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. 



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



Squid ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba


The Caribbean reef squid Sepioteuthis sepioidea is a small squid species of the Caribbean Sea and the Floridian coast. Its fins extend nearly the whole length of the body and undulate rapidly as it swims. Recently, it has been discovered that this squid is capable of brief flight out of the water.Squid ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Reef squid tend to form small shoals in and around reefs. It is by far the most common squid species in its range, and can be sighted both close to the shore and quite near the surface (although that increases the risk of predation by seabirds).

A silvery squid swimming just below the surfaceCaribbean_reef_squid (Ed Brown)

Squid are voracious eaters, dragging their prey to their mouths and using a beak to cut it up. Their target species are small fish, molluscs and crustaceans. They have a ‘raspy tongue’ known as a radula which further breaks up the food for easy consumption.

Squid at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve, AbacoSquid Fowl Cay, Abaco Ellen Sokol, Kiskeedee Sailing Charters


  • Squid can change colour, texture and shape
  • This enviable power is used defensively as camouflage or to appear larger if threatened
  • It is also used in courtship rituals, something that humans would find most disconcerting
  • Colour patterns are also used for routine squid-to-squid communication AND GET THIS:
  • A squid can send a message to another on one side, and a different one to a squid on the other

Squid © Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba copy


  • A male will gently stroke a female with his tentacles
  • The female will (most likely) flash an ‘alarm’ pattern
  • The male soothes her (don’t try this at home, guys) by blowing and jetting water at her
  • If he’s not getting on well, he’ll move off and repeat the routine until she sees his good points
  • However this on / off courtship can last for hours until at last he succeeds by…
  • …attaching a sticky packet of sperm onto the female’s body (romance is not dead)
  • She reaches for it and moves it to her “seminal receptacle”
  • Meanwhile he stays close, emitting a pulsing pattern, as well he might after all that
  • She then finds a safe place to lay her eggs. Job done.Two_Caribbean_Reef_Squid,(Clark Anderson)


  • As soon the female squid has laid her eggs, she dies at once
  • The male squid live a bit longer, and may have other packets to stick – then he dies too
  • It’s all horribly reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. Without the balcony scene.Sepioteuthis sepioidea Caribbean Reef Squid (Nick Hobgood)


Squid are prolific in the seas around Abaco, which is fortunate because they form a large part of the diet of some whale species, particularly the Blainville’s Beaked Whales that are commonly found in Abaco waters. I have a post on these magnificent creatures in preparation right now, and am in the process of sorting out suitable photos from a large number taken during a research expedition in March. 

More Squid at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve, AbacoSquid School, Fowl Cay, Abaco Ellen Sokol, Kiskeedee Sailing Charters

Credits: As ever (for underwater pics) Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; also Ellen Sokol of Kiskeedee Sailing Charters, who kindly sent me the Fowl Cay photos; also Ed Brown, Clark Anderson and Nick Hobgood for ‘open-sourcing’ their great images


Melon-headed Whale breaching - BMMRO copy

Melon-headed Whale breaching – BMMRO


The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO)  has its HQ at Sandy Point, Abaco. We recently went out in their research boat, a RHIB, to spend an unforgettable day with Blainville’s beaked whales and bottlenose dolphins. I posted some of the dolphins HERE; and a two-part beaked whale post is a work in progress.

Male Blainville’s beaked whale with its extraordinary barnacle-encrusted teeth that protrude upwards from its lower jaw. The prominent beak is plainly visible. Sighted off the south-west point of Abaco during our second encounter with a group of these whales – the only male we saw that dayBlainville's Beaked Whale KS 1

Abaco waters are ideal for marine mammals, especially off the southern shores where the walls of the Great Bahama Canyon drop vertiginously down from the shallow coastal waters to depths of up to 3 miles below. This is one of the deepest ocean canyons in the world.  The area provides a rich source of food and nutrients for the whales and dolphins and many different species are regularly sighted there, from huge sperm whales to small pilot whales (including plenty of species I had never heard of before). 

Great Bahama Canyon Map edit

As the name suggests, the BMMRO’s remit extends far beyond Abaco. The researchers often spend time exploring and recording cetaceans in other Bahamian waters. For the last few weeks the team have been off Andros and have encountered quite a few target species. I have included a selection below taken within the last month to illustrate the importance of the area for a remarkable assortment of wonderful whales and dolphins.

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALEBlainville's Beaked Whale copy

DWARF SPERM WHALESDwarf Sperm Whales - BMMRO copy

PANTROPICAL SPOTTED DOLPHINSPantropical Spotted Dolphin - BMMRO Pantropical Spotted Dolphin leap - BMMRO copy

On board the research vessel, every sighting is recorded in detail – where possible by species, numbers, ages, sexes, and individual identifying characteristics. Thus ‘SW34’ may have a damaged fluke, whereas ‘RD49’ may have a long scar on its back. 

PILOT WHALESPilot Whale - BMMROPilot Whales - BMMRO copyPilot Whales 2 - BMMRO

The research boat is equipped with sound devices which, when the microphone is immersed, are capable of picking up whale or dolphin sounds from a considerable distance. It’s astounding to be able to listen in ‘live’ to the wide assortment of clicks and whistles produced as the creatures communicate with each other. The recorded sound patterns are studied and can often be matched to enable an individual animal to be identified. 

MELON-HEADED WHALESMelon-headed Whales - BMMRO Melon-headed Whale - BMMRO

RISSO’S DOLPHINRisso's Dolphin - BMMRO copy

Other work, including photography, is done underwater. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect is the collection of poop specimens, from which a great deal can be ascertained about the diet and health of an individual animal. I wrote about this task and the methods used a while ago inFAMILIAR FECES‘.

I’ll be writing more about whales soon. Meanwhile, here’s a short BMMRO video of a large group of melon-headed males. At the start, you can clearly hear communication sounds between them.

Credits: Charlotte & Diane of the BMMRO for taking us out with them and for all the photos except the male Blainville’s beaked whale (mine, for once!)



The BMMRO (Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation) had a great June for sightings of cetaceans and sirenians. Here is a sample of their wonderful photos from recent research expeditions (with thanks as ever for use permission).


After the recent excitement of Abaco’s manatee GEORGIE having returned to Cherokee after another of her epic journeys, another West Indian manatee has arrived at Sandy Point (conveniently the location of the BMMRO HQ). Sirenians and cetaceans are generally recognised from particular patterns to flukes or fins. The second image shows the notch in Randy’s tail that confirms ID.

Randy the West Indian Manatee, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas Randy the West Indian Manatee (tail), Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINSBottlenose Dolphins - BMMRO, Abaco, BahamasBottlenose Dolphins - BMMRO, Abaco, BahamasBottlenose Dolphins Abaco BMMRO FV

SPOTTED DOLPHINSSpotted Dolphins, BMMRO Abaco, Bahamas

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALESBlainville's Beaked Whales BMMRO Abaco, BahamasBlainville's Beaked Whales BMMRO Abaco, BahamasBlainville's Beaked Whales BMMRO Abaco, Bahamas


(note minor damage to the edges, from which ID of an individual can be made)Whale Fluke (BMMRO Abaco Bahamas)


Compare the diver’s fins in the foreground with the (partial) length of a huge sperm whale… Sperm Whale and Diver








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


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.





The legendary CONCH SALAD TV is a great resource for Bahamas wildlife and way-of-life enlightenment. Their instructive videos are very well put together, and cover Nature, Marine, Art, Science, Music, Culture, Cooking, and broader Bahamas issues. The video below is 9 minutes of Bottlenose Dolphin action, and is recommended for relaxation, gentle instruction, and Kalik-swigging accompaniment…

BMMRO Whale Camp Dolphin Image FV

It time to catch up with last month’s Cetacean sightings around Abaco. The Manatee reports are of Georgie in the Cherokee area – alas no longer resident on Abaco but safely at Atlantis where she is being cared for. To know more about the Blainville’s beaked whale on Abaco, click HEREBMMRO sightings 2013

stop pres gif BMMRO’s executive director DIANE CLARIDGE has been awarded her PhD by St Andrews University for her research on beaked whales.  Dr Claridge’s new status is celebrated by humans and cetaceans alike (see image ©BMMRO below…)Bottlenose Dolphins Abaco ©BMMRO