BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES IN ABACO WATERS


Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco (BMMRO)

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES IN ABACO WATERS

It’s hard to believe that the seas around Abaco and its cays are home to a number of whale species, from huge sperm and humpback whales down to so-called dwarf or pygmy species. In the middle of this range come the beaked whales, the most common being the Blainville’s Beaked Whale. I say ‘most common’, but in fact they are rare in the world, being found in only two other main locations on earth. 

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco (BMMRO)

These whales are carefully monitored by the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO), and there is a tagging program to keep track of them. As with dolphins, individuals are identified by markings on the dorsal fin, which vary for each whale. The one above has distinctive scarring at the tip. There are also striations on the body, and conspicuous circular marks that are healed wounds caused by cookie-cutter sharks.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco (BMMRO)

To the untrained eye, there are no noticeable marks on the dorsal fin of the whale above. However, the whale’s back has a prominent pattern of scarring and healed cookie-cutter wounds. The whale below really looks as though it has been in the wars, with long deep healed wounds behind the head.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco (BMMRO)

I can’t tell without seeing the head, but I wonder if it is a male and the scars have been caused in a fight with another male – adult males have prominent tusks with which they do battle. Here is an photo that I took from the research boat on a different occasion. The tusks protrude upwards from the lower jaw, and are often covered in barnacles. They are capable of causing serious injury.

Blainville's Beaked Whale male, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Blainville’s beaked whales are amongst the deepest divers of all whales. But that and other whale topics will have to wait for another day… My computer malware / virus has been removed professionally with no data loss, and I have some catching up to do. Cost in terms of panic and stress: huge. Cost in real terms: $90.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco (BMMRO)

All photos BMMRO except the tusked male, Keith Salvesen

BROKEN NEWS: HOSPITALISED COMPUTER…


Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Craig Nash)

BROKEN NEWS: HOSPITALISED COMPUTER…

My computer has caught a bad virus

Which is decidedly less than desirous.

This bout of malwaria

Could hardly be scarier –

I’d prefer to endure Miley Cyrus…

Normal service will be restored once the gremlins have been professionally terminated

Photos: Craig Nash (contributor to Birds of Abaco)

‘RAISE AWARENESS’: SPOTTED EAGLE RAYS


Spotted Eagle Rays, Abaco, Bahamas (Gabrielle Manni)

Spotted Eagle Rays – Abaco, Bahamas

‘RAISE AWARENESS’: SPOTTED EAGLE RAYS

Mention of rays may conjure up thoughts of the familiar southern stingrays that populate the bright shallows and colourful reefs of the Bahamas. But there are other ray species out there gracefully patrolling the coral reefs – and one of these species is the spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari).

Spotted Eagle Rays, Abaco, Bahamas (Catherine / Tara Pyfrom)

These fish (for that is what they are) are not uncommon. In fact they are found in tropical oceans worldwide (though there is a taxonomic distinction between the Atlantic version and the Pacific / Indo-Pacific ones). Note the concentration in the Caribbean sea.

Spotted Eagle Rays, Grand Bahama, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

Spotted eagle rays obviously have spots, but they are not notably eagle-like to look at. In fact, their snouts resemble a duck’s bill, and in some place they are less glamorously known as the duckbill ray. The ‘eagle’ part relates to the way in which they use their wings and appear to be soaring as they glide effortlessly through the water (see videos below).

Spotted Eagle Rays (Lazlo-photos Wiki)

Despite their global presence, these rays are categorised as ‘near-threatened’ on the IUCN Red List. Aside from vulnerability to predators including many types of shark, the rays may be caught as bycatch. In some areas they suffer entanglement in shark nets. And unsurprisingly there is a trade for them for large commercial aquariums. For the Atlantic species, Florida has taken a lead by banning fishing for, landing, buying or trading in spotted eagle rays. 

Spotted Eagle Rays, Abaco, Bahamas (Gabrielle Manni)

10 ESSENTIAL FACTS ABOUT SPOTTED EAGLE RAYS

  • They have 2 – 6 venomous barbed spines at the base of the tail
  • Adults are among the largest rays, with a 10 ft wingspan
  • They can leap clear of the water, and may do this more than once at a time
  • Occasionally they land in boats, to the consternation of all concerned
  • Their main diet is small fish and crustaceans, & sometimes octopuses
  • Their broad snouts are used to dig food out of the seabed as they forage
  • The rays are basically shy but may be curious of divers & snorkellers
  • They suffer from parasites, both externally and in their gills
  • Ray sex is quite physical, yet actual mating is brief (up to 90 secs…)
  • The female hatches her eggs internally, then her ‘pups’ are born live a year later

SPOTTED EAGLE RAY PUP

                          

Spotted Eagle Ray (John Norton Wiki)

 VIDEO SHOWCASE
These 3 short videos demonstrate the grace and beauty of spotted eagle rays as they glide elegantly around the reefs. The first (50s) was taken off Grand Bahama by Fred Riger (Melinda’s husband, for those who follow the underwater forays hereabouts); then one by Stephen Dickey (2:12) ; and finally one from Wildscreen Arkive (2:00).

WEIRD CREATURE CORNER

I have a lot of time for these cards produced by ‘Weird ‘n’ Wild Creatures’. In their unique style they are simple, educative and often give information nuggets not found elsewhere. The link is to their 4th series, Monsters of the Deep.

 

Photo credits: Gabrielle Manni (1), (5); Catherine & Tara Pyfrom (2); Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (3); Lazlo-photos Wiki (4); Wiki (baby ray thumbnails); John Norton Wiki (6); Jacob Robertson Wiki (7); Weird ‘n’ Wild Creatures – card images. Videos as credited in text.

Spotted Eagle Ray, TCI (Jacob Robertson, Wiki)

LEAST (BUT NOT LAST) SANDPIPERS ON ABACO


Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

LEAST (BUT NOT LAST) SANDPIPERS ON ABACO

There are 23 sandpiper species recorded for Abaco. Of those, 4 or 5 are vanishingly rare vagrants recorded once or twice in recent history (i.e. since about 1950).

Discounting those, the ones you are likely to encounter range from the large  (whimbrel, yellowlegs, dowitchers, stilts) to the small. Or, in the case of the least sandpiper, the least big of all. They are bigly little. Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

The binomial name of the least sandpiper – Calidris minutilla – is an apt clue to their size, the second part being Latin for “very small”. On Abaco, they are fairly common winter visitors, and each season a handful of them make their home on the beach at Delphi, where these photos were taken. Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Along with their small sandpiper compadres such as SANDERLING, these busy, bustling birds of the shoreline are the ones known as “peeps” (also as stints). Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Least Sandpipers breed in the northern tundra areas of North America. Like many or most shorebirds, newly hatched chicks are able to fend for themselves very quickly. It sounds unlikely I know, but within a couple of weeks or so they have fledged. Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

The birds forage on mudflats, in the tideline on beaches, and in wrack. They will probe into soft sand, sometimes the full length of their beak. They will even burrow right under weed to get at the concealed goodies. Their diet consists mainly of small crustaceans, insects, and snails.Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: All photos by Charles Skinner (contributor to “The Birds of Abaco”) except the wrack-burrowers above, by Keith Salvesen (also on the Delphi Beach).

Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

A GREAT EGRET MAKES A SPLASH…


A GREAT EGRET MAKES A SPLASH…

I’m quite a  fan of bird action sequences. Top quality ones, I mean, not the rubbishy ones that I have tried to accomplish with either (a) a camera I understand but is not sophisticated enough for such use; or (b) a more serious camera that I never got the hang of, was secretly a bit ‘overawed by’ (= scared of), and which met a watery end when I was photographing sanderlings on the beach while standing in the sea…

Among the photographers who kindly let me use their images from time to time are a couple who are especially adept with sequential shots. One is Danny Sauvageau, a Floridian who combines great bird photography with a tireless capacity for tracking down banded birds at migration time. Here is his Great Egret catching breakfast.

Credits: All fantastic photos by Danny Sauvageau, with thanks as ever for use permission; cartoon, the very excellent Birdorable

 

AN ‘EXHILARATION’ OF ABACO DOLPHINS


Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

AN ‘EXHILARATION’ OF ABACO DOLPHINS

Bottlenose dolphins! Tursiops truncatus! These engagingly playful show-offs of the inshore waters round Abaco are 99.99% adorable**. It’s been a harrowing few weeks in the western Atlantic, and everyone is hoping that the 2017 hurricane season has had enough of causing death and destruction over vast swathes of vulnerable islands and on the US mainland. Some cheer is needed.

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Dolphins are good for the soul. And if you are out on a boat watching them – and especially tracking them for a whole day – every encounter reinforces the impression that all the leaping, bow-wave riding, boat under-swimming, and general sociability and interaction is often as much for sheer enjoyment as anything else. 

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Abaco is fortunate in having the HQ of the Bahamas Mammals Research Organisation (BMMRO) based at Sandy Point. That just happens to be an excellent area for bottlenose dolphin spotting in the turquoise shallows. Many sightings are made within clear sight of land. Further south, where the bright blue gives way to darker and deeper water, live the equally frolicsome Atlantic spotted dolphins. The 3 photos above were all taken on the margins of where the colour of the sea changes from light to dark.

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

I’m a bit of a collector of collective nouns. For dolphins, apart from the matter-of-fact ‘group’ or ‘pod’, there is no exotic word to describe a number of them when they are having fun. No equivalent of ‘exaltation’ (larks), ‘charm’ (goldfinches) or ‘parliament’ (owls). So I’m nominating an ‘exhilaration’ as a candidate to fill the gap…

The photo above shows clearly how individual dolphins can be identified by researchers. All tend to have scars or tears to their dorsal fins that enable them to be distinguished. The closest has distinctive scars near the tip. The furthest has a W-shaped nick at the back. In fact, it could even be Rocky, a well-known dolphin on Abaco that has been sighted over many years. There are regular reports annually. I saw him myself once, in 2012, playing about in Hopetown harbour. 

STOP PRESS To demonstrate how the ID methods work, I’ve now cross-checked with the BMMRO photo ID archive. Here is Rocky’s original dorsal fin ID image (“Tt15”) from October 2010. There’s a W-shaped nick, sure, but my speculation above was wrong because overall the two fins are clearly different…

Rocky the Dolphin Tt15, from BMMRO ID photo archive

** The 0.01%? Dolphins may, rarely, be alarming for divers in circumstances I won’t repeat here (hint: to do with over-friendliness, ok? Yes, the thing that dogs do)

Credits: all photos BMMRO – and taken in the last 2 months

QUEEN TRIGGERFISH AND GOOD RIDDANCE TO MARIA


Queen Triggerfish Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

QUEEN TRIGGERFISH AND GOOD RIDDANCE TO MARIA

I can think of no sensible connection between the colourful yet undoubtedly strange and grumpy-looking looking queen triggerfish Balistes vetula, and a hurricane. However, Hurricanes Irma and Maria have been rightly dominating the news and everyone’s thoughts for nearly 3 weeks now. And most of the recent posts from Rolling Harbour, for that matter. It’s not been a great time for looking at the birds, beasts and fishes. So, as Maria drifts eastwards and away from the Bahamas into the open ocean, it’s time for a splash of colour – and a fish I have not featured before. 

Hurricane Maria tracking at 11.00 EST on Sept 22

Queen Triggerfish Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Queen Triggerfish Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The queen triggerfish, sometimes known as an Old Wife, is an Atlantic reef fish. This species is sometime fished for as game, and I know that a few have been taken from off the rocks at the south end of Delphi beach over the years – though perhaps not exactly on purpose.

Queen Triggerfish Bahamas (Mark Peter, Wiki)Queen Triggerfish Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

This fish typically is coloured with shades of  blue, purple, turquoise and green with a yellowish throat, with pale blue lines fins on head and fins. It’s minor superpower is to be able to change its coloration to some extent to match its reef surroundings and assist camouflage. Its favourite food is the sea urchin.

Queen Triggerfish Bahamas (Clark Anderson / Aqua-images)

Let’s hope this is the last post to feature anything about hurricanes for a good long time, as we think of all those still struggling to make sense of the terrible destruction they have recently experienced – in some places, twice over.

Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; Mark Peter, Wiki; Clark Anderson / Aqua-images