MAKING A SPLASH: SPERM WHALES & MANATEES IN ABACO WATERS


Sperm Whale, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

MAKING A SPLASH: SPERM WHALES & MANATEES IN ABACO WATERS

After a quiet spell on the cetacean and sirenian front, there is exciting news to report. First, the BMMRO encountered two sperm whales just off Sandy Point.  I don’t know how close to the shore they actually were, but it was very friendly of them to come so near to the BMMRO HQ.Sperm Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco BMMRO3

When whales are sighted from the research vessel, one of the tasks is to collect feces. This job is often undertaken by interns, and is a good way to learn that serious research may well involve unattractive work… They practise with… er… coffee grounds and a net. For more on this important yet unappealing aspect of whale research, CLICK NICE TO SEE FAMILIAR FECES. Another essential part of any sighting is to take fluke photos to enable ID.  Every whale has different and distinctive patterning to the fluke, including general wear and tear. As a photo archive is built up, the researchers are able to recognise a particular whale and cross-reference it with previous sightings.

Sperm Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco BMMRO2Sperm Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco BMMRO1

The third task of a sighting is to record clicks made by an individual whale. This enables an estimate of the whale’s size to be made, and again a sound archive is gradually built up from which comparisons can be made.

Sperm Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco BMMRO4

A NEW MANATEE VISITS MARSH HABOUR

FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT has just reported the sighting of a new manatee at the head of Marsh Harbour harbour. I’m not aware of any other sightings in the last couple of days, but as they say,  “Please keep your eyes out and drive carefully! Contact Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization with any further sighting reports by calling 357-6666. You can also share photos with them on Facebook. Also, please do not feed the manatee. They are able to find their own food and anything else may make them unhealthy”.

This is Abaco’s third recent manatee. First there was GEORGIE, who as far as I know is still comfortably settled in the Cherokee area. Then RANDY arrived earlier this and got to within about a few miles of Georgie… High hopes of a meeting – and ‘friendship, maybe more’ – were dashed when Randy turned round and headed back to Castaway Cay. Let’s hope this newcomer stays around. I wonder what he – or she – will be named? My suggestion is Abby or Abi, which I think is unisex…

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Just as with the whale flukes, the tail of a manatee is an important means of identification. The new manatee’s tail has its own distinctive edge pattern, which will enable its future recognition. Here is an image of Randy’s tail, with its unique notch. 

Randy the Abaco Manatee - tail notch

Credits: BMMRO & FOTE with thanks as ever for use permissions

mantsw~1

“50 WAYS TO PLEASE YOUR PLOVER”: PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (2)


Piping Plover - Danny Sauvageau

 “50 WAYS TO PLEASE YOUR PLOVER”: PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (2)

There must be 50 ways at least, most of them amounting to leaving Piping Plovers alone and respecting their habitat. So, in many cases simply NOT doing things . Refraining from driving your  SUV around on the beaches exactly where they are resting (with other shorebirds) during migration (yes, this very scenario is captured on film). Discouraging your canine friends from investigating their scrapes, eggs and chicks. Not building a concrete block on their favourite beach. Avoiding dumping quantities of oil in their vicinity. That kind of thing. Make a new plan, Stan! Watch where you drive, Clive! Find a new place, Grace! Safeguard your oil, Doyle! And leave the birds free…

Piping Plover - Danny Sauvageau

MIGRATION & CONSERVATION I’m returning to Piping Plovers at a time when concerns for their diminished population has led to intensive research and protection programs at both ends of their migration routes. For a long time, their winter destination was a mystery. Recent investigations have helped to pinpoint the wintering grounds, which include Abaco. Ringing programs in the summer breeding areas mean that birds can be identified in winter and traced back to their origin. So if you are out and about and see one of these little guys – let’s say, on the beach at Casuarina – and you happen to have a camera with you, can I repeat the request to please take a photo, if possible showing the leg bling, and let one of the island birders (or me) know…

You can see how the PIPLs live through the seasons and their migrations in an excellent Audubon interactive presentation I have featured previously entitled “Beating the Odds: A Year in the Life of a Piping Plover”. CLICK BEATING THE ODDS

Piping Plover - Danny Sauvageau

PIPL ON ABACO I shared this wonderful video from the reliably excellent CONCH SALAD TV on my FB page, but it’s such a great 15 minutes worth of Piping Plover information that I am including it in this post, not least because many of the the subscribers are different. The Bahamas in general and Abaco in particular are favoured by these delightful but rare and vulnerable birds for their winter habitat (sensible creatures). If you can spare 15 minutes and are interested in the importance of Abaco as a vital component in the conservation of migratory birds, do watch the video. Presenters include Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger of CONSERVE WILDLIFE NEW JERSEY, David Knowles of the BNT and Olivia Patterson of FOTE (Friends of the Environment, Abaco). One of the most heartening features is to see the responses of  the young children who were encouraged to participate in the project, and who take to it with huge enthusiasm.  

Piping Plover - Danny Sauvageau

A while back, well-known and much missed Abaco naturalist Ricky Johnson made his own Piping Plover film incorporating his own trademark style and sense of humour. My original post about it can be seen HERE, but far better to go straight to Ricky’s video. It’s good to recall his infectious enthusiasm for the wildlife of Abaco. Impossible to watch without smiling…

Piping Plover - Danny Sauvageau

Piping Plover - Danny Sauvageau

The PIPL in this post all have two things in common. The wonderful photos are all taken by Danny Sauvageau; and all of the birds are differently ringed, reflecting their various summer habitats. So this brings me to Danny’s Kickstarter project “Saving Endangered Piping Plovers through Photography”. He has put together a superb presentation explaining his project, and how his photography in prime PIPL resting areas during their migrations back and forth can help to map and complete the picture of this vulnerable species to enable their protection.

You can reach Danny’s film by clicking the link DANNY’S FILM (there’s no obligation to go further and contribute) and you will see some fabulous footage of these little birds scuttling around on the beach, looking enchanting; and the commentary will explain the importance of the the birds and the research into their conservation.

RELATED POSTS

RARE GEMS: PIPL ON ABACO 1

“GIVE PEEPS A CHANCE ” (I know, I know…)

Credits: All photos, Danny Sauvageau; Videos – Audbon, Conch Salad TV, Ricky Johnson, Danny Sauvageau; Tip of the Hat, Paul Simon

Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta

ABACO KAYAK CHALLENGE 2013 ON NOVEMBER 9: BE IN IT TO WIN IT!


ABACO KAYAK CHALLENGE 2013

kayak logo 2013

FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT, ABACO

Friends of the Environment (Abaco) logo

Join Friends in support of the Abaco Cancer Society and Friends of the Environment for Abaco’s third annual Kayak Challenge on November 9th at Pete’s Pub in Little Harbour.

Pete's Pub

“Any craft you can paddle will be welcome, from kayaks, paddle boards and canoes – just no engines!  There will be 3 courses to choose from: 5 miles, 8 miles, or 13 miles that will take paddlers into and through the scenic Bight of Old Robinson, part of the proposed East Abaco Creeks National Park. Paddlers will be welcomed back with a Beach party at Pete’s Pub.” 

Pete’s Pub: “Thirst come, thirst served…”Pete's Pub, Little Harbour, Abaco Bahamas

THE THREE COURSES

5 Mile Course

5 mile paddle2013

8 Mile Course

8 mile2013

13 Mile Course

13 mile paddle2013

SUPPORT FRIENDS & BMMRO INTERN OSCAR WARD AS HE NEGOTIATES THE PERILS OF THE “BIG ONE”; AND FOLLOW HIS INTERN’S BLOG HERE 

“Support boats will be available to assist, but paddlers should plan to bring adequate water and snacks for the trip. Remember, the sun in The Bahamas is hot, so pack your sunscreen, sunglasses, hat and if you burn easily, clothing to cover yourself up with along the way. Kayaking is a water activity, so be aware that anything that goes in the kayak with you will get wet whether it be from a splash from passing boat wake, drops from paddles, or a quick rain storm. Kayaking is a physical activity, remember the further you venture, the further the paddle to return.”

There will be a beach barbeque & party for spectators to cheer the paddlers on as they come in from their journey.

For more information call the FRIENDS office at 367-2721 or email info@friendsoftheenvironment.org

Bring your own Tee…Pete's Pub, Little Harbour, Abaco Bahamas

 Registration form, sponsorship form and waiver 

 Sponsorship donations can be made on-line

 Kayak Challenge event page on Facebook

Kayak Challenge Sponsors Cherokee AirHope Town Harbour LodgeThe Paint PlaceLightbourne MarinePete’s Pub and GalleryShirley Enterprises, Bon Secours Medical Group, Sands Marine Surveying & Consulting, Marsh Exporters and Importers, Ltd, Abaco Petroleum Company Ltd, Abaco Family Medicine, Abaco Tourist Office

Non-participatory support from a respectful distance (4250 miles) from

Delphi Bonefish LogoHighly competitive and vigorous kayak practice off the Delphi Club beach, Rolling HarbourKayak, Delphi Club, Abaco Bahamas

‘FAMILIAR FECES': CETACEAN POOP-SCOOPING BY SPECIES


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‘FAMILIAR FECES': CETACEAN POOP-SCOOPING BY SPECIES

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

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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.

BMMRO SIGHTINGS JULY 2013

SAWMILL SINK, ABACO: INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY IN A POST-APOCALYPTIC LANDSCAPE


Sawmill Sink (adventureactivist youtube)

SAWMILL SINK, ABACO: INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY IN A POST-APOCALYPTIC LANDSCAPE

1. BLUE HOLES

The Blue Holes of Abaco are geological wonders about which much has been written – much of it in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE. Sawmill Sink is one of the best-known inland ones; and there are other holes in the shallow seas on both sides of the island. They are deep chasms in the limestone rock, many leading to extensive and complex cave systems under the island. Divers exploring Sawmill Sink have found many prehistoric fossils, including those of an extinct giant tortoise, and land crocodiles. Most conveniently, this fascinating blue hole is close to Delphi, hidden deep in the pine forest and accessible only by historic logging tracks.

LOGGING TRACK TO SAWMILL SINKSawmill Sink Abaco 19

AERIAL VIEW OF SAWMILL SINK DEEP IN THE PINE FORESTSawmill Sink Map copy

This article is not about Blues Holes in general, nor Sawmill Sink  specifically. I have such a post planned, but for the moment I’ll put some relevant links at the end of this one. Feel free to scroll straight there if the cumbersome heading has already put you off… but in an effort to hold your interest, here’s an image of the Sink to give you an idea of what it looks like. There are wooden steps down and a platform to enable you to swim in it (there are no crocodiles these days. So they say…).

SAWMILL SINK, ABACOSawmill Sink Abaco 8

2. A LOGGING HISTORY

South Abaco – defined loosely as the area south of Marsh Harbour – is dominated by pine forest. There are a few settlements and individual residences, all by the coast. The forested swathes are criss-crossed by an extensive system of logging tracks, many now all but impassable. They are reminders of Abaco’s historic importance as a source of wood deriving from the ubiquitous tall, slim pines. One use to which they were put was as mine pit props in the collieries of Wales.

 1996.2039.db

Last June when we went to Sawmill Sink, we saw a rusty rail sticking up from the undergrowth. We were with Ricky Johnson, the man who could invariably answer any question about Abaco; he explained that there had at one time been a light railway through the forest to carry the felled timber to the highway, where it was transported to the coast for loading onto ships.Sawmill Sink Abaco 17

Last month we returned to Sawmill Sink. The south part of the island was enduring the annual outbreak of forest fires, most (if not all) believed to be set by hunters wanting to clear to undergrowth to make hog-hunting easier. While the occasional natural fire is actually good for the forest (cf burning moorland), the set fires do great damage over a vast area. On some days there were 6 or more separate seats of fire appearing in one day – highly unlikely to be the work of nature. Thick palls of smoke drifted across the island, and out to sea. Even far out on the Marls, the fires were visible, with the smell of burning carried on the wind. This year, the fires came uncomfortably close to some of the settlements. Night-long community action was needed in some places to protect property. At Delphi, the fires came within 300 feet or so before finally fizzling out in the coppice… Two years ago, they  came nearly as close. For a post-fire wander round the Delphi drive circuit click FOREST FIRES (it was one of the first, tentative posts on this blog – and boy, does it show… it needs a rethink)

DELPHI GUEST DRIVE: A WARM WELCOMEForest Fire, Delphi, Abaco

The photos that follow show the track to Sawmill Sink immediately after a fire had swept through the area. Trees were still smouldering and in places the ground was still hot to the touch. Along the way the evidence of the former usage had been laid bare. Some images show the paved path that leads from the logging track to the Sink. I have no idea if these are the first images of so many visible remains of the logging trade, revealed by the burnt-off undergrowth. I haven’t tracked down any others at all so far. I write as a non-resident of the island, so if anyone can add any information, please do so via the COMMENT box. Sawmill Sink Abaco 1 Sawmill Sink Abaco 2 Sawmill Sink Abaco 3 Sawmill Sink Abaco 5 Sawmill Sink Abaco 6 Sawmill Sink Abaco 7 Sawmill Sink Abaco 9 Sawmill Sink Abaco 10 Sawmill Sink Abaco 11 Sawmill Sink Abaco 12 Sawmill Sink Abaco 13 Sawmill Sink Abaco 14

Finally, we found this rock close to the Sink. Are those plant fossils? Bearing in mind that sea probably covered this area entirely (the highest point on Abaco is a mere 134 feet ASL), might these be anemones or sponge fossils of some sort? Comments from fossilologists welcome.

STOP PRESS thanks to FOSSIL LADY (aka Kathi) for the following: “Those don’t look like plant fossils to me, they remind me of stromatolites, a sponge like creature that first dominated the earth billions of years ago. Some varieties still survive today. It would be worth it to have a geologist have a look see. ps the sinkhole is awesome!”Sawmill Sink Abaco 15

SOME BLUE HOLE LINKS TO EXPLORE 

BAHAMAS CAVES RESEARCH FOUNDATION

FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT, ABACO

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

ADVANCED DIVER MAGAZINE ARTICLE

As a reward for having waded through the smoke and ash above, here’s a short video of what you can see if you dive in a blue hole. It’s worth saying (1) that you need to check you are allowed dive – some holes are subject to ongoing research and (2) blue hole diving and caving is an inherently unsafe activity unless you have the right equipment and know exactly (by which I don’t mean “hey, I can wing it”) what you are doing… 

Photo credits: all RH except header (adventureactivist, youTube); pit props (Scottish Mining Museum); aerial view (Gmaps)

“SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS…” ABACO WILDLIFE APPEALS TO EVERYONE!


“SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS…” Abaco (Cuban) ParrotImage: ©RH

Christmas time. Holidays. Festive season. Yuletide. ġéohol*. Noel. Winterval. However you describe it, there’s a reassuring ritual each year. To many, the familiar religious carols and rites. To all, the cheerful sound of jingling tills. The exchange of presents happily bought and excitedly received. The groaning table weighted with victuals. Light and laughter. Glasses generously filled and refilled.  Sudden growing dizziness and a strange lack of coordination. Wondering what others are saying. Wondering what you are saying. Drowsiness. Overwhelming sleepiness. The passage of time. The groaning hangover as seven West Indian woodpeckers attack your skull with hammer-drills… Time for a soothing image.

BMMRO Dolphin Image copyImage ©BMMRO

Where was I? Oh yes. This is a very good time to draw attention to the various wildlife organisations based on Abaco and in the wider Bahamas. During the year they look after the birds, the marine mammals and so forth that help make Abaco such a very special place to be. I am simply going take the opportunity to post the link to my updated page for ABACO WILDLIFE CHARITIES. Oh. I just have. Well, is there one that appeals to you, I wonder? Just asking… Meanwhile, here’s the music of the heading to get you in the mood

Delphi Xmas + lights* Old English / Anglo-Saxon origin of “Yule”

BONEFISH RESEARCH: THE IMPACT OF HOOK RETENTION


THE IMPACT OF HOOK RETENTION ON RELEASED BONEFISH

Anyone committed to catch and release for bonefish will have wondered about the hooks that from time to time are left in a fish. The issue has now been the subject of a detailed scientific report from ELSEVIER highlighted in the ever-useful THE ABACO SCIENTIST (thanks to Craig Layman). The report’s main conclusions can be summarised as follows:

  • Hooks, especially shallow ones, are expelled fairly quickly
  • For deep-hooked fish, barbless hooks are significantly easier for the fish to deal with
  • The presence of a hook does not appear to interfere with feeding
  • Hook size is not a material factor
  • All the test sample fish survived
Overall, therefore, this is a vindication for the policy of barbless hook use for C&R. The report concludes that it’s best simply to leave a difficult-to-remove hook in the fish. Here, guide Ishi prepares to remove a barbless hook from one of my fish caught on the Abaco Marls.
I have included a clip of the report’s front page and Abstract; and the link to a PDF of the full report for those interested in checking out the detailed scientific aspects of this research. To go direct to the general Fisheries Research section click ELSEVIER. The astounding photo is courtesy of Abaco’s conservation organisation FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT

REPORT PDF

NEW in June 2012 see later post + video CATCH & RELEASE DEMO ON THE ABACO MARLS for a quick release method with a barbless hook involving minimal contact with the fish. It isn’t suitable for deep-hooked fish or large ones, but it shows how quick the operation can be