Gina the Bahamas Manatee (pregnant) Eleuthera (BMMRO)

Gina the Manatee, Eleuthera – expectant mother (BMMRO)


Earlier this year I posted the welcome news that Bahamas manatee Gina was beyond any doubt pregnant. You can read about it HERE. Gina has been living for some time in Eleutheran waters, under regular observation by the BMMRO. At the turn of the year, she was re-tagged in Harbour Island, Eleuthera, when her pregnancy was discovered. I promised to give an update and this is a perfect moment. Gina’s calf was safely born and is growing fast. The pair have spent a lot of time in and around Spanish Wells, Eleuthera. Recently they have begun to move further afield, and there have been several sightings with some great photos shared on FB and in particular on Felice Leanne Knowles’s terrific BAHAMAS MANATEE CLUB page, some of which are included here duly credited.

Gina the Bahamas Manatee (pregnant) Eleuthera (BMMRO)

Gina’s calf is currently just called “Gina’s calf”. Its gender is unknown, and it will take a close inspection from below to ascertain from its… I don’t have to go on with this, do I? The point being that the chosen name will need to be unisex because it may take a while until there is sufficient development of the… I don’t have to go on with this either, do I? Let’s see the nameless calf at once! Details of the competition at the end of this post…

Gina with her newborn calf, July 27 (BMMRO) (note apparent prop scars on Gina)11209341_1012183408800885_310154952620912454_n

Spanish Wells, October 26 (π Junea Pinder / BMMRO) Gina the Bahamas manatee and her calf (Junea Pinder / BMMRO) Gina the Bahamas manatee and her calf (Junea Pinder / BMMRO)

Gregory Town, November 5 (Lynne Hirzel / BMMRO)12188935_10156306821645195_3509772562942760375_n 12219637_10156306821330195_1471887362053804519_n

Hatchet Bay, November 13    (π Jeffrey Louis / BMMRO)  10425501_1042928762405755_7163144254688618862_n 12108239_1042928735739091_6064773734031487371_n

November 18: Now you see it… (π Norma Roberts / BMMRO)Gina & Calf Norma Roberts 1 copy

…and now you don’t…Gina & Calf Norma Roberts 2 copy


ATTENTION TEAM MANATEES!!! Due to a consistent influx of sighting information and photos, we would like to add Gina’s calf to our catalogue. It would be nice for it to have a NAME!! We cannot monitor these manatees without your help and it is only fitting that  YOU name the manatee. The deadline for name suggestions is November 29th, 2015 and the winning name will be revealed on November 30th, 2015. The member with the winning name suggestion will receive an official manatee club T-Shirt!!


1. The name must be submitted on the Club Page Bahamas Manatee Club as an individual post – DO NOT comment your suggestion.
2. The name must be unisex – we do not know the sex of the calf yet.
3. A meaning or description must be submitted along with the name.
4. Please do not submit any derogatory or explicit “names.”
5. If you are submitting on behalf of a child who is not on Facebook, please add their name to the post as well.

Spread the word! Tell your friends and families to join the club and help us with a name!! The name will be selected on it’s meaning or description as it relates to marine mammals OR The Bahamas. The amount of “likes” per post will also go into consideration during the selection process.

Regretful Note: I made the stupid mistake of being amongst the very first to post my suggestion, meaning that after a day or two I’d get no likes at all, as more people got involved and my offering sank slowly. But there’ve been plenty of much better ones since, so probably just as well!

Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization

Bahamas Manatee Club

For more information about West Indian manatees, you can visit the MANATEE PAGE. There are several links there to specific manatee stories.

Finally, here is a great manatee map that Felice has recently made, showing which of the increasing number of manatees is where at the moment. Just think, only 4 or 5 were known about four years back. Now look!


Credits: primary founts of Bahamas manatee knowledge Felice & BMMRO; Photos BMMRO, Junea Pinder, Lynne Hirzel, Jeffrey Louis, Norma Roberts



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. 



Bahamas Manatee Randy 2 (BMMRO)

West Indian Manatee Randy, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas


Felice Leanne Knowles of the Bahamas Manatee Club has written a great round-up of the Bahamas manatee history for International Manatee Day. She has included their current whereabouts as at September 2015. I’ve added some illustrative images. I’ve called it a “short” history since, although the incidence of recorded manatee sightings in The Bahamas spans 109 years, there was a complete blank of 73 years until 1976, then only sporadic reports until the 1990s.

Randy at Sandy Point, Abaco (2015). Note the distinctive notch in his paddle that confirms his IDBahamas Manatee Randy, Sandy Point Abaco 2 (BMMRO)Bahamas Manatee Randy's notched paddle (BMMRO)

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“The first official documentation of a manatee sighting in The Bahamas was in 1904. The next report was not until 1975. Since the 90’s manatees have been sighted much more frequently.

GINA was first sighted in The Bahamas in 1998 at the AUTEC base in Andros. Since then, she has made The Bahamas her home and has had four calves. Gina is currently in Spanish Wells with her youngest calf of ~ 2 months. RANDY (~7 years old), her son, is currently in Hope Town, Abaco and her daughter JJ (~3.5 years old) was last seen in February, 2015 in Great Harbour Cay, the Berry Islands. Her eldest calf was lost to a motor craft strike.

Gina with one of her calvesBahamas Manatee Gina & Calf (BMMRO)

Gina with her newest calf, photographed recently in EleutheraBahamas Manatee Gina & calf, Eleuthera (The Front Porch)

Since Gina’s arrival, more manatees have been sighted in The Bahamas as persons and organisations became more aware. RITA was first sighted 2009 in Spanish Wells, Eleuthera and was actually pregnant! She gave birth to GEORGIE on June 25th, 2010. Rita was last seen at the AUTEC base in Andros two weeks ago and Georgie was last seen in Casaurina in July 2015. These two ladies have a very interesting story which can be followed on our website: [You can also read about Georgie’s adventure-packed life, with additional links, HERE]

Georgie, Rita’s daughter, at Cherokee, AbacoGeorgie the Manatee, Cherokee, Abaco DSC_0009-001

Two large adult males are also inhabiting The Bahamas, KONG and BLACKBEARD. Kong was first sighted by BMMRO in December of 2011, but could have been in The Bahamas before. Kong has been a true Berry Islander and has always been sighted in Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands. Blackbeard was first sighted in Long Island in 2010. Blackbeard got his name because he has surely traveled the Bahamian waters. He has been to Long, Cat, Eleuthera, and New Providence islands. Since his arrival in New Providence in December 2014, he has already circumnavigated the island twice for sure. He has become very popular down there to the residents and to guests.

Randy in a playful moodBahamas Manatee Randy (BMMRO)

There have been sightings of many other manatees, but we have not received enough photographs and information to give the manatees proper identification names and sexes. Currently, we propose that there are ~15 manatees inhabiting The Bahamas, but this number is not set in stone.

As yet unidentified manatee in Marsh Harbour, summer 2015. Note 3 prop scars on its backBahamas Manatee, Marsh harbour Abaco. No ID. (BMMRO)

BMMRO is working hard to monitor and protect the manatee population in The Bahamas and we cannot do it without the help from the public. Please stay encouraged and continue to care for these magnificent marine mammals. We would like to thank everyone who plays a role in protecting our Bahamian beauty, for providing sighting reports, for providing photographs, and for sharing information about manatees. 

Gina checking out the camera! Manatees are gentle & very curious… maybe in both sensesBahamas Manatee Gina (BMMRO)

“Always remember your manatee manners: “Do not touch, follow, or chase them, do not feed them, and do not give them fresh water to drink”.”

Manatee Awareness Poster jpg copy

Props to Felice, Bahamas Manatee Club , BMMRO and ‘The Front Porch’, Eleuthera


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 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 (


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



Winslow Homer G W Original Brooklyn


Following on from my post last month HOLE-IN-THE WALL: THE PAST, it’s time to take a closer look at the ‘Gap-in-the-Wall’ as it is today, viewed from the sea. I’ve called this a ‘unique perspective’, but I’m sure many people have taken photos of HITW from the sea. It just that apart from a few kayaking ones from before the collapse of the arch, I haven’t found them. So I took some, thanks to the BMMRO and their research RHIB. 

Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 01 Location photo map

The view above is taken from some way to the west of HITW, and I have marked the main features that will be shown in this post. As one approaches the promontory, the lighthouse and its outbuildings are the only sign of human intervention to be seen in the landscape. Historically there were small settlements in this remote place, and some traces of these remain.

Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse Abaco (sea view)

Closing in on the former ‘Hole’, fresh damage from Hurricane Sandy’s destruction of the arch is still visible. It is more conspicuous on the other side.Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 03 Collapsed arch (Hurricane Sandy)

In this photo, you can follow the features from the lighthouse to the foreshortened promontory, the new gap, the small islet that now exists, and finally a small eroded outcrop of rock – the remains of an extension of the mainland, and probably evidencing the southern tip of another arch that collapsed centuries ago.Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 04 Light, hole and outcrop

Passing the outcrop and round to the east side of the promontory, further evidence of fresh damage can be seen, with the main shear being on the north side of the arch.Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 05 Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 09Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 07Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 10

There’s a fine view of the lighthouse from the east Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 11

As we started the return journey to Sandy Point via groups of whales and dolphins, we went close to the outcrop, land’s end (next stop, Nassau). Even on a calm day, it is still thrashed by waves, as the second photo shows: no wonder it has eroded so quickly…  See how it looked in the 1803 aquatint below, from which one can see how there must have once been an even larger ‘hole in the wall’ way back in history and long since collapsed even by then. Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 12 Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 13Hole in the Wall Print 1803

Then it was time to move on, having been fortunate enough to see the location from an entirely new angleHole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 14Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 15


The geological future of the Hole-in the-Wall landscape is presumably that erosion and rising sea levels will sink the outcrop below the waves; the islet left after the collapse of the arch will similarly erode over the centuries, as in time will the whole promontory. Maybe as it gets thinner, another hole will be worn through by the waves. The restoration of the lighthouse, long promised, may perhaps take place. The nautical importance of the area suggests that the historic need for a light as both landmark and warning will continue. And who knows: even now, plans for wholesale redevelopment of the area could be on a drawing board somewhere…

Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse Abaco (Notice) hitw9


The header image is the well-known watercolour by Winslow Homer (1836 – 1910), the original of which is in the Brooklyn Museum. It was painted in 1885 and is entitled ‘Glass Windows’. This is commonly claimed to be the famous ‘Glass Window’ feature on Eleuthera. However my own theory is that it in fact depicts Hole-in-the-Wall, Abaco. There are a number of good reasons for this, but the most immediately striking is the title Homer himself gave to an engraving of the identical view, published in The Century magazine (Feb 1887). This engraving pre-dates, and was clearly the template for, the watercolour. The rock structure and even the cloud formations are identical. And the title “On Abaco Island” seems conclusive of the location.

Hole-in-the-Wall Picture

Credits: All photos, RH; Winslow Homer painting, Brooklyn Museum online archive


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!)