HAWKSBILL TURTLES: A RARE FIND & SWIMMING WITH ANGELS


Hawksbill turtle (juv), West End Grand Bahama

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: A RARE FIND & SWIMMING WITH ANGELS

There is something unusual about this juvenile hawksbill turtle peacefully noodling round some impressive elkhorn coral with the grunts and sergeant majors. He’s a rarity. He was found at West End, Grand Bahama (just 67 miles swim from West Palm Beach Fl.), a place where hawksbills are very scarce. Loggerheads, they have. And there are plenty of hawksbills elsewhere in Grand Bahama waters. But not at the western tip. So finding this little guy and getting some good photos was a particular pleasure for Linda Cooper. And maybe the presence of a juvenile is a sign that hawksbills may begin to populate the reefs of West End, as perhaps they did historically.Hawksbill turtle (juv), West End Grand Bahama

Linda and her husband Keith run West End Ecology Tours. They have a comprehensive website HERE and a Facebook page HERE. Check it out to see how much there is to explore at West End. The birds, the corals and reef life, the starfish – and a speciality, swimming with rays. To which can now be added the chance of seeing a hawksbill turtle…Hawksbill turtle (juv), West End Grand Bahama

A DOZEN HAWKSBILL FACTS TO CHEW OVER

  • All sea turtles are classed as reptiles (something that always surprises me, somehow)
  • The top shell (carapace) consists of scales that overlap like roof shingles
  • The yellowish bottom shell is called the plastron
  • Adult hawksbills weigh around 100 pounds
  • Sea turtles sleep at night, and can stay underwater for a hours without breathing
  • Hawksbills are omnivorous, eating algae and seagrass but also sponges, urchins and small fish
  • Females lay about 100 eggs like ping-pong balls, and then at once return to the sea for good
  • The sex of baby turtles is determined by relative nest warmth – females from the top eggs
  • Baby turtles hatch almost simultaneously: all must work to dig their way out.
  • They tend to hatch at night and head straight for the sea’s phosphorescence…
  • …except that artificial lights confuse them & lead them away from the sea to likely death
  • Threats: predation, coastal development & habitat destruction, pollution, & illegal collection

SWIMMING WITH ANGELS

As I was writing this, another fact about hawksbills popped into my head. I checked through my archive – mainly Melinda Riger’s wonderful shots from elsewhere on GB – and yes, it is true. There seems to be some sort of symbiotic relationship between the turtles and angelfish. They are often found feeding together. A bit of research confirms this general observation, without giving a clear cause for it. Maybe it is simply that they eat some of the same food; and that there is plenty of it on healthy reefs so there is no cause for aggression on either side. It’s fine for a hawksbill to share with an angel.

10245Green Turtle, Gray Angelfish ©Melinda Riger @GB Scuba copyTurtle with Gray Angelfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyHawksbill Turtles, French Angelfish eat sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copyHawksbill Turtle eats sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

NOTE The Hawksbill is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN red list of Threatened species as its populations have declined dramatically throughout the world and especially in the Caribbean region. It is listed in Appendix I of the Convention on the InternatIonal Trade of Endangered SpecIes (CITES) meaning that Hawksbills are near extinction or very endangered. All marine turtles are now protected under Bahamian law, as is the taking of eggs.

Credits: West End Ecology Tours / Linda & Keith Cooper (photos 1, 2, 3); Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba, all other images; BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST  for their very useful fact-sheet (one of many) which I have adopted and adapted; Aquoflite for the vid.

THE BAHAMAS: A STAMPING GROUND FOR DOLPHINS


Dolphin leaping, Abaco (BMMRO)

THE BAHAMAS: A STAMPING GROUND FOR DOLPHINS

I have commented before on the excellent wildlife stamps produced by the Bahamas Philatelic Bureau, and there is a fairly comprehensive page featuring many of the special issues HERE. Recently, dolphins were treated to their own set of stamps, in conjunction with the BMMRO (Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation).  Four dolphin species are showcased, with a fifth species (Risso’s Dolphin) shown on the commemorative Official First Day Cover (replete with the BMMRO logo). The release date was 31 March 2016.

Bahamas Dolphin Stamps 2016

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The stamps are available as sets of 4 or of course individually. In a newsletter earlier this year, the BMMRO included some fascinating information about their valuable work – in particular with whales – and about the individual dolphin species featured in this very special philatelic issue. This was also published by the stamp producers, Pobjoy Mint Stamp Division.

BMMRO is a Bahamian non-profit organisation whose mission is to promote the conservation of marine mammals in The Bahamas through scientific research and educational outreach. Since 1991, BMMRO has been conducting small vessel surveys primarily around Abaco Island to document the occurrence, distribution and abundance of marine mammals in The Bahamas.

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BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS Tursiops truncatus

These are the most common marine mammals seen on the Bahama banks. It should be noted, however, that there are at least two distinct “breeding populations” or “ecotypes” of this species: coastal bottlenose dolphins that inhabit the shallow waters of the banks; and oceanic bottlenose dolphins found in pelagic waters. These populations diverged genetically several hundred thousand years ago and have since developed different physiological adaptations to their respective marine environments. The coastal ecotype is smaller in length reaching just over 8 feet and has a relatively larger dorsal fin and pectoral fins which helps them to maneuver more readily around rocks and reefs to catch fish, and to regulate their internal body temperature (the temperature of the shallow Bank waters fluctuates much more than the deeper Atlantic Ocean). The coastal dolphins do not travel much beyond the bank edge and live in small resident communities. The deeper diving oceanic ecotype can reach 10 feet or more in length, are usually seen in larger groups and appear to have a more extensive range with movements documented between Abaco, Bimini and Exuma Sound.

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ATLANTIC SPOTTED DOLPHINS Stenella frontalis

These dolphins are not born with spots, but actually accumulate them as they mature, becoming quite mottled-looking as adults. Hence, young spotted dolphins are often confused with bottlenose dolphins, and sometimes the two species will interact, which adds to the confusion. Although they can reach almost the same length as bottlenose dolphins, they have a smaller girth and thus body weight. Atlantic spotted dolphins are a year-round resident species in The Bahamas. Individuals photo-identified 20 years ago in Abaco can still be seen in the same areas today. They are commonly seen in groups of 20-50 dolphins in the oceanic waters where they feed on flying fish and squid, and rarely venture on to the bank. However, along the western edges of Little and Great Bahama Banks this species can regularly be found on the bank during the daytime where they come to rest and socialise.

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PANTROPICAL SPOTTED DOLPHINS Stenella attenuata

This species is more slender in body shape than Atlantic spotted dolphins, and also have a distinctive dark dorsal cape, which sweeps from their rostrum to behind their dorsal fin. Like Atlantic spotted dolphins, they accumulate their spots with age, which allows researchers to readily document age-classes within groups. This species is strictly oceanic in its distribution. Pantropical spotted dolphins are not as frequently sighted as Atlantic spotted dolphins in The Bahamas. They occur in groups of 50-100 dolphins and are often seen engaging in acrobatics, such as making high leaps out of the water, and bow-riding.

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ROUGH-TOOTHED DOLPHINS Steno bredanensis

These dolphins are dark grey in colour with a long beak and prominent white lips. Their lower jaw and belly can sometimes be a pinkish colour. They reach just over 8 feet in length. They are an oceanic species and although appear to be rare in some parts of The Bahamas, can be regularly seen in the Tongue of the Ocean where they occur year round. Some individuals have been re-sighted in this area over the past ten years. They are typically found in groups of about 20 animals, but are sometimes in larger mixed-species aggregations of several hundred dolphins.

Risso's Dolphin - BMMRONot on a stamp but shown on the First Day Cover

RISSO’S DOLPHIN Grampus griseus

These are large light grey dolphins that can reach over 13 feet in length, and have a relatively tall, dark dorsal fin. Adults are typically covered with overlapping white scars caused by the teeth of their con-specifics making them look quite battered. They have a rounded head, lacking a beak, but have a deep vertical crease down the center of the forehead. As they mature, their forehead becomes prominently white, and as such they are one of the easiest species to recognize at sea. Risso’s dolphins are commonly seen in oceanic waters in the northern Bahamas each winter and spring, primarily on the Atlantic side of the islands. It is unknown where these groups range the rest of the year, but some individuals have been seen off Abaco repeatedly over the years.

RELATED POSTS

BAHAMAS WILDLIFE STAMPS PAGE

PHILATELY WILL GET YOU…

ABACO BIRD STAMPS

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

Credits: BMMRO for relevant text & images except last (RH), Pobjoy Mint, Bahamas Philatelic Bureau

CONCH QUEST: ABACO’S MOST VERSATILE GASTROPOD


Conch Shells, Sandy Point, Abaco

CONCH QUEST: ABACO’S MOST VERSATILE GASTROPOD

The conch. Such a fascinating gastropod, and with so many uses both culinary and decorative. In certain cultures, religiously significant. A rudimentary musical instrument for a shell.  And did I mention delicious? 

Live conchs enjoy motoring around uninhibitedly on the sea floor, keeping an eye out…Conch on the move ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy Conch Man-o-War Cay, Abaco (Charmaine Albury) copy Conch in shell ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Conchs also enjoy racing each other…Conch race ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

“Eat my dust…”Conch Trail ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Conch Pearl – one of the rarest natural pearls in the worldConch Pearl (Ambergris Caye Beize)

A conch spiral close-up

Conch close-up, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

Conch shells just lie around the place at Sandy PointConch Shells, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 2Conch Shells, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 3

Conchs are widely used for serving cocktails or as ashtrays in the best beach bars*Conch Shells, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 1

*This is a lie. Sorry about that. I meant to say “make prefect table decorations”

Image credits: Keith Salvesen / RH (1, 9, 10 ,11); Melinda Riger / GB Scuba (2, 4, 5, 6); Charmaine Albury (3); AmbergrisCaye.com (7); Rhonda Pearce (8) 

WHALE-WATCHING: THE APPLIANCE OF SCIENCE


Blainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 14 (Keith Salvesen

WHALE-WATCHING: THE APPLIANCE OF SCIENCE

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation has just celebrated its 25th year of existence. It was formed in 1991. The omnivorous leviathan Amazonus giganticus emerged in 1994 and the invasive species Megacorpus googleii not until 1998. A full 10 years later the first garbled recordings of Sarahpalinus illogicus were made. And all the while, a watchful eye was being kept on the cetaceans of the Bahamas – researching, counting, measuring, identifying, recording, poop-scooping, analysing samples, tagging, comparing, protecting and conserving. 

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 20 (Keith Salvesen

As the years passed, so the science and technology evolved and became more sophisticated. Researching became at the same time easier, yet more complex as the organisation’s remit expanded to accommodate the vast increase in data collection now made possible by refined techniques. Here are two very recent examples – 25th anniversary projects, in fact – with thanks to Charlotte, Diane, their team and their colleagues in linked organisations.

TAGGING BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES

Last month, a tagging project started, involving suction cups being attached to the backs of BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES. The purpose of the research is to compare the foraging efficiency of the whales in Abaco waters with those of Andros, the second part of the project. I imagine this will provide valuable insights into the whale movements and behaviours in each location as well as such issues as the comparative availability of the food supply, and other factors that may affect expected foraging patterns. 

The tag is moved towards an adult male. Note the aerial (antenna?) at the back of itTagging a Blainville's beaked whale with a suction cup 1

Planting the tag on the whale’s backTagging a Blainville's beaked whale with a suction cup 2

Successful suction!Tagging a Blainville's beaked whale with a suction cup 3

The tag in placeTagging a Blainville's beaked whale with a suction cup 4

The tag is tracked for 18 hours, after which it is retrieved and the recordings can then be analysed back at BMMRO HQ in Sandy Point. So far, an adult male, a young male and two adult females have been tagged. Each female had a calf, but these were not tagged.

Female beaked whale with her calfBlainville's beaked whale female and calf

AERIAL PHOTOGRAMMETRY USING A HEXACOPTER

Drone technology is rapidly expanding as new uses for them are devised. BMMRO in conjunction with NOAA have used a sophisticated HEXACOPTER to take the first  PHOTOGRAMMETRY images of Blainville’s beaked whales. These aerial photographs were taken from approximately 100ft altitude. But note: not just anyone with a $50 drone can do this: the project required flight clearance from the Bahamas Department of Civil Aviation and a permit for research on marine mammals granted by the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources.

 Blainville’s beaked whale photogrammetry image – adult male (note ‘erupted’ teeth) Blainville's beaked whale photogrammetry image - adult male (note 'erupted' teeth) BMMRO

 Blainville’s beaked whale photogrammetry image – female and calf Blainville's beaked whale photogrammetry image - female and calf BMMRO

STOP PRESS Two additional images from the latest batch Blainville's beaked whales photogrammetry image - BMMRO  Blainville's beaked whales photogrammetry image - BMMRO

Photogrammetry: the science of making measurements from photographs. Applications include satellite tracking of the relative positioning and alterations in all Earth environments (e.g. tectonic motions etc), research on the swimming of fish, of bird or insect flight, and other relative motion processes. The results are used to guide and match the results of computational models of the natural systems. They help to invalidate or confirm new theories, to design novel vehicles or new methods for predicting or/and controlling the consequences of earthquakes, tsunamis etc, or to understand the flow of fluids next to solid structures, and many other processes. (Wiki-précis)

Hexacopter (6 rotors)Hexacopter_Multicopter_DJI-S800_on-air_credit_Alexander_Glinz

Tag Team: BMMRO, University of St Andrews (Scotland), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Hexacopter: BMMRO, NOAA

Photo Credits: top two, moi (from BMMRO research vessel); remainder except for last, BMMRO; last, Wiki

WORLD OCEANS DAY 2016: “STASH THE TRASH”


View from a Skiff, the Marls, Abaco, Bahamas

WORLD OCEANS DAY 2016: “STASH THE TRASH”

Today the NOAA and other worldwide ocean guardian organisations are celebrating World Oceans Day. Looking at the websites and FB pages, one message is clear: People Are Rubbish. To put it another way, the global pollution of the oceans is caused solely by humans. The pristine seas and beaches of the world were unsullied until, say, the last 200 years. In 4 or 5 generations, all that has changed irreversibly.

Leave only Footprints - Delphi Beach, Abaco

My rather (= very) negative intro is counterbalanced by some more positive news: there are plenty of good guys out there working hard to make a difference to the rising tide of filth polluting the oceans. Clearing seas and beaches of plastic and other debris. Collecting tons and tons of abandoned fishing gear. Rescuing creatures trapped, entangled, injured and engulfed by marine debris and pollutants. Educating adults and – far more importantly – children and young people by actively involving them in their campaigns. Conducting research programmes. Lobbying and protesting. And a lot more besides.

A marine garbage patch: the sea creatures’ view (NOAA)Marine Garbage Patch from below (NOAA)

Abandoned fishing gear: a monk seal that was lucky; and a turtle that wasn’t (NOAA)Monk Seal in discarded fishing nets (NOAA)Sea turtle trapped in abandoned fishing gear (NOAA)

Four shearwaters killed by a cone trap. A fifth was rescued (NOAA)13138799_1188762361142231_1433873125345242619_n

The NOAA and sister organisations carry out massive programmes of clearance of marine debris, with working parties of volunteers who do what they can to deal with an intractable problem.Clearing Beach Debris (NOAA) Clearing Beach Debris (NOAA)

But you don’t need to be on an official working party for a large organisation. In the Bahamas and on Abaco, the BAHAMAS PLASTIC MOVEMENT, FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT  and BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST among others, do wonderful work on a more local level.
Childen collecting beach debris, Abaco (FotE)

HOPE  FOR  THE  FUTUREYoung conservationist on Abaco, Bahamas

Elsewhere, some tackle the problems caused by particular types of trash, balloons being an excellent example. I have posted before about BALLOONS BLOW, the brainchild of two sisters who learnt of the serious consequences to wildlife caused by mass balloon releases. Their work has been so effective that increasing numbers of mass releases are being cancelled in favour of other forms of celebration. A minus for balloon-makers of course, but a big plus for wildlife. The BB sisters also keep their own beach clear of the junk brought in on every tide.

Balloons Blow - Beach Debris (http://balloonsblow.org) Balloons Blow - Beach Debris (http://balloonsblow.org)

And on an individual basis, any old fool can make a tiny difference to a local beach. Here is one such doing just that…

A tangle of balloon strings on Delphi beachBalloon Strings, Delphi Beach (RH)

Guinea Schooner Bay: little visited, rarely cleaned. Plastic crap from a 10 foot radiusRH & trash, Guinea Schooner Bay

Credits: NOAA, FOTE Abaco, BPM, Balloons Blow, RH, Mrs RH

MAKE FRIENDS WITH ANEMONE (2): SPECTACULAR REEF PLANTS


Corkscrew Anenome = Peterson Cleaner Shrimps ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba copy

Corkscrew Anemone with Peterson Cleaner Shrimps

MAKE FRIENDS WITH ANEMONE (2):  SPECTACULAR REEF PLANTS

Going snorkelling? Planning a scuba day on the reef? You’ll see wonderful fish and amazing coral for sure. But sometimes the beauty of the plant-life on the reef can be overlooked. Check out the anemone in the header image, with the camouflaged cleaner shrimps playing around it. You wouldn’t want to miss a sight like that. The many and varied forms and colours of anemone on the reefs of the Bahamas make up a vital component of a spectacular underwater world.

Giant Anenome ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyGiant Anemone ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 4Anemone Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaAnemone on Rope ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaAnemone ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama ScubaAnemone (Giant) ©Melinda Riger @GBS copyAnemone ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

All photos: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba, with thanks

“HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU”: DO SOMETHING GREEN!


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Delphi, Abaco (Craig Nash)

“HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU”: DO SOMETHING GREEN!

Today is the 46th Earth Day, a global event to encourage ecology and conservation, and to discourage the spoiling of the planet by mankind. What becomes lost now may never be retrieved. Plant a tree. Grow some bee- or butterfly-friendly flowers. Clear a patch of beach of plastic trash. Recycle stuff. That sort of thing. 

Atala Hairstreak Eumaeus atala – DelphiAtala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Gulf Fritillary Agraulis vanillae – Neem FarmGulf Fritillary, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I’d lined up some horror-images of plastic-filled birds, entangled turtles, damaged reefs and so forth, of which I have a depressingly large archive. Then, in a spirit of *vogue word alert* positivity I scrapped that miserable idea and decided instead to celebrate some of the natural wonders that can be found on Abaco. 

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT – one of Abaco’s 5 ENDEMIC BIRDSBahamas-Great Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer

CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD (f) preening – Gilpin PointCuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Some signal species serve as a continuing tribute to those who work to conserve them. The gorgeous ABACO PARROTS, now saved from the brink of extinction – and currently establishing a new colony on New Providence. The rare PIPING PLOVERS that find a safe home to spend their winters on Abaco’s beaches. The 5 ENDEMIC BIRD species. The WHALES & DOLPHINS that populate the waters. The west-indian MANATEES, until very recently almost unknown for Abaco yet now providing a curious addition to the scene as they visit their favourite haunts.

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALE (m) approaching the BMMRO research vesselBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 14 (Keith Salvesen

BOTTLENOSE DOLHIN, Sandy Point (about to dive under the boat)Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 7

Habitat protection has been provided over substantial areas on both land and sea by the creation of natural parks and preserves. These have very recently been extended by the establishment of 4 large PROTECTED AREAS for East Abaco Creeks, Cross Harbour, the Marls and the South Abaco Blue Holes, a wonderful reward for a great deal of hard lobbying by conservation organisations and by many concerned individuals. 

QUEEN ANGELFISHQueen Angelfish ©Melinda Stevens Riger / G B Scuba

BANDED CORAL SHRIMPBanded Coral Shrimp ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

Scientific research and conservation work is continuously carried out in Abaco waters. The CORAL REEFS that form the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world; the BLUE HOLES that lead to wonderful caves and cathedral caverns of crystal; the vast area of the MARLS and the species that rely on the mangrove swamps; the MANGROVES themselves: all these are watched over and monitored for ways to protect them best for future generations. 

PIPING PLOVER pair, Delphi (taken last month)Piping Plover pair, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

PIPING PLOVER on AbacoPiping Plover, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

I’ve mentioned trees and plants. There are a variety of well-known sources for both on Abaco – on the mainland, anyway, and maybe some cays. Any will advise on bee and butterfly attractants. Thinking of which, bird seed feeders and hummer sugar water feeders are cheap and guarantee the interest of garden and coppice birds, and during the winter months some brightly coloured migrants such as buntings and grosbeaks. 

HIBISCUS – DelphiHibiscus, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

 BOUGAINVILLEA  – DelphiBougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Bird of Paradise flower STRELITZIA – Marsh Harbour (seemingly on a steep slope!)Bird of Paradise Flower (Strelitzia) Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU!

RALPH’S CAVE South AbacoRalph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk)

Credits: all images RH except: Abaco parrot, Craig Nash; Bahama yellowthroat, Gerlinde Taurer; Angelfish & Shrimp, Melinda Riger; single piping plover, Bruce Hallett; Ralph’s Cave, Brian Kakuk