRoyal Tern, Abaco, Bahamas (Marls) 3Willet, The Marls, AbacoSouthern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 4)
FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT has also included an article on die-back by Ryann in its latest Newsletter:

Mangrove Die Off on Abaco by Ryann Rossi, NCSU

This summer Stephanie Archer and I continued research efforts focused on determining the cause of the mangrove die-off in The Marls (work funded by the National Science Foundation). Our efforts were predominantly focused on the fungal pathogen we found associated with the die-off site. We created a small citizen science and outreach project to document the presence or absence of the pathogen across Abaco. This project consisted of short surveys and leaf collections. In total, 92 areas were surveyed including locations from Abaco and San Salvador. We also took this outreach project to the annual Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF) teacher training conference.  There we disseminated survey packets to teachers from islands throughout The Bahamas who will help us collect more data on the presence (or absence) of this pathogen on other Islands.

3 men on a skiff, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen : Rolling Harbour)

Three men on a skiff – Abaco Marls

On Abaco, we constructed an experiment to investigate the role of grazing and the presence of fungal lesions on Red mangroves. We simulated grazing using crafting scissors to cut small sections on 600 leaves in 4 different mangrove creeks. We observed the leaves for 28 days to determine if cutting leaves predisposed leaves to fungal infection. At these sites we also trapped for insects to gain an idea of what kind of grazers may be chewing on the leaves. We also did a series of disease incidence surveys that will be routinely monitored for disease progress over the next 2 years. These surveys will allow us to systematically track the progress of the disease. In addition to our field work, we spent many hours in the laboratory isolating fungi from leaves to grow in culture. These cultures were brought back to North Carolina State University and will be sequenced in order to help us identify the fungal pathogen responsible for making the lesions on the mangrove leaves.

Mangroves, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: Source material Ryann Rossi; Abaco Scientist; all photos © Keith Salvesen @ Rolling Harbour except those by Ryann / ABSCI in the main article and Melinda Riger’s cool shark


Gina the Manatee & her calf (BMMRO)

Gina (adult female) and her calf – last seen August 6th, 2015 in Spanish Wells Key feature – numerous paddle cuts; white oval scar on left side of back; linear scar on posterior right side of body


Four years ago, there were no manatees in Abaco waters. Then a couple of adventuresome sirenians made the trip over from the Berry Is. and since then, there have been at least one, sometimes two and occasionally three resident on Abaco. And for slow, gentle, animals they certainly move around, too. In the past, I wrote quite often about the manatees, charting their journeys based on satellite tracking and sightings. I reported the tantalising prospect of the young male, Randy, hooking up with young female Georgie in Cherokee Sound, only to turn back when he reached Little Harbour. You can read more about the manatees of Abaco on my manatee page HERE.

     Georgie’s epic trip (Sept 12) continued to Cherokee Sound; and Randy’s ‘pursuit’ (Sept 14)Georgie Manatee's direct route to Abaco       Randy's the Manatee's trip Berry Is. to Abaco copy

The most comprehensive source for Bahamas Manatee information is now to be found by joining the open Facebook group BAHAMA MANATEE CLUB, skilfully curated by Felice Leanne Knowles. There, you can follow the meanderings of your favourite Abaco manatee, watching as he or she moves around the island and cays. In recent months there have been sightings of single or pairs of manatees in several places, including Sandy Point, Little harbour, Marsh Harbour, Schooner Bay and Hope Town Harbour (where two are right now). Here’s an excellent example of how, just like a Beach Boy, an Abaco manatee gets around. In July, Randy moved from Sandy Point to Schooner Bay in 2 days. The big question is, did he travel round the longer top route, as he has in the past; or (more likely in the time taken) via Hole-in-the-Wall?

Randy the Abaco Manatee goes swimabout

Randy the Abaco Manatee goes swimabout

Felice has just produced a great map that shows the present locations of all the Bahamas manatees currently recorded. She has also supplied photos and information about them. Most have names and are well-known to the research team and the locals where they stay. There is one new calf – Gina’s –  this year. One or two manatees are new on the scene and have yet to be identified or named. 

Manatees Throughout The Bahamas

The map shows the last location of the named manatees. The pink dots label females, the green dots label males, and the yellow dots label unknown manatees. The number of unknown manatees has been approximated to reduce error. The photos are of the individual manatees with dates and specific locations of their most recent sighting. We do not have enough data and photos to confirm the unknowns labeled. Any help from the public would be greatly appreciated. Send sighting reports to http://www.bahamaswhales.org/sightings/index.html NB Felice points out Full body and paddle photos are very important for the identification of manatees. Facial shots do not provide enough information for a manatee to be identified”

Bahamas Manatee Location Map - Aug 2015 (Felice Leanne Knowles)

Gina the Manatee, Casuarina, Abaco (BMMRO / FLK)

Georgie (sub-adult female) Last seen in Casuarina, Abaco 9th July, 2015 Key feature – 2 pink scars on the right posterior of her body

Randy the Manatee, Hope Town, Abaco (BMMRO / FLK)

Randy (sub-adult male) Last sighted in Hope Town August 12th, 2015 Key feature – triangle cut on right side of paddle

Manatees, Hope Town, Abaco (BMMRO / FLK)

Unknown (adult, presumed female) with Randy Last seen in Hope Town August 12th, 2015 Key feature – 3 prop scars on the posterior right side of body

Gina the Manatee with her calf, Spanish Wells Bahamas (BMMRO / FLK)

Gina’s Calf Last seen August 6th, Spanish Wells Key feature – none yet, just really tiny!

Blackbeard the manatee, Lyford Cay, New Providence (BMMRO / FLK)

Blackbeard (adult male) Last seen in Lyford Cay August 13th, 2015 Key features – triangle cut on right side of paddle (similar to Randy’s); oval scar on centre of paddle; three prop scars on the back and linear scar

Kong the Bahamas Manatee, Great Harbour Cay Marina, Berry Is. (BMMRO / FLK)

Kong (adult male) Last seen in Great Harbour Cay Marina, February 25th, 2015 Key feature – triangle cut on the left side of paddle; linear scar across the back; oval scar on the back near paddle

J.J. the manatee, Great Harbour Cay Marina, Berry Islands (BMMRO / FLK)

J.J. (sub-adult female) Last seen in Great Harbour Cay Marina, Berry Islands, February 25th, 2015 Key feature – 3 small semi-circular cuts out of paddle at the very end

Rita the Manatee, Hawks Nest Marine, Cat Island (BMMRO/ FLK)

Rita (adult female) Last seen 23rd March, 2014 Hawks Nest Marine, Cat Island Key feature – Large triangle cut on right side of paddle; two small triangular cuts side by side forming a “w” on the left side of paddle

Unknown adult Manatee, West Grand Bahama (BMMRO /FLK)

Unknown adult, West Grand Bahama – Key feature: too distant!

Manatee Awareness Poster jpg

You may have noticed that several of the manatees shown carry scars attributable to prop wounds. Almost all carry injuries of some sort. Because manatees are slow, gentle, inquisitive and trusting creatures, they are especially vulnerable in harbour areas for obvious reasons. Elsewhere than the Bahamas, boat-strike is one of the main causes of manatee mortality. The BMMRO recently issued the above advisory notice because of the uncertainty about the rights and wrongs of watering manatees from docks with hoses and feeding them lettuce etc. Overall the message is that, though creatures of wonder, they are better off being admired but left to their own devices. They are adept at finding the fresh water sources they need, and their sea-grass diet is amply provided for. Dependence on humans, however well-meaning, is actually harmful.

The Travelling Mantee’s Favourite Song







Credits: first and foremost, Felice Leanne Knowles; also BMMRO, Charlotte, & Diane for permission to make free with their material and photos from the get-go; any other photographers of the manatees shown and posted via BMMRO / FLK (Cha Boyce, Jessica Mullen,Otis Wilhoyte I think, maybe others…)

Manatee Logo (Savethemanatee.org)


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


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



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,084 other followers

%d bloggers like this: