AMAZING WHALE, DOLPHIN & MANATEE PHOTOS FROM ABACO


Whale Fluke (BMMRO Abaco Bahamas)AMAZING WHALE, DOLPHIN & MANATEE PHOTOS FROM ABACO

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).

RANDY THE WEST INDIAN MANATEE

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

TWO COMPLETE FLUKES (THIS IMAGE & HEADER)

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

SPERM WHALE & DIVER

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

RELATED LINKS:

DOLPHINS

WHALES

MANATEES

DOLPHINS OF ABACO: WONDERFUL PHOTOS FROM THE BMMRO


Dolphin, Abaco - BMMRO

DOLPHINS OF ABACO: WONDERFUL PHOTOS FROM THE BMMRO

The BMMRO (Bahamas Marine Research Organisation) is based at Sandy Point, Abaco. It is dedicated to researching, monitoring, and protecting the marine mammals of a very large area. Not just cetaceans – the dolphins and whales. Recently, a small number of West Indian manatees (sirenians) have been making the northern Bahamas their home. I’ve written plenty about Georgie the adventurous manatee in the past – and in April she returned to her favourite place, Cherokee, after a bit of time away from Abaco.

Recently, photographer Shane Gross spent some time with the BMMRO and took stunning photos of dolphins. It’s impossible to say, or think, anything unpleasant about these lovely, intelligent, playful creatures. Say you ‘don’t much care for dolphins’, and you’d be more than halfway to having a down on kittens. Here are some magnificent images that deserve a wide audience.

Dolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane GrossDolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane GrossDolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane GrossDolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane GrossDolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) - Shane Gross

WHALES & DOLPHINS  PAGE

MANATEES PAGE

BMMRO WEBSITE

BMMRO FACEBOOK

SHANE GROSS PHOTOGRAPHIC

Thanks as ever to Charlotte & Diane at the BMMRO for ongoing use permission of material including the header pic; and to Shane for his outstanding photos

THE CONCH QUEST OF ABACO…


Conch ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba

THE CONCH QUEST OF ABACO…

Conchs are gastropods. They are food. They are decoration (anyway, the shells are). For some, they are a living. And on Abaco they are everywhere – alive in the waters, and as shells scattered on  beaches or piled up outside restaurants. So the quest for conch is an easy one. There are fears of overfishing, however, and an active organisation The Bahamas National Conchservation Campaign exists to protect them. Another similar Bahamas organisation is Community Conch.conchs-at-sandy-point-1 We found a nice half-buried conch shell at Sandy Point. It was full of sand grains and tiny shells – mini gastropods and bivalves – that took some time to wash out of the spiralling internal structure. Here are some studies of the shell. IMG_2438IMG_2442IMG_2444IMG_2445IMG_2448IMG_5279IMG_5278 The damage to the shell above is the place where it has been bashed in to enable removal of the occupant. In order to do so, it is necessary to break the strong vacuum that would prevent extraction if you tried by the conventional route. Effectively the conch anchors itself to its shell and must be cut out. The best way to make the hole is with the spiral tip of another conch. This breaks the suction and enables you to prise out the occupant…

935327_499742893413409_191944192_n                                                               CC_logo2

Finally, you can usually rely on me to go off-piste. So here is a video of how to make a conch horn to annoy your friends and neighbours with…

CAN A PELICAN? THE HELICAN!


A taster for a future post about Brown Pelicans when I have a more reliable internet connection than Abaco’s rather intermittent service… These two birds were taken a few days ago on the jetty at Sandy Point, Abaco. In due course there’ll be more about these astonishing birds, which were plunge-diving off the jetty for fish.Pelican Sandy Point AbacoPelican Sandy Point Abaco 3Pelican Sandy Point Abaco 2

A GREAT BLUE HERON AT SANDY POINT, ABACO


When I get a better internet connection I have some great bird posts planned. Until then it has to be single images on my iph@ne. Here’s one from a couple of days back … NEW! Originally mis-ID – there was some general confusion about that. Thanks, Brigitte on Tilloo for ringing the alarm bell. My bad! Internet has temporarily improved, here’s the full-size rather than iph@ne image, with more to follow soon…Great Blue Heron Close-up, Sandy Point Abaco

3 MONTHS ON ABACO WITH THE BMMRO: AN INTERN’S STORY


BMMRO whale pic

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation LogoClick logo for website

BMMRO Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation Banner

3 MONTHS ON ABACO WITH THE BMMRO: AN INTERN’S STORY

My name is Jack Lucas and I am Marine Biology Student at Plymouth University in the UK. I came to the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation on Abaco in July 2013 for a 3 month internship, which has been an amazing experience from start to finish. Heres a summary of my summer spent at BMMRO.

Sperm Whale Fluking

I arrived at the start of July and was fortunate enough with my timing to be part of an assembled crew of scientists from all over the world coming together to start work on what was to be this summers main project; collecting faecal samples from Blainville’s beaked whales to assess stress hormones produced. This team included Dr Roz Rolland and Dr Scott Kraus from New England Aquarium, who are collaborating with BMMRO for the work, and the samples will be analysed back at their lab in the US. Also along for the ride was Roxy Corbett; a whale observer and field researcher from the US, and Dr Stephanie King; a acoustician from the Sea Mammal Research Unit in Scotland. The first day after arriving it was straight out on the boat to search for these elusive creatures and the beginning of a crash course in how to collect and store the faecal samples when we found them. For the first week the work was a mix of boat work when the weather permitted and practicing poop collection using custom-made fine-mesh nets and coffee grounds (as close to the real thing as we were willing to try!), as well as clearing out BMMRO’s garage and, under the direction of foreman Scott, the construction from scratch of a lab to prepare samples for storage.

An example of the use of coffee grounds to practise whale poop-scoop technique269RH note: NOT Jack’s arms / snappy diving suit…

Unfortunately, despite days of poop collection practice and endless hours searching for the whales at sea, the original poop team never got a chance to employ these by now highly developed skills or to see the lab being used, as the weather was so windy we barely encountered the animals let alone spent long enough with them to collect any samples. 

Despite the lack of beaked whales, we did encounter loads of marine mammals in the first few weeks, from sperm whales to three different species of dolphin; including the little-seen and even less-studied rough-toothed dolphin.

Rough-toothed Dolphin

After discussion with Charlotte and Di about a possible project for me to complete during my stay, it was to be this species that I would focus on and in between the usual office jobs it was my task to sort through the photos from 20 rough toothed encounters in the Bahamas since 1995 and create a catalogue of individuals. This initial task consisted of careful inspection, comparison and sorting of what turned out to be over 5000 photos, into an organised catalogue of 167 separate and distinctive individuals. Despite the hours of endless staring at fins, it was very rewarding as there were 13 resighted individuals found (we were not necessarily expecting any!) which suggests long-term site fidelity and association of these animals, in addition to year round use of the Grand Bahama Canyon. Even more rewarding; the results of this work have recently been submitted for a poster display at an Odontocete workshop in New Zealand this December and I am also writing up the results in a formal scientific paper, with the hopeful goal of publishing a note in a peer-review journal. 

 Scott, Jack, Stephanie and Di in the new lab at Sandy Point

Around a month in I was lucky enough to be sent by Di and Charlotte to Great Harbour Cay on the nearby Berry Islands to work with the manatees there, in particular Georgie; a recently released juvenile whose status is being carefully monitored after her rehabilitation at Atlantis’ Dolphin Cay following health problems. The work here for a week under the guidance of Kendria; a Bahamian contracted by BMMRO to monitor the manatees on the Berry Islands, consisted of tracking Georgie using a satellite tag attached to a belt around her tail. Once located, we logged her position and made any notes on her health and behaviour aswell as the other manatees that were often found with her (there are currently 6 located on Great Harbour Cay). Two days in her tag was found unattached at a locals dock (it has a weak-link incase of entanglement) and we had to locate her using underwater hydrophones to detect her belt. Once found, I had the rare opportunity of entering the water with her in order to re-attach a new tag to her belt; it was amazing and one of the best encounters I have had with any animal! It is impossible not to love these amiable and gentle creatures, especially when you observe their infamous ‘hugs’ in person! 

Georgie the Manatee

For more about Georgie’s re-release in the Berry Is. after her earlier shenanigans on Abaco, see HERE

After returning from the Berry Islands (and incidentally missing the first two poop collections of the season made by Charlotte!) it was back to hunting for the elusive beaked whales around South Abaco. During my time I had the chance to work with several interns coming to BMMRO including local marine-enthusiasts Tristan and AJ, and Courtney Cox from Florida. Oscar Ward from the UK also joined the team as Charlotte left for Scotland to complete her PhD, and was on hand during the poop-collection and other little excursions. In wasn’t until the last month of my time here that we managed to get close enough to the whales for me to get in the water and be towed alongside in the hope of seeing one defecate. One amazing morning two whales surfaced right off the bow of the boat and what resulted was again, one of the most amazing moments; swimming just a couple of feet away from an animal only a handful of people in the world have seen underwater. After nearly two months with no samples, the two weeks that followed were a flurry of boat days, poop-collection and whale watching; with a total of 7 samples collecting from beaked whales (5 in one day!!) and another 3 from sperm whales. This was the best possible end to my time here and I finally got a chance to use the much-practiced poop collection techniques. The samples included a number of squid beaks, and in one very deep dive collection a mass of parasitic worms and a weird cephalopod-type animal! We also got a chance in the last few weeks to test-run a new addition to the fleet, that included a dive compressor.

Ready to collect some poop…

Finally my time in the Bahamas had to come to an end, and I had to return home. The last 3 months has flown by and has been one of the most enjoyable and most importantly educational periods of my life and I cannot thank Di and Charlotte enough for making it all possible. The day-to-day boat runs, office work, equipment maintenance and station chores has given me a good insight into all aspects of field research. It was my first taste of life as a marine mammal scientist, and it has made me even more determined to pursue a career in this field; a perfect stepping stone from which to move forward. In addition my work with BMMRO (and what must of been a brilliant reference from the girls!) made it possible to secure a highly competitive internship in the Farallon Islands this winter tagging elephant seals amongst other work! I cannot wait to continue working in this field and finish writing up the results of my project here, and hope I have the chance to come to Abaco again to work with these amazing people and animals!Sperm Whale supplier of poop BMMRO

BMMRO would like to thank Jack for all his help during the summer, and all our interns for their assistance! To our sponsors, Friends of the Environment, Disney Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives and Rotary of Abaco, we thank you for your continued support.

To read more about the work of Interns on Abaco with the BMMRO at Sandy Point and Friends of the Environment in Marsh Harbour, check out Oscar Ward’s excellent blog SEVENTYPERCENTBLUE. There are articles on Life in the Mangroves, the Bahamas Climate, Whale Poop Collection, and most intriguing how he and co-intern Jack both came very close to being Black Tip  Fodder… real live Chums!

The Author researching underwater creatures

CONCH SHELLS & CONCHUPISCENCE ON ABACO


Conchs at Sandy Point a1

CONCH SHELLS & CONCHUPISCENCE ON ABACO

Most conchs encountered in daily life are lying peacefully on the beach; or are artfully displayed; or are found in conch heaps (often in the vicinity of restaurants) like the ones below at Sandy Point. Conchs at Sandy Point Abaco 2Conchs at Sandy Point Abaco 4

These shells at Sandy Point are so plentiful that they form a small spit of ‘land’ into the seaConch at Sandy Point (Clare)

An attractive display of conch shells in Marsh HarbourConchs Marsh Harbour Abaco

A less formal arrangement along the jetty at Man o’ War Cay (after a storm)Conch Man 'o War Cay jetty Abaco

It’s easy to forget that these shells are more than just a garden adornment, or pretty containers for a ubiquitous Caribbean food. Under the sea, and not very far at that, are living creatures going about their daily lives.Conch ©Melinda Riger @G B ScubaConch ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

And that includes reproducing. This sounds as if it might be a cumbersome process, but (like porcupines) they seem to manage. Here is a pair preparing to mate. The male behind is presumably about to… well never mind. I’ve never seen the process, so it’s a case of using imagination. Or just accepting that, whatever it is that they do, it works. [I haven't located a video online - I'll post one if I do]Conch preparing to mate ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

You’ll find some more about Conchs in a previous post HERE, including 12 Unputdownable Conch Facts, notes on conservation matters and… a photo of Honeychile Rider, arguably the most famous conch-carrier ever. Oh, she was fictional, you say? But I always though she… How very disappointing.

And if you want to know how to clean a conch, a dude will  show you in a video on this page HERE 

Finally, check out the very informative website COMMUNITY CONCH, a charitable conservation organisation community conch logo

Photo credits: Melinda, Clare, RH

MAKING A GOOD IMPRESSION: BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO


MAKING A GOOD IMPRESSION: BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACOBahama Mockingbird, Abaco 1

The Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii is similar to its slightly smaller cousin, the widespread Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottis. The range of Bahama Mockingbirds is slightly wider than the Bahamas themselves, and includes areas of  Cuba, Jamaica and TCI.  It is also a vagrant to the United States, especially southeastern Florida.

Bahama MockingbirdBahama Mockingbird, Abaco 4

The Bahama Mockingbird is browner than the Northern Mockingbird, and has distinctive streaking and spotting to its breast and undercarriage.Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 6

Both species are found on Abaco. The NMs are ubiquitous in towns, settlements, gardens, coppice and pine forest, whereas BMs are shyer and tend to be found in the pine forest and well away from humans and their operations.Bahama Mockingbird 5We took a truck into the pine forest south of Delphi with well-known Abaco birder Woody Bracey and Ohio bird photographer Tom Sheley. They were quick to locate a bird, in part because one was sitting prettily on a branch singing lustily. It was well within range of Tom’s massive lens; more of a struggle for my modest Lumix (as you may detect). I was astounded by the beauty and variety of the song. It consisted of very varied notes and phrases, each repeated 3 or 4 times before moving on to the next sounds in the repertoire. Here is a short 18 second example I recorded, using my unpatented iPhone method, for which see HERE.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 3

For those with interest in birdsong, here is a longer 1:13 minute song from the same bird, with largely different sounds from the first recording made minutes earlier. There’s even a decent stab at imitation of a 1960s Trimphone™. Had we not had to move on to Sandy Point for an appointment with some cattle egrets and American kestrels, I could have stayed listening for far longer.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 2

Finally, the Northern Mockingbird below was photographed in a garden at Casuarina – far tamer and clearly very different from its cousin. The range map  shows the stark contrast with the very limited range of the Bahama Mockingbird.Northern Mockingbird, Abaco 1220px-Northern_Mockingbird-rangemap

ABACO’S RAREST VISITOR: MEET ALBERT ROSS… THE ALBATROSS


ABACO’S RAREST VISITOR: MEET ALBERT ROSS… THE ALBATROSS

I can find no record for the sighting of an albatross in the waters around Abaco. Nor for anywhere else in the Bahamas for that matter. It must have come as some surprise to the BMMRO team out at sea on their research vessel off Sandy Point to see a large and unusual seabird bobbing tranquilly on the water. A black-browed albatross Thalassarche melanophrys. Diane Claridge managed to get a great shot of it and I’m really pleased to be able to use it here.

Black-browed Albatross, Abaco © DC BMMROBlack-browed albatross off Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas. Photographed by Diane Claridge.

© Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation 2013

This bird was way out of the normal range for the species. They are birds of the southern oceans, breeding in colonies on such islands as the Falklands, South Georgia and Macquarie Island. As far as I can make out, they have no business to be north of the equator at all.

Black-browed Albatross Range Map BirdLife Int

SIGHTING A BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS: A REPORT

During a three-hour survey for whales off Sandy Point, Abaco on Sunday, July 21st scientists from the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation had an exceptional sighting. Dr Diane Claridge, the group’s Executive Director recalls details of the sighting:

“We were drifting waiting for a beaked whale to resurface when our intern Tristan Albury pointed towards a white object floating in the distance and asked what it was. We decided that it was a piece of trash, unfortunately a common sighting, and continued to focus our search for the whale. A half hour later, we still had not re-sighted the whale and believed that it may have gone down on one of its one-hour long feeding dives. So with time to kill and the “trash” still in sight, we had another look with binoculars. We realised immediately that it was a very large bird and slowly motored towards it for a closer look. I began taking photographs of it because we already knew it was unusual and we wanted to be sure to identify the species. As we got closer, Roxy Corbett, a visiting scientist and avid birder exclaimed that it was an albatross! I couldn’t believe it. We were able to approach within 100 feet at which point it swam towards us providing an opportunity for us to document its body condition; it appeared healthy with no obvious signs of distress.

Later when back ashore, we compared our photographs with those available online and learned that it was a juvenile Black-browed albatross, an endangered bird with a 7-foot wing span known from subtropical to polar regions of the southern hemisphere! As far as I know this species has never been recorded previously in the tropical North Atlantic. I have seen albatross during whale surveys in Alaska but never dreamed that I’d ever see one in The Bahamas. Although we are thrilled by the rarity of this sighting, the outcome for a bird so far out of its normal range is not usually good. However, there are two Black-browed albatross that strayed into the North Atlantic previously that have taken up long-term residence in Scotland and the Faroe Islands so who knows where this one may end up. Sunday afternoon was indeed exceptional: in addition to this remarkable sighting, we also saw 4 different species of whales and dolphins, all within 5 miles of Sandy Point.”

These are huge strong birds, with a massive wingspan. I wondered what they might sound like – it’s like this… (Credit: Xeno-Canto & recordist Sofia Wasylyk)

For more information on the normal range and status of the Black-browed albatross, the BMMRO recommended links are:

Link to Birdlife International’s site:
http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3959

Link to IUCN’s species red list:
http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/106003959/0

ELEGANT COOT CABARETS (6,6,2,5 anag.): CATTLE EGRETS ON ABACO


“ELEGANT COOT CABARETS” (6,6,2,5 anag.): CATTLE EGRETS ON ABACO

The CATTLE EGRET Bubulcus ibis is a species of heron with an affinity with cattle and other grazing animals. It’s a two-way thing – they relieve a cow of its ticks and flies, and get a ready meal return. Their name is the latin for ‘herdsman’.

Originating in Africa, these birds have proved to be one of the most successful and resilient bird species at expanding their breeding populations around the globe.

Range map – yellow: breeding – green: year-round –  blue: non-breeding                     

The first sightings in North America were in 1941, then assumed to be escapees. Far from it. They flew in and multiplied. By 1953 they were breeding in Florida; in Canada in 1962; and in the Bahamas in the 1960s. Now they are everywhere – though (depending, like, how old you are) your grandparents might never have seen one… Here’s a helpful wiki-graphic 

Range expansion in the Americas

In the breeding season, cattle egrets develop pinkish-buff patches on their front, back and crown, and grow matching head-plumes

Recently we saw one at Sandy Point when photographing kestrels. It’s no longer in full breeding plumage, but traces of a pinkish tinge can still be seen.Cattle Egret Abaco 8The cattle egret’s eyes are positioned so that while they are feeding they have binocular vision. I’m not quite sure why that would be advantageous; you might think they’d prefer one eye on their food, and one on the look out for predatorsCattle Egret Sandy Point Abaco 12

When on the move the egrets may adopt a stooping, creeping stanceCattle Egret Abaco 7

These birds have capacious mouths, which enable them to vary their diet from small maggoty things to larger insects, then through snails to small frogs and the likeCattle Egret Abaco 5

Although the neck generally looks slim, they appear to have an expandable gullet which no doubt helps with larger food itemsCattle Egret Abaco 4

Now. Time to get back to the Crossword…Cattle Egret Abaco 2

BINOCULAR VISIONce_sp1Graphics, breeding plumage & header: redoubtable wiki; other images RH

ADDENDUM The redoubtable dou dou, creator of tiny and cute handmade bird models, has been inspired by these fine creatures to make a handsome pair. Check out her site with the link above… and you can even buy your very own cattle egrets there

cattle-egret-birds

QUIS PHOTOGRAPHIET IPSOS PHOTOGRAPHERES? [INSULA ABACO]


RH vig

QUIS PHOTOGRAPHIET IPSOS PHOTOGRAPHERES? [INSULA ABACO]*

Who indeed does photograph the people who take the photographs? Here is a small gallery of photographers on Abaco caught in the act of shooting wildlife, so to speak. And if anyone has ever seen – or been – a photographer photographing photographers photographing other photographers, trust me, that is one stage beyond weird.

RH on a nature trek with Ricky JohnsonWildlife Photography on Abaco 1

Mrs RH goes right off-piste & ends up on the golf course at TC  [good birding there in fact]Wildlife Photography on Abaco 3

RH (who uses a stick – or ‘cane’, if that isn’t too ’50 shades’) takes a collapsible wading stick on these occasions. Since he, too, is collapsible it is sometimes helpful to have a seat while photographing. Not elegant, though, and not especially comfortable. Cheers, Clare, for capturing the indignity…Wildlife Photography on Abaco 8

Mrs RH zooms in on a possibly rare bird… as it turned out, a female grassquit!Wildlife Photography on Abaco 4

RH sort of looks the part but the backpack is crammed full of food & drink, not equipment, and he is looking for shade for a picnic at CasuarinaWildlife Photography on Abaco 6

PM challenges RH to a ‘camera-off’ duel at Nancy’s, Sandy Point, and proves that his is the biggest…Wildlife Photography on Abaco 7

Ace birder and photographer from Ohio, Tom, arrives at Delphi and puts PM’s puny equipment to shame – and with Camo for extra cool. Even the tripod legs.Wildlife Photography on Abaco 11

Sandy Walker, General Manager of Delphi and man of many parts, turns out to own a snappy NikonWildlife Photography on Abaco 12

PM & RH engaged in a ridiculous challenge to photograph various items on the beach. Both lost, even though they had devised the rules…Wildlife Photography on Abaco 10

The professionals Tom and Woody (‘Birdman of Abaco’) Bracey get serious with Bahama Mockingbirds in the pine forest. The red bandana is to attract the endemic Bahama Woodstar hummingbirds.Wildlife Photography on Abaco 13

However at Sandy Point they seem to have forgotten their cameras…Wildlife Photography on Abaco 14

Tom returning to the truck after filming an evening festival of dozens of nighthawks on the wingWildlife Photography on Abaco 15

Out in the field… or scrubland – with 2 camerasWildlife Photography on Abaco 21

PM takes aim…Wildlife Photography on Abaco 20

RH subdues an unruly Yellow Elder (Bahamas national flower) for a close-upWildlife Photography on Abaco 18

*This titular nod to the phrase ‘quis custodiet ipsos custodes’ (‘who is guarding the guardians’) is open to objection on the ground of illogicality. It’s a Latin tag with a greek-derived verb and noun forms jocularly inserted. A ‘photograph’ is, literally, ‘light writing’ in Greek. So ‘quis lux-scribit ipsos lucis-scriptores’ is the best solution I can offer… Let’s have that Elder flower to end on a light note Yellow Elder Hope Town, Abaco 2

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Photographees: Peter Mantle, Sandy Walker, Tom Sheley, Woody Bracey, Mrs RH, RH

Photographers: Clare Latimer, Brigitte Bowyer, Mrs RH, RH

Photographers of photographers photographing photographers: none that we were aware of

AMERICAN KESTRELS IN SANDY POINT, ABACO, BAHAMAS


 AMERICAN KESTRELS ON ABACO 8

AMERICAN KESTRELS IN SANDY POINT, ABACO, BAHAMAS

American kestrels Falco sparverius are well known birds in the Americas and Caribbean, and I can’t usefully add anything to the photographs below, all taken at Sandy Point, Abaco a few days ago. Well, perhaps just that they are said to “chitter” when they copulate – but they can’t be alone in that, surely… There were several kestrels around the settlement, including juveniles. Mostly they stayed on the utility posts and lines, from which they dropped occasionally to collect some titbit from the ground below. There was a wonderfully rich-coloured male in a palm tree, but he declined to turn round to be photographed, and I have refrained from including his rather magnificent rear view in the gallery below, out of respect for a fine bird of the species.

AMERICAN KESTRELS ON ABACO 8American Kestrel Abaco 5American Kestrel Abaco 1JUVENILEAmerican Kestrel Abaco 2American Kestrel Abaco 4American Kestrel Abaco 3

AMERICAN KESTRELS ON ABACO 7American Kestrel Abaco 6

BAHAMAS CONCH QUEST – GASTROPODS, SHELLS & CONSERVATION


BAHAMAS CONCH QUEST – GASTROPODS, SHELLS & CONSERVATION

Conchs are among the most familiar of all shells. On Abaco they are everywhere: in the sea, on the beach, used ornamentally in gardens, piled up wherever conch is on the menu… (basically, anywhere serving food)

Conchs have other uses besides being a staple food. They provide sought-after pink pearls.  Only about 1 conch in 10,000 has a pearl, so bear in mind that if you miss one during your search, you may have another 10,000 to wade through… Conchs can produce music, of a sort (such as when used enthusiastically by the famous ‘conch-blower’ home-team supporter during cricket Test Matches in the West Indies). They are undeniably decorative on a porch or on a shelf.

Conchs have featured in literature and film. In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies the conch represents power and order. A conch is blown to call meetings of the marooned boys. Its power is symbolised by the rule that you have to be holding it to speak at the meeting (an idea that many – all? – Parliaments could benefit from…)

Ian Fleming mentions conchs in several of the Bond books, all such references being totally eclipsed by the memory of the appearance, in the film Dr No, of Honeychile Rider emerging from the sea, conch in hand. Oh, I see. That’s just men is it? Or (good grief) just me? Anyway, may we all agree amicably that Ursula Andress was a most decorative conch carrier?

CONCH CONSERVATION

The supply of conchs is not infinite. Overfish them, take them before maturity  or pollute their habitat and this valuable marine resource depletes – and conchs, as with so many marine species, will become threatened. Fortunately there is a Bahamas-wide conservation organisation with a website packed with interest. 

COMMUNITY CONCH is “a nonprofit organization that aims to protect queen conchs in the Bahamas, a species of mollusk threatened by aggressive over-fishing. We promote sustainable harvest of queen conch through research, education and community-based conservation”

community conch logo

“Helping to sustain a way of life in the Bahamas”

Much of the research has been carried out in Berry Is, Andros and Exuma Cays. However the team has recently been based at Sandy point, Abaco. To see some of their work on Abaco CLICK LINK===>> ABACO EXPEDITION   

In many past posts I have listed ’10 Essential Facts’ about the topic discussed. In that spirit I have borrowed and slightly edited CC’s conch facts; and added a CC video of a conch’s stately ‘full speed ahead’ progress. NB No zoom… 

12 CONCH FACTS

  • The queen conch is a large edible sea snail native to the coasts of the Caribbean, the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and Bermuda. Conchs are herbivores – they eat algae and other tiny marine plants
  • Main predators include nurse sharks, loggerhead turtles, other snail species, blue crabs, eagle rays, spiny lobsters, and other crustaceans
  • Mating aggregations may contain hundreds or even thousands of individual male and female conchs
  • Female conchs lay hundreds of thousands of tiny eggs in a sandy egg mass. The larvae emerge after 5 days and may drift on ocean currents for a month before settling in suitable habitat on the sea floor
  • In their first year conchs live under the sand during the day & come out to feed on the surface at night
  • A queen conch may take 5 years to reach maturity and can reproduce
  • They live an average of 7 years, but are known to live as long as 20 – 30 years
  • Conchs produce natural pearls that come in a range of hues, including white, brown, orange & pink
  • The conch is listed by CITES as a species which may become threatened with extinction if trade is not tightly controlled
  • It is now illegal to take queen conchs in the state of Florida due to severe overfishing
  • 80% of legal internationally traded conch is consumed in the United States. The smuggling of conch meat into the U.S. is a significant challenge to conch management in The Bahamas
  • Queen conch are vulnerable to overfishing because they are (1) relatively slow to grow (2) late to mature (3) aggregate to mate (4) easily harvested in shallow waters

A SPEEDY CONCH

(Conch photos taken by RH / Mrs RH at Sandy Point, Abaco)

BMMRO BAHAMAS FISHERIES REPORT 2011 EXTRACTS & LINK


The BMMRO has recently published its Fisheries Report for 2011. The report is comprehensive and covers a far larger area than the waters around Abaco. Extracts are shown below (thanks as alway to Charlotte Dunn for use permission). The full report can be seen in pdf form at BMMRO FISHERIES REPORT

1. First, here is the table of all field data for the 2011 season, from which the incidence of the particular cetacean types can easily be seen. To a layman (me), the most significant reading on the previous year is the increase in sperm whale sightings and animal numbers, up from 14 / 69 in 2010 to 38 / 148 in 2011. I wonder why the difference?

2.  Here are results specifically relating to South Abaco, where the majority of cetacean activity is observed (see ‘green’ map). I have included a larger image of the cetacean species so that the key is easier to read

‘CONCH CENTRAL’ AT SANDY POINT, ABACO, BAHAMAS


‘CONCH CENTRAL’ AT SANDY POINT, ABACO

The serious conch action in Sandy Point is to be found at the jetty. I learned a simple beginner’s lesson on our first visit to Abaco. If you choose a large gorgeous-hued conch from the huge pile in the 4th photo to take back home, it will quickly start to smell dodgy, followed by evil… until you clean it properly!

BMMRO WHALE, DOLPHIN & MANATEE SIGHTINGS / WINTER REPORT


BMMRO WHALE, DOLPHIN & MANATEE SIGHTINGS AND WINTER REPORT DECEMBER 2011

This was an interesting month. For a start, a humpback whale was reported off Elbow Cay, and a sperm whale further out to sea to the east. There were several cetacean reports between Sandy Point and Hole-in-the-Wall. Perhaps best of all, West Indian manatees – mother and calf – were reported in the area at the end of December, just off the Berry Islands – photo below, and further details in the BMMRO Winter Newsletter via the blue link.

THE WINTER NEWSLETTER contains much of cetacean interest, as always. It features articles on the effects of climate change of the declining Sea of Abaco bottlenose dolphin population; manatees in the Bahamas; ‘Life after Death’ – the importance of whale carcasses on the deep sea eco-system; sonic body-length measurement of sperm whales; the false killer whale stranding on Guana Cay (see POST); educational news update; and much more besides

BMMRO NEWSLETTER WINTER 2011/12

Courtesy of NAHRVALUR and her excellent wildlife blog, here is a cute view of a manatee in a Florida Reserve, where a webcam has been installed 

Manatees (family Trichechidae, genus Trichechus) are large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals sometimes known as sea cows. There are three accepted living species of Trichechidae, representing three of the four living species in the order Sirenia: the Amazonian manatee (Trichechus inunguis), the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), and the West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis). They measure up to 13 feet (4.0 m) long, weigh as much as 1,300 pounds (590 kg), and have paddle-like flippers. The name manatí comes from the Taíno, a pre-Columbian people of the Caribbean, meaning “breast”
I’ll write a separate post about these creatures later, and cross-refer from here. rh
NOW CLICK LINK===>>>       MANATEES: THE FACTS

SOUTH ABACO CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT 2011


Here is a clip taken from the excellent website THE ABACO SCIENTIST, with the kind permission of Dr Craig Layman of FIU. The brief summary of the South Abaco Bird Count 2011 by Elwood D. Bracey is of great interest, not least for the Delphi Club, from where guided Nature Tours take place and where there is a lot of enthusiasm for the birdlife of the island. 75 separate species were recorded this year, including all the known Abaconian endemics.

It is also a very fine photo of a male Bahama Woodstar courtesy of BIRD FORUM

ABACO: BMMRO WHALE & DOLPHIN SIGHTINGS NOV 2011 & A ‘FALSE KILLER WHALE’ STRANDING


ABACO DOLPHIN & WHALE SIGHTINGS NOVEMBER 2011              ‘VERY DIFFERENT FROM OCTOBER’

October was a good month for bottlenose dolphins, with sightings both north and south of Marsh harbour –  however, no reported whales off Abaco at all. In complete contrast, in November no bottlenose dolphins were reported, nor any other cetaceans on the east side of Abaco. Instead, the observed activity was all around Sandy Point, with sperm whales in particular returning to the area. Increased sightings off Andros were also reported

                  STRANDED FALSE KILLER WHALE

Charlotte Dunn also reports that on December 2nd 2011, BMMRO was alerted that a whale had live-stranded on Guana Cay. After attempts to re-float it, it was seen heading north past Dolphin Beach. The animal had numerous lacerations and fresh scars, and appeared “very weak with labored breathing”The whale was later found beached at No Name Cay (north of Green Turtle Cay). At that time it was reportedly “still alive but just barely”. Unsuccessful attempts were made to get the animal back in the water.  Sadly, by evening it was dead. Photo ID confirmed it to be a FALSE KILLER WHALE Pseudorca 

 

For the full report on the BMMRO Facebook page CLICK STRANDED WHALE 

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ABACO BEACHCOMBING: TWO CONCH SHELL SKELETONS


ABACO SHELL SKELETONS

Besides ‘living shells’ with occupants in residence and shiny recently-vacated shells, there is a third category of shell: the skeleton. I am sure there’s a better or more technical word for these. They aren’t fossils in the strict sense of remnants from a past geological age, but merely worn by the waves and bleached by the sun over time. Here are two examples (from different beaches) which show the intricacy of the part of the shell you don’t normally see: the interior

A shell skeleton from Little Harbour, in situ on the beach on a cloudy day

The same shell washed, with a wonderful pink tinge in sunlight

A strange corkscrew skeleton shell from Sandy Point. I’ve no idea what it is, nor how any creature can have lived in or around it, nor what it must have looked like when complete. Any ideas? Please use the comment box… Thanks, Kasia, for your ID of both as conch skeletons. The first obviously is, but the second puzzled me… until she pointed out that conchs build their own shells round themselves to their own designs rather than go to the one-stop conch shell shop. So if a conch starts wrapping itself comfortably round its own corkscrew, this is what you get

(Mrs rh quite rightly points out that my shell photos are unhelpful without a ruler to give an idea of size. Point taken. Too late. These are medium size…)

WHALES & DOLPHINS ABACO: BMMRO BLOG – the Irene effects


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Charlotte Dunn has posted a report of events at Sandy Point in August on the BBMRO site. Her account includes photos of Hurricane Irene as it passed over Sandy Point, and of some of the damage in the aftermath 

For the direct link to Charlotte’s  blog  CLICK DOLPHIN ===>>> 

Hurricane Irene on its way towards Abaco, directly in its path …Image credit BMMRO