BAHAMAS WHALES & DOLPHINS IN ABACO & ANDROS WATERS


Melon-headed Whale breaching - BMMRO copy

Melon-headed Whale breaching – BMMRO

BAHAMAS WHALES & DOLPHINS IN ABACO & ANDROS WATERS

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!)

WHITE IBISES ON ABACO: UNCOMMONLY EXCITING SIGHTING


White Ibises (adult & juvenile), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

 WHITE IBISES ON ABACO: UNCOMMONLY EXCITING SIGHTING

“STOP THE CAR!” The shout was embarrassingly loud, amplified by being yelled inside a vehicle. Loud, because it seemed to emanate from very close indeed to my ear. Embarrassing, because it appeared to come out of my own mouth. Good grief! It was me. And I’d seen White Ibises. There they were, 2 adults and 2 juveniles, strolling and feeding their way across an open grassy area right in the middle of Sandy Point, as casual as you please.

P1200740White Ibises (adult & juvenile), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

So I leapt out of the car (it had conveniently and fortunately stopped by this stage), remembered to remove the lens cap for once, and took some photos. Unfortunately we had driven slightly past them which inevitably increased the risk of bird-butt shots (as the birds were moving away from me) to add to my already impressive ‘aves-ass’ collection

White Ibis, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The reason for the excitement was that the White Ibis is classed on Abaco as a ‘WR4‘, that is to say a Winter Resident that is both uncommon to rare and irregularly reported. Some years, maybe none will be seen at all. When I was collecting the images – hundreds and hundreds of them – for THE BIRDS OF ABACO, I rejected any that had not actually been taken on Abaco. That was part of the point of the enterprise, to showcase Abaco’s birds, not “birds from other islands that you may also encounter on Abaco”. So although we had some wonderful White Ibis pics from Nassau, they were ineligible for the book…

We ended with just the one, taken by Kasia Reid at the Treasure Cay Golf course ponds. In the course of the 16 months it took to produce the book, we never obtained another Abaco White Ibis photo, which meant that Kasia’s image did not qualify for a spread and sadly had to be relegated to the supplement… (bird 159 on page 262!). Here it is.

White Ibis, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Kasia Reid)

Meanwhile, returning swiftly to Sandy Point, the 4 Ibises (Ibi?) were working their way slowly and systematically over the greenery, picking through it for morsels of food.

White Ibises (adult & juvenile), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) White Ibis, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) White Ibis, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) White Ibises (adult & juvenile), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) White Ibises (adult & juvenile), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Then they were gone, and I got back into the car feeling that I had seen something special. I may have been the only occupant who felt that way, but such is life. For all I know, the birds may have been there for weeks. Or forever. But I have never seen them there before, nor seen reports of them. The sighting further confirms the excellence of Sandy Point as a birding location on land, shoreline and out to sea.

And then it was off to the legendary Nancy’s for lunch (fresh snapper, Kalik). Here are some of the Ibi (that sounds a much better plural) that had to be ruled out of the book for being non-Abaconian.

THE SALON DES REFUSÉS OF THE NASSAU EUDOCIMUS ALBUS

White Ibis, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn) White Ibis, Bahamas (Tony Hepburn) White Ibis (adult & juvenile), Bahamas (Tony Hepburn) White Ibises, Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

Credits: RH, Kasia Reid, Tony Hepburn, Woody Bracey

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS IN ABACO WATERS (2): MOTHER & CALF


Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas 12

Sometimes things happen that completely take my breath away. Here is one of those moments, from our recent trip with Charlotte and Diane in the BMMRO research boat. As we returned from whale-watching to base in Sandy Point and moved from the deep dark ocean to the bright blue shallows, we encountered a group of bottlenose dolphins. You can see my recent post featuring some of the adults HERE. That was exciting enough, as they played around the boat. Then another participant appeared… 

 Notice the dark area behind the adult dolphin… Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

…which soon separated into a small dark splashing creature with its own fin cutting the waves…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

…and next seen keeping pace with its parentDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

The sharp line between the light and the dark sea is where the sandy shallows abruptly give way to the deep waters of the Grand Bahama Canyon, a massive trench up to 2.5 miles deep with almost vertical cliff walls to the depths in some places

Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

There were less active and splashy moments as the pair swam around togetherDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, BahamasDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Then it was back to doing what they like best…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, BahamasDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Then some more restful moments…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

And finally the pair moved away. On the far horizon, the Massive Mickey Mouse Cruise ship moored at ‘Disney’s Castaway Cay’ (formerly the sober-sounding Gorda Cay), where you can be a Pirate of the Caribbean. Or anyway a very happy Tourist. The choice is yours. Would you like fries with that?Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

And looking out to sea from the cheerful place that is Castaway Cay, I wonder if a small child was wondering “Ok, love Mickey and his Friends – but I’d also really love to see a wild dolphin swimming free… 

Disney Magic docked next to the Castaway Cay Family Beach copy

All photos RH (except Castaway, Wiki). Huge thanks to Charlotte, Diane and Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO for a truly wonderful day photo 2

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BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS IN ABACO WATERS (PART 1)


Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 7

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS IN ABACO WATERS (PART 1)

DCB GBG Cover Logo dolphin

This seems to be a excellent early Spring for dolphin and whale sightings in Abaco waters. I’ve noticed that people have been posting dolphin sightings on FB recently. In our brief window of opportunity each March, I usually reckon to see 2 or 3 dolphins at most – maybe crossing over to Hope Town on the ferry, or more probably on a fishing trip. This year we saw 2 groups of about 6 off Cherokee while fishing, including calves. On another day, 4 adults made a leisurely progress the whole length of Rolling Harbour while we watched from the balcony of the Delphi Club. I don’t think they have ever been so close to the shore there before. The best was to come.Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 3

Near the end of our trip Charlotte Dunn and Diane Claridge invited us to go out with them on the BMMRO research boat. This is equipped with a hydrophonic system that can detect the bleeps, whistles and clicks of cetaceans, and record them for comparison with previous data. This enables particular animals to be identified from their vocalisations. The other method is to note particular features of an animal – damage to a fin, markings on the flank and so on. During the day C & D happily conversed in code: “Is that 132 over there?” “No, it’s got a nick in the fluke, it must be 127…”BMMRO Research Boat, Sandy Point, Abaco

As we returned in the RHIB from an amazing day spent at close quarters with beaked whales [more on these soon], we moved from deep dark blue ocean to sandy turquoise shallows. There, just off Rocky Point (near BMMRO HQ at Sandy Point) were half a dozen bottlenose dolphins, including a mother and calf. This post contains a small batch of photos of adults – there’ll be another post shortly featuring the calf… Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 4Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 1Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 5

Here’s a taster for the next post – the calf, just visible close alongside its mother, was being given leaping practice. Watch this blog…

Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 6

All photos RH. Huge thanks to Charlotte, Diane and Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO for a truly wonderful day (and for my cool sweatshirt!) photo 2

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“PELICAN BRIEF”: BROWN PELICANS AT SANDY POINT, ABACO


Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 12

 “PELICAN BRIEF”: BROWN PELICANS AT SANDY POINT, ABACO

The Brief today is to write about Brown Pelicans at Sandy Point. And to shoehorn in the traditional titular pun somehow (job done!). For those unfamiliar with Abaco, SP is the end of the road. Literally. The island has one highway 120 miles long, mostly straight, from north to nearly south where it curves abruptly west for a while, past the airfield, and when it reaches the ocean at Rocky Point there’s a 90º turn. For a couple of miles, you travel north again into Sandy Point… then stop when you see the sea ahead of you. Dead end. Time to park and explore… 

Abaco Road Map

Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 4

The birding at SP can be very rewarding. Depending on the time of year, you may see ospreys, tropicbirds, heron and egrets of various sorts, kestrels, anis and plenty of shorebirds. The last are found on the narrow beaches and at low tide on the sandbars close to the shore. On the more distant sandbars in Spring, you may see a colony of Magnificent Frigatebirds (or Man-0-War birds), the males with their amazing ‘look-at-me’ bright red throat-balloons (‘gular pouches’) inflated to enhance their wooing prospects. This is exactly the time you’ll realise you haven’t brought your binoculars with you…  Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 9 We’d gone to a (very) informal lunch party at the legendary Nancy’s, but there was activity on the nearby dock that caught my eye. A pair of pelicans were fishing from it, then drying in the sun, then having a little fly around. I only had a rather underwhelming camera with me, so I did what I could in a short time before returning to the matter in hand. Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 8Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 6Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 7 Although I watched the birds diving off the dock a few times, I never actually saw them catch anything. Maybe they had already swallowed some hapless little fish before returning to the dock. I was reminded of a poem by a poet called James Montgomery. Here’s his vivid and perhaps overwrought description of pelican feeding habits: Nimbly they seized and secreted their prey, Alive and wriggling in the elastic net, Which Nature hung beneath their grasping beaks; Till, swoln, with captures, the unwieldy burden Clogg’d their slow flight, as heavily to land, These mighty hunters of the deep return’d. There on the cragged cliffs they perch’d at ease, Gorging their hapless victims one by one; Then full and weary, side by side, they slept, Till evening roused them to the chase again. James Montgomery (4 November 1771 – 30 April 1854): Pelican Island, 1828 (canto IV, l. 141)

Watching the water intentlyBrown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 10

Check out that ‘gular pouch’… Pelicans, like frigatebirds, have them – cormorants too.Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 14

After each sortie a certain amount of shaking down, feather fluffing & general drying-off took placeBrown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 13

Although these pelicans look generally rather clumsy and ponderous both in flight and on land, they are surprisingly quick and agile in the dive. Occasionally, however, the take-off was a bit ragged… Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 16 Usually the male took the tallest post from which to survey the scene, but occasionally the female beat him to a good vantage point.Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 17 I’d never seen pelicans so close-to before. At Delphi they can be seen flying lazily past over the bay, quite high. I’ve seen one in Hope Town, but some distance away. So it was a huge thrill to be able to watch these two birds from the dock itself. You’ll see that the female was ringed (banded), but the male was not. Very soon we’ll be back on Abaco. I’m hoping the pelicans will be at Sandy Point again. And the ospreys. And the Frigatebirds.  And that I’ll have remembered the binoculars. And that the Kaliks at Nancy’s will be ice-cold…  All photos, RH

It’s a poor photo, but it illustrates the huge wingspan compared to body length…Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 15

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

“ABACO’S GOT TALONS”: THE OSPREY


Osprey, Abaco (Jim Todd 2)

“ABACO’S GOT TALONS”: THE OSPREY

The magnificent Osprey Pandion haliaetus is one of the world’s most successful raptors and can be found on every continent except Antarctica.

220px-Pandion_haliaetus_global_range.svg

Osprey, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

On Abaco the Osprey is a permanent breeding resident, and while certainly not an ‘every day bird’, the chances of seeing one are reasonable. They are fairly often seen flying over the bay at Delphi, or out on the Marls. A pair recently nested at Sandy Point close to Nancy’s restaurant.

Ospreys, Abaco (Jim Todd)

There are few more exhilarating sights in the world of birds than an osprey swooping from a great height into the sea, emerging with a large fish held characteristically ‘fore and aft’ in its talons, and flying into the distance with heavy wing-beats. This wonderful close-up by wildlife photographer PHIL LANOUE shows an osprey that has actually managed to grab dinner for two…

osprey-flight-with-two-fish-03

This bird looks as if it is poised to dive onto some hapless fishOsprey in flight (Lake Wylie, S Carolina) - Gareth Rasberry

 10 PANDION POINTS TO PONDER

  • Ospreys are also known as sea hawks, fish hawks or fish eagles. They are almost exclusively fish-eating
  • A mature adult’s wingspan may reach 6 feet
  • They are the only members of their taxonomic family, genus and species
  • Ospreys & owls are the only raptors with reversible outer toes to grasp prey firmly
  • They can carry fish weighing more than 4 lbs
  • They dive into water feet first to grab its prey; their nostrils can close up to keep out water
  • Osprey-watch.org is a global site for mapping osprey nest locations / logging nesting observations
  • A New Jersey group has designed the optimum artificial nest platform, now an accepted standard
  • Ospreys usually mate for life
  • Osprey populations in many areas have been affected by pesticides and by egg trophy-hunters

PUTTING THE ‘PREY’ INTO ‘OSPREY’
Osprey, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)

A utility post makes a perfect perch for a bonefish snackOsprey, Abaco (Woody Bracey)  copy

CHECK OUT THE TALON…Osprey (Danny Sauvageau)

The impressive wingspan of an Abaco ospreyOsprey, Abaco (Craig Nash) copy

An osprey far out on the Marls. I managed to get some distance shots of it despite having a fishing rod in my hand…Osprey - Abaco Marls 1Osprey - Abaco Marls 2Osprey - Abaco Marls 4 Osprey - Abaco Marls 3

Osprey, by John James AudubonOsprey - John James Audubon

The Osprey is a prolific symbol in national, cultural and sporting themes, and has been depicted on Bahamas stamps. And quite right too.

Bahamas Wildlife Stamp Osprey copy

Wm Shakespeare Coriolanus

I think he [Coriolanus] will be to Rome
As is the osprey to the fish, who takes it
By sovereignty of nature… 

Credits: Jim Todd (1, 3), Tom Sheley (2), Phil Lanoue (4), Gareth Rasberry / Wiki (5), Danny Sauvageau (6, 8), Woody Bracey (7), Craig Nash (9), RH (Marls pics) – thanks for all image use permissions