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

bmmro_logoClick me!

(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…

MANATEES: CONSERVATION, AWARENESS PROGRAMS & DISTRIBUTION MAP


MANATEES: CONSERVATION, AWARENESS PROGRAMS & DISTRIBUTION MAP

The “SAVE THE MANATEE CLUB” is a very active organisation that I have mentioned in previous manatee posts. These gentle creatures are in need of protection, and much effective conservation work is in progress. The BMMRO‘s wonderful work for the MANATEES OF THE BERRY ISLES is featured in this blog because of the proximity to Abaco (might those manatees visit one day?) – and of course because BMMRO HQ is at Sandy Point.

[ADDED 25 SEPT]…and lo, just as I pressed the ‘publish’ button, the BMMRO posted this news:

Georgie is currently exploring the Abacos. Help us monitor her movement patterns by reporting sightings!! 

“Earlier this year we tagged & released 2 West Indian manatees in Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands. These were the same manatees from Spanish Wells that were captured after they swam to Nassau when hurricane Irene passed in late August 2011. After release at Great Harbour Cay in May 2012, they explored most of the Berry Islands but centered their use around Great Harbour. In September one of these manatees, a young female named Georgie, swam from the Berrys to Abaco, has traveled within The Marls, north towards Little Abaco & is now traveling south on the eastern side of Abaco. We received a sighting of her on 23 September at the Green Turtle Cay Ferry landing, just north of Treasure Cay. We anticipate she will continue to travel south and may venture into marinas and harbours along the way. We would like to make the public aware of her presence in the area. Although we believe she is in good health and is exploring new areas, the tag is not functioning properly now so sightings from the public will help us locate and monitor her progress. If possible, please share with anyone in the Abaco area or make an announcement encouraging people that see her to report any sightings”

[ORIGINAL POST CONTINUES] The SMC is a Florida-based organisation and it recently posted a new cheerful cover picture by Natalie Prayor on its FACEBOOK PAGE. I have recently noticed some searches on the blog such as ‘Manatees facts for Kids’, so this post might be helpful. You could  even (I can’t believe I even thought of checking this out!) knit one… Want a pattern? Click HERE In fact, I might even…

To see more of Natalie’s artwork, just search ‘Natalie Prayor in Facebook. She can be contacted at dracodawnstar@gmail.com

The SMC also posts Manatee facts and advice, from which I have selected the examples shown below

This map shows the world distribution of the 4 extant sirenian branches as well as the extinct STELLER’S SEA COW of the north Pacific. It is a melancholy fact that by 1768, a mere 27 years after its discovery by Europeans, this slow-moving, tame and easily-captured sea cow was hunted to extinction. 250 years on, the world’s sirenian population remains vulnerable and, as with whales and dolphins, in need of active monitoring and protection measures

Finally, I liked this manatee cartoon from Rachel Arnow, with its incongruous and enjoyably unfeasible suggestion of manatees in Loch Ness. Rachel has a great sirenian-centric website  http://mvsm.omnomzom.com/ featuring her excellent and charming cartoon series “MAN VERSUS MANATEE”. 

Credit: savethemanatee.org

ABACO / BAHAMAS WHALE, DOLPHIN & MANATEE SIGHTINGS AUGUST 2012


ABACO / BAHAMAS WHALE, DOLPHIN & MANATEE SIGHTINGS AUGUST 2012 

ANOTHER PYGMY WHALE STRANDING ON ELEUTHERA

The BMMRO has posted the cetacean / sirenian sightings for August. The main concentration off Abaco is in the food-rich south-west coast from Rocky Point down to Hole-in-the-Wall. This is where the deep water of the Great Bahama Canyon meets the shallow underwater coast of Abaco, providing an ideal feeding ground for whales and dolphins. This canyon is the largest underwater canyon in the world.

Plenty of dolphins were reported last month, and the sperm whales (including pygmy and dwarf) were still around (but for some sad Eleuthera pygmy sperm whale news, see below). Meanwhile, the yellow spot on the Berry Is. shows that all is well with the manatees.

STRANDING NOTIFICATION: PYGMY SPERM WHALE 

Last week the BMMRO was notified about a whale that had stranded dead on an Eleutheran beach on 27 August. The species was identified from the photographs as a pygmy sperm whale – the same species that stranded on the other side of Eleuthera the previous week.

Thanks to the Stranding Network, it was possible take a tissue sample and teeth for DNA, as well as more photos.The animal was about 6 feet long and moderately decomposed – possibly dead for up to 3 days. Unfortunately due to the state of decomposition a cause of death could not be determined. However more information about the animal will be obtained from the samples taken. With samples taken, the carcass can now be buried.

“RITA & GEORGIE’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE”: A BAHAMAS MANATEE MOVIE


“RITA & GEORGIE’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE”: A BAHAMAS MANATEE MOVIE

The BMMRO has produced and distributed, courtesy of the always watchable CONCH SALAD TV, a fantastic 7 minute movie of the story of Rita and Georgie. It’s a heart warming tale of a West Indian manatee mother and calf pair that made the journey from Eleuthera via Nassau and then via cradle and boat transport to the Berry Islands for a new life. It’s a tale of conservation, preservation and  hopefully (if they continue to get on well with the small resident population there) procreation… The main natural difficulty facing manatees in the Bahamas is the lack of fresh water – see how this is tackled. The main man-made problem comes from man’s use of the waters. For example, boat-strike / propeller damage is an ever-present danger. To see more about Manatees in this blog CLICK HERE To reach the BMMRO Facebook page CLICK HERE

BMMRO INTRO

IT’S HERE!! MANATEES IN THE BAHAMAS. PRESENTED BY LOGGERHEAD PRODUCTIONS 

Grab your popcorn and everyone in the community, office or home…ENJOY! SHARE! ♥ MANATEES !

REVIEWS

“The Manatees were moved. As indeed was I…”              The Wall Street Journal

“An uplifting experience…”                                                     The Washington Post

“Seeing these manatees made me a man at ease…”          Florida Herald Tribune

“Lovely Rita…”                                                                            Sir Paul McCartney, Kt, MBE 

Credit: savethemanatee.org