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


HURRICANE SANDY – AND AFTER

A report by Kendria Ferguson on the impact of Hurricanes Sandy for the BMMRO

After all the exciting but unexpected events of October, slowly life is returning to normal. As the whimsical but intimidating winds of Hurricane Sandy encompassed the research center, we felt a few limited blockbuster hits. Without power for four days and no contact with the world outside of Sandy Point, we felt like we were in a twilight zone! Hurricane force winds crept up on Abaco during the wee hours on Thursday, October 25th; predicted to be a Category 1, Hurricane Sandy surely made her presence felt! Luckily, we only had a few minor leaks at the research center but the community of Sandy Point and other parts of Abaco had severe flooding and extensive damage. 

Trapped in a house for four days with a hurricane that refused to leave, our concern for Georgie (the Christopher Columbus of our Bahamian manatees) began to grow. Georgie recently separated from her mother (Rita) in June of this year, and shortly thereafter decided to take a detour to Abaco, over 70 miles from the Berry Islands, Northern Bahamas, where she previously resided with a small population of manatees. Having travelled a tremendous distance around Abaco, she finally settled in at a small community called Cherokee Sound, located on the eastern side of Abaco. During Hurricane Irene, October 2011, Georgie and her mother swam from Spanish Wells, Eleuthera to Nassau. Whether this shift in locations was entirely due to the passing of a hurricane is unknown but scientists feared that Georgie could possibly get confused during the storm and take off to an unknown location.

Last sighted on the 24th of October, Georgie wasn’t seen again until November 4th, almost a week after Sandy had passed the community of Cherokee. She returned with a back covered in moss, an outstandingly healthy looking figure and thankfully no visible injuries/wounds as a result of the storm (these photos were taken on November 5th).

After hurricanes, an increase in shark bites has been documented amongst the dolphin population that inhabit the Little Bahama Bank (Fearnbach et al. 2012). Scientists believe that hurricanes may be the driving force for the relocation of dolphins to waters deeper than their preferred habitat which therefore makes them more accessible to predators such as oceanic sharks. Increase in wave height, storm surge, sediment erosion and deposition can make these once tranquil shallow habitats confusing for dolphins and manatees to navigate.

Photograph of a juvenile dolphin with a fresh and severe shark-bite wound on its flank

In the 1980′s and 1990′s, a decline in adult survival rate after the passing of major hurricanes (Category 3 and higher) among manatee populations in Florida were attributed to possible injury from debris, strandings and displacement of animals as a result of habitat loss and strong water currents (Langtimm et al. 2003).

As we hoped, Georgie appeared to have tucked herself into the nearby mangroves and returned within eyesight when she felt it was safe enough to leave the shelter she sought out during hurricane Sandy. Now that the storm has passed, falling debris has been cleared and our shallow water habitats have returned to the calm and often crystal clear waters we remembered them to be. We can all now let out a huge sigh of relief! We all survived Super-Storm-Sandy!

Fearnbach, H. D. (2012). Seasonality of calving and predation risk in bottlenose dolphins on Little Bahama Bank. . Marine Mammal Science, 28(2), 402-411. 
Langtimm, C. A. (2003). Lower survival probabilities for adult Florida manatees in years with intense coastal storms. Ecological Applications, 13:257-268.

Story by Kedria Ferguson, BMMRO’s education officer and manatee expert

The End

HOLE-IN-THE WALL ABACO: “MIND THE GAP” – A NEW ISLET IS BORN


HOLE-IN-THE WALL ABACO: “MIND THE GAP” – A NEW ISLET IS BORN

17th October 2012

Jack Bowers and friends visited Hole-in-the-Wall and took what are probably the last photos of Hole-in-the-Wall before Hurricane Sandy struck, and the central arch was smashed into the sea – this one below, and others HERE

6th November 2012

Less than 3 weeks later, John Haestad made the same trip towards the end of the promontory. This time, it was different. The arch was gone. Beyond the breach, a new islet, separated from the mainland by a foaming channel. John has kindly given use permission, and you are now looking at what may be the first image of Abaco’s new geography. A feature that had appeared on maps since at least the early c18, been a landmark for marine navigation for centuries, and lent its name to the lighthouse station, has gone forever. A very small island at the southeastern tip of Abaco has been born…

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL PROMONTORY, ABACO
(Since posting this, Jack Bowers has come up with ‘Holy Isle’, which has a certain ring to it…)

ADDITION I have now found a photo by Jennifer Arrington (to whom thanks for use permission) which shows from a helpful angle both the intact Hole and the small tip of land beyond, now an island. Many photographers are understandably drawn to the Hole itself by the time they have trekked across the sharp uneven rocks to get to it. This is one of the few I have found that gives a wider perspective.

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL: THE ‘ISLAND’ BEFORE IT BECAME ONE…

AFTERWORD FROM ROLLING HARBOUR

For an interesting philosophical and metaphysical discussion on whether the collapse of the arch made any sound if there was no one (and / or no living creature) there to hear it, check out IF A TREE FALLS IN A FOREST… but please don’t if that sort of arcane  and /or pointless argument drives you mad with irritation 

HURRICANE SANDY AFTERMATH: ABACO PICTURES, NEWS FROM DELPHI CLUB, BAHAMAS & MANATEE UPDATE


DAMAGE FROM HURRICANE SANDY AT THE DELPHI CLUB, ABACO

The storm has passed from the Bahamas and the clear-up is underway – but further north communities are bracing themselves for the onslaught. The news today  from contacts, from Facebook and the web generally, is of thankfully little lasting damage, with power and comms restored in many places. There’s been plenty of flooding – eg Sandy Point – and tree / plant mayhem.

The Delphi Club was again, as with Irene last year, almost directly beneath the eye of the storm. Then, a couple of leaves were lost from the pineapple crown (above), a few fittings were smashed, and the gardens were unceremoniously rearranged. Peter Mantle, Delphi Club supremo, has posted his record of the last few days at the club – the approach of Sandy, the storm, and the aftermath. I am posting extracts below, to be read (chronologically) from the bottom entry to the top of the page. For those who haven’t experienced a storm of this violence, Peter’s account gives a vivid picture of the before, the during and the after…

Apologies for having posted about Sandy in detail with maps etc, and at the crucial time tailing off  while I was away and had only an iPhone™  and a sporadic connection…

STOP PRESS: AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS – BRAVE OR FOOLISH? 29 October

Peter Mantle has just sent me a ‘Sandy’ photo from the Delphi Club beach, showing a group of oystercatchers on the rocks at one end of Rolling Harbour. Storm detritus already festoons the rocks. Have the birds seen what’s about to hit them? Are they waterproof? 

STOP PRESS: BMMRO MANATEE UPDATE 29 October

The BMMRO has posted news from Sandy Point and for those who have been asking after manatee Georgie’s welfare, an update:

“Hi Everyone, everything is ok here at the research center! We are working on getting information on Georgie’s whereabouts and we will happily update everyone as soon as we hear anything. There’s still a bit of damage here in Abaco that is preventing travel but hopefully we will be able to get up to Georgie soon”.

STOP PRESS: SOME ABACO IMAGES 28 October

(credits to Timothy Roberts & Cindy James Pinder and their facebook posts)

SANDY TAKES BONEFISH; DARK HUMOUR ON DARK DAYS

OCTOBER 27th Among the many bits of minor damage caused by Hurricane Sandy was the destruction of our bonefish weather vane. This had been hand-made by the other Sandy, our general manager, and stood atop his lodgings. Snapped off, the copper creation was found nearby, bruised and dented, rather like ourselves.

Yet again, we have been very fortunate – staff and guests are all well. And most of the damage caused by the 100mph winds was minor. The storm had its moments, but the worst bits were at nighttime when many people were huddled safe in bed. Lots of bumps and bangs provided a spooky soundtrack, but it was more of a B movie than a full-blown Hollywood epic. That said, I hate to think what a really big Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricane would be like.

We still have no mains electricity; thank God for the gennie. We have no phones or mobile connection, so we have little idea of what is going on elsewhere on the island. We hope for the best but fear not all will have escaped as lightly as we did. Some of the staff from Crossing Rocks are stranded here by flooding. But the wireless internet is back so all will soon be revealed.

Yet again, the gardens have been shredded. The banana trees have been snapped off mid-fruiting. My favorite banyan tree has broken in half again, having nearly bounced back from Irene. The big Bismark ferns are banjaxed, the bougainvillea is blasted leafless and the pool is a mess. But who cares. We are fine. Dunkirk spirit? Well, very black humour and spirits of a different kind have seen us through.

“I survived Sandy” T-shirts are now in preparation, but that’s a staff joke about their hyperactive and heroic boss…..

A BAD HAIR DAY…

OCTOBER 25th It is getting distinctly breezy here, with winds as bad as any Irish gale. But Hurricane Sandy, now upgraded to a Category 2 hurricane, is still some 18 hours away and currently features average winds of 105mph with higher gusts. It may get even worse, they say. So no fishing today. More guests have made it in. Bahamasair even ran a plane out of Nassau at first light this morning.

While we still have power and phones, the lines are buzzing and we are glued to the internet. It seems odd to see that Sandy is the lead news story on the BBC. Non-technical guests have adjourned to the library (where “A Perfect Storm” and “Winnie the Poo and the Blustery Day” are current favourites). The air of gloom is more attributable to the fact that Arsenal lost at home last night than to any fears for personal safety.

We may go quiet for a while.

NOTHING VERY FEMININE ABOUT THIS SANDY

OCTOBER 24th, noon Tropical storms are now given boys’ and girls’ names alternately; in the old days they were all girls. The one that currently threatens us is Sandy, a name that is more commonly applied to females in this part of the world. But there is nothing too feminine about this storm; as the forecast deteriorates and Sandy intensifies into a hurricane over Jamaica, we are becoming more and more concerned by its macho capabilities.

The National Hurricane Centre now predicts that Sandy will pass very close to Abaco – the predicted path having shifted overnight. As it now looks, the eye may pass just 25 miles from us, which would basically be a direct hit since damaging winds spread far out from the centre. We are going to have to keep a very close on on this little girl over the next 48 hours.

ALL EYES ON SANDY

OCTOBER 23rd No sooner has the Club reopened for the new season than a tropical storm appears on the horizon. And, in a twist of divine humour, it’s been christened after our general manager, Sandy.

Sandy (the mostly human version) is tracking Sandy (the swirling tempest) on an hourly basis. As it now stands, we are in the “cone” of the likely track of the storm over coming days. Currently south of Jamaica, TS Sandy is turning north and could yet morph into a hurricane. It’s expected to be over or near us by Friday night, with “average” winds of nearly 60mph and gusts of up to 90mph.

Hatches will therefore be battened, outdoor furniture put back indoors and supplies of grog reinforced. The lucky fishers in residence will have to take a breather, while the new chef, John, will receive a special form of baptism.

Tropical storms this late in the year are a great rarity. Somehow that is not very reassuring just now. But the forecast for the following week is rather better… 

Click image to visit the Delphi Club