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

GEORGIE THE ABACO MANATEE – CHEROKEE’S SIRENIAN VISITOR STAYS ON…


GEORGIE THE ABACO MANATEE – CHEROKEE’S SIRENIAN VISITOR  STAYS ON…

There must be something special about Cherokee on Abaco. Georgie the Manatee, having travelled over from the Berry Is. early last month, spent 4 weeks or so on the move. She was tracked on the west side of Abaco in the Marls, moving north and rounding Little Abaco, then travelling south visiting various Cays along the way, ending up in Hope Town harbour. After a few days she moved across from Elbow Cay to the Little Harbour area, before settling down in Cherokee. That was nearly 3 weeks ago. She’s still there, by far the longest she has stayed in one place

Maybe the sea grass is especially good there. Or maybe she has found a tasty freshwater spring. Or it could be that she is enjoying the company there, and the welcome from the community – though she of course has been a very popular visitor in all her ports of call. Whatever the reason, she seems to be happy and in good health. Kendria Ferguson (BMMRO) has just sent me 3 photos from her visit to Cherokee today. Georgie has managed to shed her tag – again – but since everyone knows where she is, it doesn’t matter for now…

The image below is also posted on the BMMRO’s FACEBOOK PAGE and maybe gives a clue to why Georgie is so content – calm, friendly interest and attention. The next one is of a young boy inspecting Georgie, also in Cherokee. Equally peaceful.

Let’s compare and contrast those serene pictures with another taken recently – the woman below who was detained in Florida for her ‘manatee riding’ antics…

WEST INDIAN MANATEES: GOOD NEWS FROM BMMRO, BAHAMAS


GEORGIE THE MANATEE IS WEANED

It’s good to look beyond the immediate area of Abaco and the Cays when the occasion calls for it – for example, more good news about the BMMRO’s painstaking research and careful protective monitoring of the very small West Indian Manatee population in the Bahamas. I’ve written before about these gentle, unhurried, curious creatures and their vulnerability – particularly to man’s usage of their natural habitat CLICK ===>>> MANATEES 

Kendria Ferguson’s story below shows just one aspect of the BMMRO’s commitment to the conservation of the cetaceans and sirenians in the seas around Abaco and beyond. The Manatees have excited the interest of the whole local community including the schoolchildren. If you have ever been moved by the sight of dolphins in Marsh Harbour or whales further out to sea, you can be sure someone is keeping an eye on their well-being. You might even be moved to help this important conservation work, in which case CLICK ===>>> HERE

KENDRIA’S REPORT

Adult female manatees are considered sexually mature at 6-10 years of age and have a gestation period that lasts up to 13 months. The first two years of a calf’s life is spent with its mother. During this time they are taught where to find food, fresh water, warmth and shelter. Generally, after two years the calf separates from its mother. This separation is known as ‘weaning’.

On the 14th of June 2012 Argos satellite locations received from both Rita and Georgie’s satellite tags indicated that they were no longer traveling together. Georgie had been weaned. Georgie was born on the 25th June 2010, therefore Georgie was now old enough to survive on her own in the wild

Georgie fitted with a paddle belt around the base of her tail. A flexible nylon tether is then attached to this belt with the satellite tag, which floats when it’s near the surface.Photo provided by Jim Reid-USGS Sirenia Project

After tracking Rita and Georgie for the last three months, it was hard to fathom a two year old being old enough to take on the world. But like they say – mothers know best!

Rita and Georgie fitted with satellite tags

Rita and Georgie were released in Great Harbour Cay (GHC) on April 19th of this year. They travelled to Nassau during Hurricane Irene (late August 2011) from Spanish Wells, Eleuthera and ended up in Nassau harbour. Concerned for their safety, The Department of Marine Resources gave Atlantis-Dolphin Cay permission to capture the animals and house them until a decision was made as to their release. After spending over twenty-five weeks in captivity, scientists feared that Georgie would be weaned before she was returned to the wild and given the opportunity to learn how to survive in her natural habitat. The mother-calf pair was transported to The Berry Islands on April 19th, where they were released and fitted with VHF data log satellite tags.

A map showing areas visited by Georgie pre-weaning and post-weaning

There are four resident West Indian Manatees (Trichechus manatus) residing in Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands. Notably, an adult female, “Gina” (known previously from Florida), has been residing in Great Harbour Cay since 1999. Since then she reportedly has had 3-4 calves and is currently accompanied by her female calf, JJ, which was born in the late winter of 2011.

Within Rita’s and Georgie’s first week of being released they travelled over 50 miles around the east coast of GHC to as far south as Ambergris Cays and back into the harbour where they were released. During the winter months, Floridian West Indian Manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris) travel vast distances in search of warm waters. So it isn’t uncommon for these agile species to explore the shallow waters in which they inhabit.

Georgie is now re-visiting important habitat areas she visited in the past with her mother. Since their separation in June, Rita and Georgie have been seen together in the harbour by the local community.

Scientists will continue to monitor Georgie’s movement patterns around The Berry Islands throughout the hurricane and winter seasons. This data will assist us in developing a management plan for manatees in The Bahamas.

Story written by Kendria Ferguson, BMMRO’s resident manatee expert

WEST INDIAN MANATEES AND THE BAHAMAS: THE FACTS


WEST INDIAN MANATEES IN THE BAHAMAS

The appearance of a mother and calf manatee off the Berry Islands in December 2011 – see BMMRO SIGHTINGS post – led me to investigate these creatures a bit more. I added some more info and a couple of photos to that post, but really they deserve a post in their own right. So, with a wave of a flipper in the direction of Wiki and other open sources,  here’s some more about these most strange-looking mammals, just in case you ever happen to come across one…

I will expand the post when I have read the latest “What Manatee?”, “Total Manatee” and “Manatee Monthly” magazines 

MANATEES Trichechidae “Large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals. There are three accepted living species of Trichechidae, representing three of the four living species in the order Sirenia. The name manatí comes from the Taíno, a pre-Columbian people of the Caribbean, meaning breast” 

10 MEMORABLE MORSELS OF MANATEE MINUTIAE

The 4 species of Sirenia are the West Indian, Amazonian and West African manatee; and the Asian / Pacific dugong. Fossil remains of Florida manatees date back 45 million years; their closest living relative is the elephant

Manatees are also known as Sea Cows. Some say sailors who’d been at sea for too long took them to be mermaids, a mistake I doubt they made twice…

They can weigh up to 1,300 lb and measure up to 13 feet. Females are larger than males. Baby manatees may weigh 65 lb. Adult intestines can reach 45 meters which would take Usain Bolt 4.31 seconds to run past (if straightened out, obviously)

Accurate population estimates seem to be impossible to obtain, varying by season and by year for no apparent reason. Overall,  the picture is of a declining population, with extinction likely without further protection (see below for the THREATS to the species)

West Indian Manatees can move freely between extremes of salinity, and may be found in warm shallow coastal waters, in estuaries, or migrated into rivers to freshwater springs (as in Florida). They cannot survive below 15°C (60°F). They have a propensity to hang around the warm-water outflows of power stations

Manatees have some intelligence and demonstrate discrimination and task-learning similar to dolphins.Their eyelids close “in a circular manner”, though I can’t quite picture this. They have only 6 teeth in each jaw, which are replaced throughout their lives

They breed every other year. Gestation lasts 12 months, and it takes a further 12 to 18 months to wean the calf. A single calf is born. Apart from mothers with a calf or males showing off to females, manatees tend to be solitary creatures

They are herbivores, eating many plant species, such as mangrove leaves, turtle grass, and types of algae. An adult manatee can eat up to 10% of its body weight per day. They have been known to eat small amounts of fish from nets

Half a manatee’s day is spent sleeping in the water. The rest of the time they graze in shallow waters. They swim at 3 to 5 mph, faster in short bursts. They may live up to 60 years (surprisingly, given their punishing daily schedule)

The oldest manatee in captivity is Snooty, at the South Florida Museum. He was born at the Miami Seaquarium on July 21, 1948 and came to the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, Florida in 1949

   PREDATION, THREATS AND CONSERVATION – A SUMMARY       The manatee is yet another creature whose worst enemy is mankind. The generalisations below apply to the West Indian manatee – elsewhere there may be different problems

Natural predators Manatees have few natural predators except, occasionally, sharks and crocodiles. Predation is not a significant survival threat. The main causes of death are human-related, such as habitat destruction and human marine objects; and natural causes such as low water temperature and disease

Hunting Historically, manatees were hunted for meat. They were easy to tempt to a canoe and then stun with a pole. Manatee hides were used – and traded – for canoes and shoes; their bones were used for ‘medicine’. Museums used to pay for hides or bones. Hunting was banned in 1893, though some poaching still occurs

                    Manatee Group                                                        Young Manatee                            

 Ship-strike Manatees move slowly and are curious… Coastal development has led to many violent collisions with propeller-driven boats and ships, causing maiming, disfigurement, and death. Manatees are cut in half by large vessels like ships and tugs. Many others have propeller scars and they can often be identified by their scar patterns –  some bear 50 scars and disfigurements from vessel strikes. Breeding ability may be affected. Infected injuries can prove fatal. Internal injuries also come from being trapped between hulls and docks. Studies of the attrition rate from “boat mortality” alone is causing much concern for the survival of the species. In 2009, of 429 Florida manatees recorded dead, 97 (23%) were killed by commercial and recreational vessels

Red tide Another cause of manatee deaths is “red tide”, blooms of the microscopic marine algae Karenia Brevis.  This produces toxins that affect the central nervous systems of sea creatures. In 1996 an outbreak off the Florida coast killed 151 manatees

Other threats (1) Fishing gear: hooks, metal weights, and especially  mono-filament line clogging a manatee’s digestive system; entanglement in fishing lines (2) water-control structures such as navigation locks and floodgates (3) drowning in pipes and culverts (4) bizarrely, there have been numerous reports people, when allowed to swim with manatees in Florida, harassing them

CONSERVATION All three species of manatee are listed by the World Conservation Union as vulnerable to extinction. It is illegal under US federal and Florida law to injure or harm a manatee. They are classified as endangered by both the US state and the federal governments. Some vessels are now adapted to help prevent harm to manatees where they operate

Florida Sea Park Manatee

For news of forthcoming BMMRO research into the apparent recovery in the population of manatees in the Bahamas CLICK HERE

Finally, here’s the link to a website that contains more manatee information and images. You can join, adopt a manatee, donate or buy stuff. Who wouldn’t want a T-shirt – or a ‘ManaT-shirt’, even – adorned with a picture of the lady above? CLICK LINK===>>> SAVE THE MANATEE CLUB