ABACO’S RAREST VISITOR: MEET ALBERT ROSS… THE ALBATROSS


ABACO’S RAREST VISITOR: MEET ALBERT ROSS… THE ALBATROSS

I can find no record for the sighting of an albatross in the waters around Abaco. Nor for anywhere else in the Bahamas for that matter. It must have come as some surprise to the BMMRO team out at sea on their research vessel off Sandy Point to see a large and unusual seabird bobbing tranquilly on the water. A black-browed albatross Thalassarche melanophrys. Diane Claridge managed to get a great shot of it and I’m really pleased to be able to use it here.

Black-browed Albatross, Abaco © DC BMMROBlack-browed albatross off Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas. Photographed by Diane Claridge.

© Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation 2013

This bird was way out of the normal range for the species. They are birds of the southern oceans, breeding in colonies on such islands as the Falklands, South Georgia and Macquarie Island. As far as I can make out, they have no business to be north of the equator at all.

Black-browed Albatross Range Map BirdLife Int

SIGHTING A BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS: A REPORT

During a three-hour survey for whales off Sandy Point, Abaco on Sunday, July 21st scientists from the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation had an exceptional sighting. Dr Diane Claridge, the group’s Executive Director recalls details of the sighting:

“We were drifting waiting for a beaked whale to resurface when our intern Tristan Albury pointed towards a white object floating in the distance and asked what it was. We decided that it was a piece of trash, unfortunately a common sighting, and continued to focus our search for the whale. A half hour later, we still had not re-sighted the whale and believed that it may have gone down on one of its one-hour long feeding dives. So with time to kill and the “trash” still in sight, we had another look with binoculars. We realised immediately that it was a very large bird and slowly motored towards it for a closer look. I began taking photographs of it because we already knew it was unusual and we wanted to be sure to identify the species. As we got closer, Roxy Corbett, a visiting scientist and avid birder exclaimed that it was an albatross! I couldn’t believe it. We were able to approach within 100 feet at which point it swam towards us providing an opportunity for us to document its body condition; it appeared healthy with no obvious signs of distress.

Later when back ashore, we compared our photographs with those available online and learned that it was a juvenile Black-browed albatross, an endangered bird with a 7-foot wing span known from subtropical to polar regions of the southern hemisphere! As far as I know this species has never been recorded previously in the tropical North Atlantic. I have seen albatross during whale surveys in Alaska but never dreamed that I’d ever see one in The Bahamas. Although we are thrilled by the rarity of this sighting, the outcome for a bird so far out of its normal range is not usually good. However, there are two Black-browed albatross that strayed into the North Atlantic previously that have taken up long-term residence in Scotland and the Faroe Islands so who knows where this one may end up. Sunday afternoon was indeed exceptional: in addition to this remarkable sighting, we also saw 4 different species of whales and dolphins, all within 5 miles of Sandy Point.”

These are huge strong birds, with a massive wingspan. I wondered what they might sound like – it’s like this… (Credit: Xeno-Canto & recordist Sofia Wasylyk)

For more information on the normal range and status of the Black-browed albatross, the BMMRO recommended links are:

Link to Birdlife International’s site:
http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3959

Link to IUCN’s species red list:
http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/106003959/0

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.

Click me!

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

hopetown

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hummingbird Cottage ©Brigitte Bowyer

ABACO WHALES & DOLPHINS, BMMRO SIGHTINGS & NEWSLETTER


Dolphin Leap copy

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

DCB GBG Cover Logo dolphin

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

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

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ABACO: WHALES, DOLPHINS & MANATEES – BMMRO POST-SANDY REPORT


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

The End

“MANATEE MANIA IN THE ABACOS” BMMRO FALL 2012 NEWSLETTER


“MANATEE MANIA IN THE ABACOS” – BMMRO FALL 2012 NEWSLETTER

The BMMRO has just published the Fall 2012 newsletter, and it’s no surprise to find that the front page news is the arrival of young manatee Georgie on Abaco. After nosing and indeed grazing her way around Abaco and the Cays, she still appears to be contentedly moored in Cherokee after the best part of a month. Here’s the official map of her wanderings 

Besides the manatee there’s plenty more to read and look at including 

  • Charlotte Dunn’s ‘President’s Update’
  • Articles on whales, and a friendly bottlenose dolphin’s visit to Hope Town
  • Fall ‘cetacean sightings’ map
  • Students at ‘Whale Camp’
  • A quiz to make sure you have taken it all in…

To read the four-page document –  and admire the photos - CLICK BMMRO FALL 2012 NEWSLETTER