SPERM WHALE BONES & RESEARCH: LIFE AFTER DEATH


SPERM WHALE BONES & RESEARCH: LIFE AFTER DEATH

I made this short video last year at BMMRO HQ, Sandy Point, Abaco. A sperm whale had stranded earlier in the year, and after the necropsy some of the bones were taken from the beach for research. In order to clean them, the bones were sunk and anchored to the seabed offshore in quite shallow water. Strandings are always sad, of course, but  it is good to know that even after death the creature makes an important contribution to scientific research. In a sense, it has life after death.

BMMRO / Rolling Harbour Abaco / Keith Salvesen

DOLPHINS IN THE SEA OF ABACO, BAHAMAS


DOLPHINS IN THE SEA OF ABACO, BAHAMAS (BMMRO)

Dolphin mother and newborn calf

DOLPHINS IN THE SEA OF ABACO, BAHAMAS

The bottlenose dolphin photos here, taken during a recent BMMRO dolphin research project in the Sea of Abaco, are of great significance. Six months after Hurricane Dorian smashed the life out of Abaco, the island is still in the early stages of recovery – to the extent that recovery is possible when the main (only) town has been pulverised to rubble and the island’s infrastructure wrecked. Good news is prized.

DOLPHINS IN THE SEA OF ABACO, BAHAMAS (BMMRO)

Amidst the human cost of Dorian to the Abaco community, people have found some consolation in the natural world around them. The return of birdsong. The bright flashes of the unique parrots flying overhead. Shorebirds returning to the beaches from wherever they found for cover. Curly-tail lizards sunning themselves. And on water, sightings of turtles, rays and dolphins to spread some cheer. Some huge bonefish are being caught (and released) too.

DOLPHINS IN THE SEA OF ABACO, BAHAMAS (BMMRO)

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) has its HQ at Sandy Point. During the past months, life there has been busy. A long-term underwater acoustic research project is in progress, for example. The effects of the hurricane on the marine mammals in Abaco waters – whales , dolphins and manatees – has been a cause of great concern. A drop in the dolphin population in the Sea of Abaco had been noted a few months ago, so a second assessment of the area has just been carried out.

DOLPHINS IN THE SEA OF ABACO, BAHAMAS (BMMRO)

Playtime in the Sea of Abaco

GOOD NEWS FOR DOLPHINS

Scientists Diane Claridge and Charlotte Dunn obtained positive results. During the assessment,  they encountered 18 individual dolphins. The encouraging observations included:

  • The wonderful mother and newborn calf in the header image – a great sign of hope
  • Some dolphins first recorded – amazingly – in 1992
  • Dolphins in areas not used for years, probably due to recent reduced boat traffic
  • Familiar dolphin behaviours such as wave-surfing and group socialising
DOLPHINS IN THE SEA OF ABACO, BAHAMAS (BMMRO)

Ragged dorsal fin patterns enable easy ID

If you wonder how researchers can be so sure about the ID of the animals they see, check out the dorsal fins in some images here. Individual dolphins have unique patterns, markings (#2) and in particular fin damage that is readily identifiable. Seen close to, these are obvious. At a longer distance, binoculars are needed. Photos of each animal are also taken to be analysed in the lab. Sound recordings may be taken: distinctive individual voice patterns are analysed to assist ID. All of this can be compared against the BMMRO database. That is how dolphins first recorded in 1992 can be identified with such certainty now.

Credits: Charlotte Dunn (photos) and Diane Claridge, BMMRO; the dolphins for research cooperation 

If you would like to know more about the work of BMMRO and its research, click the logo above

DOLPHINS IN THE SEA OF ABACO, BAHAMAS (BMMRO)

BABY SPERM WHALE, ABACO, BAHAMAS: HOPE FOR A NEW DECADE


Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

BABY SPERM WHALE, ABACO, BAHAMAS

HOPE FOR A NEW DECADE 

Looking back at 2019, one of the most enjoyable posts to put together featured an adult sperm whale with a neonate calf. The wonderful photos were obtained last summer during 2 research trips in the deeper water off the south coast of Abaco by the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) It seems fitting to greet the new decade with a revised version of my original post. There’s optimism in these images, and more generally in the recovery in some areas of the savagely depleted whale populations of past decades. I’d like to think that a smiling baby whale holds out hope for the 2020s.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

These are just some of the BMMRO research team’s images and footage of the baby sperm whale investigating the underwater world it has just been born into. Hopefully it will flourish and live for decades. If it does not, the overwhelmingly likely cause will be mankind, either directly or indirectly. 

CREDITS: Brilliant close-up footage plus the clips I have taken from it – Charlotte Dunn / Diane Claridge / BMMRO. 

DONATE: If you are touched by the magic of this little Bahamas sperm whale, may I invite you to consider making a donation to BMMRO for its research and conservation work – a scientific commitment that reaches far beyond the waters of the Bahamas. The system is set up to process donations from just $10 upwards, and every cent is used to further the work of BMMRO. Please click the logo below to reach the right page directly.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

 

SOME NICE PICS OF BAHAMAS WILDLIFE… WHILE TECHIES LABOUR


Ring-billed Gull, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

SOME NICE PICS OF BAHAMAS WILDLIFE…

WHILE TECHIES LABOUR

Western Spindalis, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

I’m never quite sure how far it’s permissible to go beyond ‘really pissed off’ about a tech problem. Anything much stronger seems a bit indulgent both in itself and especially when measured against the far-reaching despair experienced by many in far more important areas of life.

Northern Parula Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

I am just having a huge “Grrrrrrrrr” moment because my complex blog menu, with 3 rows of headings and carefully curated nests of drop-downs under each, has been scrubbed by persons or AI unknown. It’s several years of cumulative and (mostly) pleasurable organisational work up the spout.

As a Brit, may I be permitted to say ‘bother’. Or maybe ‘Dash it all?’ Or declare that I’m a mite cheesed orf? To which a fair response would be “it’s just a trivial inconvenience, get over it…”

Abaco Parrot (Craig Nash)

For the moment, here are some nice pics to enjoy, all taken on Abaco. I’m happy to say that right now, 7 weeks since Dorian, there are promising signs that in some areas of Abaco, the birds are starting to show themselves – including a few winter warblers. See you the other side of rethinking my Menu…

Conch shell, Schooner Bay Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Western Spindalis, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: Nina Henry, Bruce Hallett, Mary Kay Beach, Craig Nash, Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour, Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO (western spindalis badge, moi)

Humpback Whale tailing, Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

ABACO’S RARE PIPING PLOVERS: CITIZEN SCIENTISTS WANTED FOR YEAR 5


Piping plover adult & chick (Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ / birdsbyKim)

ABACO’S RARE PIPING PLOVERS: CITIZEN SCIENTISTS WANTED FOR YEAR 5

  • BE A BEACH MONITOR IN THE CAUSE OF RESEARCH AND CONSERVATION OF A TINY RARE BIRD THAT CHOOSES ABACO FOR ITS WINTER HOME
  • NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY; MINIMAL EQUIPMENT (pen, paper, binox & a ‘normal’ camera)
  • ABILITY TO COUNT TINY BIRDS IN (USUALLY) SMALL NUMBERS AN ADVANTAGE
  • SIMPLE AS TAKING A NATURE WALK ON YOUR FAVOURITE BEACH (but sorry, not with a dog)
  • COMMITMENT UP TO YOU – ONCE A WEEK, ONCE A MONTH, JUST THE ONCE
  • EVERY SIGHTING IS LOGGED – BANDED BIRDS ARE TRACKED BACK TO THEIR ORIGINS
  • EVERY BIRD IS A STAT THAT ADDS TO THE OVERALL PICTURE FOR RESEARCHERS
  • THE BIRDS MAY BE FOUND ON THE MAINLAND AND THE CAYS – EVEN THE MARLS
  • WE WORK IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE SCIENTISTS  IN THE BREEDING GROUNDS
  • ABACO IS THE ONLY BAHAMAS ISLAND WITH AN ANNUAL WINTER-LONG WATCH

At the end of July – my guess is the 28th, on past form – the first piping plover of the winter season will be resighted on Abaco. It will weigh less than 2oz, and will have travelled at least 1000 miles (direct route). In practice it will be much further, because the journey will be broken by coastal stopovers en route.

‘SQUID’ from the Holgate Unit of the Edwin B Forsythe NWR, NJ, overwintering on Abaco (year 2)Piping Plover Squid from NJ - on Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)

My bet is that the first bird will touch down in the Cherokee Sound area. There’s a fair chance it will be called ‘Squid’  from New Jersey (for the 3rd year) or ‘Black Flag 2J’ from Prince Edward Island, Canada (for the 2nd year). At once, ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH will switch from summer indolence to red alert and piping hot… for the next 7 months. The last winter visitor will leave on ± March 15 2020 to return to its breeding grounds in the North (specific parts of northern US / Canada).

Piping Plover on Man-o-War Cay, Abaco Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)Piping Plover on Abaco Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

HOW ON EARTH CAN YOU PREDICT THIS?

Since the 2015-16 season, we have been monitoring Abaco’s beaches, shorelines, and flats (there are specific locations that are preferred by the birds) throughout the winter season. Each year adds to the data from previous years and as the annual information is analysed, the knowledge of the behaviours of this little plover significantly increases.

‘TUNA’ – a legendary regular from past years (Rhonda Pearce)Piping Plover on Abaco Bahamas (Rhonda Pearce)

Over 4 years, distinctive patterns have emerged.

  1. Firstly, the plover numbers each season are fairly constant.
  2. Next, we have found that a number of birds return the following winter. Some are repeat returners – the current record is held by Bahama Mama from Lake Michigan, with 5 annual visits to the very same beach.
  3. Then, we have established that many of the banded birds are (a) resighted along the US coastline where they take a stopover during migration and (b) return to exactly the same beach where they were born.
  4. Often, we can find out when they hatched, fledged and left the beach – and even the person who did the banding.
  5. Finally, the number of banded birds – especially Canadian ones – is on the rise. This in part reflects an increase in summer chicks banding – but the fact is, we can show that they are turning up on Abaco, and returners usually turn up either on the same shoreline (or very close to it) as the previous year.

Piping Plover on Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

WOULD IT MATTER IF APPW DIDN’T EXIST?

In one sense no, because the birds would still undertake their Fall and Spring migrations, even if no one took any notice. But then, of course, no one would have any idea where the plovers might be for 6 – 8 months of the year. What the Watch can do, in conjunction with our partners in the breeding grounds, is to complete the annual migration circle and provide the specific details that help research and conservation of this rare little bird (world population around 8000). Furthermore, the Watch results provide continuing evidence that Abaco and its Cays provide a safe and suitable overwintering habitat for the birds. 

SQUIDS KIDS – THE MIGRATION CIRCLE COMPLETED

KEITH, CHEROKEE & ABACOPiping Plover 'Keith' - CWFNJ    Piping Plover 'Cherokee' - CWFNJ Piping Plover 'Abaco' CWFNJ

These 3 little chicks are this summer’s hatchlings (in June) of parents Squid (see above) and ‘Sophia’. This is on the very same beach where Squid was born and banded in July 2017. Sometime this Fall, we hope that Squid will return for a 3rd year in Cherokee Sound. And we hope just as much that one or maybe all his chicks will arrive on Abaco too. We’ll certainly know if they do – we already know their band combinations! They each have an Abaco-related name – maybe that will encourage them too.

Piping plover on the beach at Delphi (Peter Mantle)Piping Plover on Abaco Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

WHAT SORT OF PEOPLE CAN BE BEACH MONITORS?

Anyone at all. No experience is needed. You’ll be given all the info you need about the birds you’ll be looking for, and it may be possible to go out with a monitor to see what it’s like. Even a blank report is useful to have, to indicate where the plovers are not… And there’s no such thing as a mistake – the system allows for occasional miscounts, for example. Below is a summary of the last season, from which you can see the kind of data that is accumulated. 

You’ll see that there were 17 beach monitors of whom most were local Abaconians or regular second-homers. You probably know some or all of them! A few were visitors from US and UK. The 2 pro monitors were from our partners Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ, and Audubon Caribbean. Keith Kemp is the wonderful and hard-working lead monitor and very regularly visits the hotspot shorelines. Other people made quite frequent reports, some about once a month, and several made fewer than 5. Each one added to the overall picture.

Piping Plover chick on LBI (Northside Jim Verhagen)

 

If you would like to become involved, even on the most casual basis, please do get in touch. Ditto if you’d like to know a bit more about it. If you decide not to go ahead – or once started, to stop – that’s all fine. It’s basically up to you whether you want to turn a beach walk into a bit of research (though as I mentioned above, it’s not a thing that can be done with a dog, for obvious reasons). Take a friend – or even a spouse. A single sighting might reveal a hitherto unknown location or a new banded bird – it happens every year. It’s Citizen Science in action!

Please email me at rolllingharbour.delphi [@] gmail.com or contact me via FB. Or just comment on this post!

A flock of piping plovers (with a few birds that aren’t), Cherokee Flats (Lucy & mark Davies)Piping Plover Flock, Cherokee Sound, Abaco Bahamas (Lucy & Mark Davies)

Credits: CWFNJ / Kim; Keith Kemp; Charmaine Albury; Rhonda Pearce; Keith Salvesen; CWFNJ / Michelle Stantial x 3; Peter Mantle; ‘Northside’ Jim Verhagen x 2, LBI; Lucy & Mark Davies

I’m on Long Beach Island right now – hope to meet you on Abaco in the Fall (Northside Jim)
Piping Plover chick on LBI (Northside Jim Verhagen)

BABY SPERM WHALE IN BAHAMAS WATERS: AMAZING FOOTAGE


Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

BABY SPERM WHALE IN BAHAMAS WATERS: AMAZING FOOTAGE

Over several years I have had the privilege of being able to feature wonderful photographs and video footage in this blog. Birds, course, and also reef fish, sharks, seahorses, coral and anemones and a whole lot more. I have also been involved throughout with the wonderful work of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO), and have been a part of team since 2017. Abaco is lucky enough to have the HQ at Sandy Point, but we must keep in mind that the organisation’s remit extends throughout the entire Bahamas archipelago, and has firm links with research and conservation organisations on the other islands.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

The clear turquoise waters around the islands and their cays are well-known to, and appreciated by, all. This is the playground of the smaller marine mammals – the dolphins, smaller whales and the (now a significant presence) manatees.

   

Less well known are the denizens of the deeper waters and the immense depths of the GREAT BAHAMA CANYON of the northern Bahamas. This is the realm of the large marine animals, from the mysterious speciality beaked whales right up to massive sperm whales. 

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

About 3 weeks ago, the BMMRO research team encountered something truly wondrous off the south Abaco coastline – something to quicken the pulse and gladden the heart – a newborn sperm whale investigating the underwater world it has just been born into. Hopefully it will flourish and live for decades. The hope is sadly tempered by the overwhelming – and increasing – evidence of the terrible effect that humans have caused in just one generation by the pollution of air, land and sea. 

Charlotte Dunn posted the footage of 2 separate sightings. Her first caption reads:

“Close encounter with a curious newborn (‘neonate’) sperm whale yesterday – reminding us of the importance of our Shared Waters project about the effects of ship traffic on resident sperm whales, http://www.bahamaswhales.org/research.aspx. The young individuals like this one will be the most impacted if we don’t make serious conservation changes. As this young whale matures, the policy changes we make in the Bahamas now will affect its survival”.

“While their mothers are feeding at depth (knocking sound in the background) this newborn is being cared for by a slightly older calf until the adults return.”

After the second encounter, Charlotte wrote: “Here’s another amazing short clip of the neonate sperm whale we videoed off south Abaco two weeks ago – thank you to the BEP Foundation and the Devereux Ocean Foundation for funding some of our important work with sperm whales in the Bahamas”.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

On Charlotte’s conservation points above, over the last 3 months or so I have been checking daily for posts and articles specifically related to stranded, dead, and killed whales, and their stomach contents as revealed by necropsies. I have collected images from around the world. I won’t wreck this marvellous find in Abaco waters by including any of these. This casual research reveals a horrifying attrition rate for marine mammals. Most animals were full of plastics, from micro through flip-flops all the way up to very large chunks. Some of this junk clearly was the actual cause of death rather than a contributing factor. A whale may take several weeks to die in this way. All of it is entirely the responsibility of mankind – and pretty much caused in the last 50 years.

So let’s enjoy this little sperm whale, and hope it grows to an adulthood that will have seen a radical change for the better in its birth environment – the one that should never have been considered ours to destroy.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

CREDITS: Brilliant close-up footage plus the clips I have taken from it – Charlotte Dunn / Diane Claridge / BMMRO.  

DONATE: If you are touched by the magic of this little Bahamas sperm whale, may I invite you to consider making a donation to BMMRO for its research and conservation work – a scientific commitment that reaches far beyond the waters of the Bahamas. The system is set up to process donations from just $10 upwards, and every cent is used to further the work of BMMRO. Please click the logo below to reach the right page directly.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Baby sperm whale off south Abaco, Bahamas ©BMMRO

FOLLOWING DOLPHINS IN THE BAHAMAS…


Following Dolphins (SailorDolphin / BMMRO)

FOLLOWING DOLPHINS IN THE BAHAMAS…

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) is based at Sandy Point, Abaco. The principals Diane Claridge and Charlotte Dunn with their team cover not only Abaco waters but the whole of the Bahamas. Their research work is complex, and some of it is carried out in conjunction with partners on specific projects or more generally.

Following Dolphins (SailorDolphin / BMMRO)

Which brings me to SailorDolphin Research, a project that involves the meticulous mapping, photographing, and recording of the details of each sighting. Much of the work is carried out in the Bahamas in partnership with BMMRO. The link will take you to the homepage, which notes “This website provides a list of Dolphins that I have documented on the US East coast and the Bahamas. It includes details (with photos & notes) for each dolphin and lists of their sightings from my personal database.” If you have an interest in dolphins (and who does not?), it will repay exploration – and you will see some awesome photographs. Here are a few of them to admire. 

Following Dolphins (SailorDolphin / BMMRO)

Now imagine yourself in the water, with these wonderful creatures cutting through the water in front of you, working their sleek bodies just below the surface, jostling and cavorting, occasionally letting a fin cut through the water. Hold that thought… Right, get back to work!

All photos courtesy of SailorDolphin / BMMRO

Following Dolphins (SailorDolphin / BMMRO)

‘SOCIABLE DOLPHINS’: MELON-HEADED WHALES


Melon-headed whales, Bahamas (BMMRO / Field School)

‘SOCIABLE DOLPHINS’: MELON-HEADED WHALES

Last month, BMMRO undertook a joint expedition with FIELD SCHOOL to carry out research on sperm whales. This took them out into deep water, where another, quite different, cetacean species was also encountered on the final day – a huge pod of more than 100 melon-headed whales Peponocephala electra.

Melon-headed whales, Bahamas (BMMRO / Field School)

The melon-headed whale is in fact – like the FALSE KILLER WHALE I recently wrote about – a species of dolphin. It is sometimes more accurately called the melon-headed dolphin, which removes any confusion. These creatures are oceanic, preferring deeper waters. For that reason they are not often encountered, despite being quite common in tropical and sub-tropical waters around the world.

Cetacea range map Melon-headed Whale.PNG

Melon-headed whales, Bahamas (BMMRO / Field School)

The MHW belongs to a dolphin species commonly known as blackfish. Other dolphins in this group included, for the Bahamas, the pygmy killer whale and the more frequently encountered pilot whale, a species than can be seen in the Sea of Abaco.

In some of these photos you can see the distinctive white lips of the MHW Melon-headed whales, Bahamas (BMMRO / Field School)

Melon-headed whales are notably social animals. They live in large groups – often more than 100-strong (as the expedition found), up to as many as 1000 individuals. Within these large groups, smaller groups of a dozen or so form and stay close as they swim.

Note the ‘Rainbow Blow’ caught in this photoMelon-headed whales, Bahamas (BMMRO / Field School)

MHWs appear to communicate or perhaps to bond by touching flippers. MHWs also associate with other dolphin species, and they have even been recorded with large whales such as humpbacks.

Melon-headed whales, Bahamas (BMMRO / Field School)

Other observed behaviour includes sub-surface resting in numbers, boat-wave riding, and so-called ‘spy hopping’ (above). This last activity may be carried out by several resting animals,  which jump vertically out of the water and splash back again into the ocean (see also the Header image).

Melon-headed whales, Bahamas (BMMRO / Field School)

This video was recorded during the expedition. You’ll get a very good idea of the size of the group from the drone shots as they pull out. I doubt that many people would expect to see such large sea creatures in such numbers – it must be an awesome** sight.

10 MELON-HEADED FACTS WITH WHICH TO ASTOUND YOUR LOVED ONES
  • The MHW’s head is rounded, lacking the obvious beak of more familiar dolphins
  • The darker grey face is sometimes called a ‘mask’
  • Their distinctive white lips are a good identifying feature
  • They are capable of swimming at very fast speeds
  • Like other dolphins, they make series of low jumps out of the water as they swim
  • Their groups often contain 100 individuals, up to as many as 1000
  • An adult grows to around 3m / 10′ long
  • They live for at least 20 years, and females may live as long as 30 years
  • As with many certaceans, their favourite food is squid
  • Oh, did I mention that they are really dolphins and not whales at all?

CREDITS: all fantastic photos & the original of the video clip – © BMMRO /  Field School

** In its true and original meaning of ‘inspiring wonder and awe’ (historically, in a religious sense), rather than the diluted modern usage as in ‘awesome pizza’ or ‘awesome selfie’

THE PRINCE OF WHALES: BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES IN ABACO


Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / BMMRO)

THE PRINCE OF WHALES: BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES IN ABACO

There’s a strange affinity between humans and whales. Humans seem to think so, anyway – and whales seem to tolerate them amiably, perhaps now that the decimation of their populations by humans is (largely) a thing of the past. The Bahamas in general and Abaco in particular are in the mainstream of progressive cetacean research, led by the BMMRO at Sandy Point.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / BMMRO)

One of the speciality research species is the Blainville’s Beaked Whale. These magnificent creatures are deep divers, and although they are found in many parts of the world, the Bahamas is one of only 3 locations with a significant population for study. Most of the whales here were photographed within sight of land (and a few with the Castaway Island Disney Cruise Ship visible on the horizon!).

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / BMMRO)

I’ve been lucky enough to be on the BMMRO research vessel on a beaked whale outing – and luckier still that we were able to spend plenty of time with a group of them, including some males. The header image is of a mature male with his huge teeth that protrude upwards from the lower jaw, and in time become encrusted with barnacles.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / BMMRO)

The whales were quite undisturbed by our presence – indeed they behaved much like dolphins, circling the boat and swimming under it; moving away and returning. This was an opportunity to count the whales, to identify those that had already been recorded, and to document any new ones. Each whale has its own unique pattern of marks, striations and in some cases healed wounds. The pair below are a good example.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / BMMRO)

Also, the whales have individually distinctive dorsal fins, with nicks and tears that also act as a means of identification. These can often be made out from a distance with powerful binoculars or photographed with a long lens for later analysis (this ID method also works reliably for dolphins).

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / BMMRO)

Beaked whales often bear the healed scars from the gouging bites of COOKIE-CUTTER SHARKS, a vicious little species that I recently featured. The distinctive circular scars on the back of the whale below result from encounters with these unpleasant creatures.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / BMMRO)

Finally, the photo below. It has no merit, photographically speaking, but I love the way that sometimes a ‘risk’ shot – into the sun, perhaps – produces rather magical effects. The unexpected ‘sea stars’ were a bonus!

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / BMMRO)

All photos: Keith Salvesen / BMMRO

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

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

DOLPHINS DISPORTING IN THE BAHAMAS


Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)

DOLPHINS DISPORTING IN THE BAHAMAS

‘Disporting’. Not a word I’ve used very often. Or possibly ever. It looks a bit like ‘unsporting’, which is emphatically what dolphins are not. Basically, it just describes what dolphins are doing when you see them on the surface: amusing themselves, frolicking around in the waves, and simply enjoying themselves.Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)

True, they are probably keeping an eye out for food… But when you have a group sociably following alongside the boat your are in, moving in front, dropping behind, diving under, and generally playing around, it’s quite hard to believe that these are completely wild creatures. They seem to be performing just for you, simply because they want to. You don’t even have to throw fish at them to earn this free display.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO) Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)

As is well-known, the BAHAMAS MARINE MAMMAL RESEARCH ORGANISATION (BMMRO) is the custodian for the welfare of these beautiful creatures for the entire Bahamas. However, being based on Abaco and carrying out the majority of the research from the HQ at Sandy Point means that many of the great images that get taken are from Abaco waters. Indeed some are taken within swimming distance (not mine) of the shore.  Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)

The photographs featured here were taken during the last few weeks. Some are of the familiar bottlenose dolphins. The others – with speckled undersides clearly visible in the header image & below – are of Atlantic spotted dolphins. There’s even one of my own taken from the research vessel. Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)

For the researchers, the most important part of an individual dolphin is its dorsal fin. Unique patterns of cuts and scars mean that each dolphin sighted can be logged and their profiles built up. Some have been found in the same area for many years. They are not usually given jocular names – ‘Davy Jones’, ‘Finny Phil’ or whatever. The first time we went out on the research vessel we were slightly surprised by the practical, scientific calls during a sighting of a dolphin group: “there’s B4 again” and “over there – D5 is back”. All said fondly however – many of the dolphins are old friends.

This dolphin has a notable notch on the dorsal fin with a nick below, & a scar line – with a prominent white scar on the lower front edge Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas - Dorsal Fin Damage (BMMRO)

Notice how these 3 dolphins all have quite different fin profiles.  The nearest one’s fin looks unblemished, but has a paler tip. Powerful binoculars and a serious camera can pick out small  differences at a distance that the eye could notBottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas - Dorsal Fin Damage (BMMRO)

Coming soon: Manatees & Man in the Bahamas

All photos (bar one by me) BMMRO, with thanks to Diane & Charlotte, and a tip of the hat to the current interns involved in the research projects (Hi, UK Thomas!)

HUMPBACK WHALE SEEN OFF SANDY POINT, ABACO


bmmro-humpbacks-2

HUMPBACK WHALE SEEN OFF SANDY POINT, ABACO

Dolphins are regularly seen around the coast and in the fishing grounds of Abaco. Sometimes, they make it easy by nosing into harbours and being generally adorable for a while, to the delight of onlookers. Hope Town can be a good place for this. Those aboard the “Donnies” –  the ferries that criss-cross the Sea of Abaco from the main island to the various Cays – may be in luck too. However, it is perhaps less well known that Abaco waters provide a home or a migratory passage for gigantic whales. Beside these mighty creatures, the several other whale species of the Bahamas seem relatively small. Yes it’s true: there are huge whales – humpbacks and sperm whales (cachalots) – to be found in Abaco waters, and not so very far from land either.

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The humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae above, with its characteristic white pectoral fins, was seen about a week ago off Sandy Point (southwest Abaco). You’ll get an idea of its immense size from the photo. An adult of this BALEEN WHALE species can reach 50 feet in length and weigh 35 tons or more. Imagine watching one slipping silently past your boat… and then consider that even larger sperm whales are seen in the same area. 

For the link to report a Bahamas whale sighting, please see either link provided below

Humpback whale / adult male human in scuba gear comparison
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Humpbacks are found in oceans throughout the world. They migrate huge distances each year, from polar regions to the tropical and sub-tropical waters where they breed. These are the whales beloved of wildlife film producers and whale-watching trips, with their spectacular arched breaching in which half their length or more may emerge from the water before smashing back into the waves. 

A humpback breaches on the Stellwagen Bank (about 50 miles offshore of Boston)
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Like other large whale species, humpbacks were unsurprisingly prime targets for the whaling industry in a melancholy era of marine history that took them to the edge of extinction until a moratorium was declared in 1966. Since then the population has recovered significantly. They remain vulnerable, however: in some locations, to killing; to entanglement in heavy-duty fishing gear; to ship collisions; and to noise pollution that affects their ability to communicate long-distances underwater, as they need to do.

Finally, the Sandy Point humpback makes a last dive and, with a wave of its fluke, disappears  bmmro-humpbacks-4    bmmro-humpbacks-3

Do you have a Bahamas whale or dolphin sighting to report? Please use this link, giving as many of the details as you can. Each report makes a valuable contribution to the BMMRO’s research. 

http://www.bahamaswhales.org/sightings.aspx

As a footnote, my first whale encounter was on the Stellwagen Bank mentioned above, when I went on a whale-watching trip from Boston. We encountered a mother humpback with her calf and spent about 1/2 hour watching them interacting. I have the memories luckily – my photos were rubbish, using a very early digital camera that these days would be less effective and well-spec’d that a luminous pink plastic child’s camera now… 
stellwagen-humpbacks-keith-salvesen-2 Version 3stellwagen-humpbacks-keith-salvesen-3

RELATED POSTS

HUMPBACK HOPE TOWN ABACO

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES

BMMRO

SIGHTING REPORTS

Credits: Brad & his crew, and the BMMRO; Whit Wells / Wiki for the breaching whale; moi for the rotten but quite interesting archive photos from the same place; the whale for being awesome in the true sense of the word

“THE PRINCE OF WHALES”: BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALE


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

“THE PRINCE OF WHALES”: BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALE

This post results from a recent Technological Breakdown at Rolling Harbour Towers, and is to be viewed as post-trauma therapy. Smart New Mac ordered, to replace 5 year-old warhorse loosely held together with duct tape and prayer. After lengthy (overnight) data migration, Smart New Mac turns out to be faulty. SNM returned to store: a seething hotbed of stress and distress (the shop too). While replacement is eagerly awaited, fry motherboard of old computer with shorted charger. A week of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Smart New Newest Mac brings you this offering.

I like whales. Everyone likes whales. Even whalers, though for very different reasons. Here are some calming pics of one of Abaco’s largest yet best kept secrets – Blainville’s beaked whales. Adults grow to more than 15 feet long and weigh about 2000 pounds, yet they can behave like huge dolphins in slow motion – circling a boat, diving under it, drifting away, swimming back. They have no motherboard and require no data migration.

The amazing barnacled tusks of a male, that protrude upwards  from the lower jawBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 16 (Keith Salvesen

Tusks and blowhole…Blainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 15 (Keith Salvesen

Dorsal fin damage is an excellent way to ID individual whalesBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 18 (Keith Salvesen

The knobbly back will help with ID tooIMGP2001 - Version 2

A female beaked whale noses towards the BMMRO research vesselBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

The beak breaks the surfaceBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

The blowhole, used for breathing, in close-upBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

Healed circular wounds caused by COOKIECUTTER SHARKSBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

‘Dolphining’ towards the RHIB (the small creature between the two on the left is a calf)Blainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 8 (Keith Salvesen

CLOSE ENCOUNTER & HEAVY BREATHING

           BMMRO research RHIB                        BMMRO HQ, Sandy Point, AbacoBMMRO Research Boat, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) BMMRO HQ, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Female beaked whale being peacefulBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: all photos & video RH; Charlotte & Diane for a brilliant experience ; Mr Blainville (below) for a brilliant whale

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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

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

“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

WHALE TALES FROM ABACO (2): MALE BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALE


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

Adult male Blainville’s Beaked Whale with barnacle-encrusted teeth protruding from its lower jaw

WHALE TALES FROM ABACO (2): MALE BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALE

This second post about the Blainville’s Beaked Whales of Abaco, Bahamas, relates to a prolonged encounter with a group of mothers, calves and a male. This was our second BBW sighting on the same day in March: the first is described HERE. Click the link to find out more details about these wonderful creatures, with plenty of close-up photos.

We had been invited by Charlotte and Diane of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO to spend a day with them on the research boat. This was our first chance to get close to whales, a chance made far more likely by (a) being with experts and (b) their specialist equipment…

Our first sighting was a short distance south of Rocky Point, as we moved into the deeper, darker ocean waters of the Bahama canyon, with the shoreline still clearly visible. We then visited HOLE-IN-THE-WALL in the RHIB and took a close look from the sea at the damage and destruction of the famous Hole caused by HURRICANE SANDY

On the way back we paused as we got to the same area where we had seen the group earlier in the day. Within minutes, several whales came straight towards us. This photo shows 3 adults and, almost submerged, a calf.Blainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 8 (Keith Salvesen

For the next hour or so, they played around the boat like very large dolphins moving in slow motion. Usually these whales make a deep dive every 20 minutes or so and stay underwater for about the same time before resurfacing. These ones stayed with us throughout. 

3 adults with 2 calvesBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 7 (Keith Salvesen

Mostly they stayed quite – or very – close to the boat. Sometimes they swam across the bow or even under the boat. From time to time, they would move off some distance. Each time we thought they were moving on, and each time they soon returned.  After a while the females and calves were joined by another whale – the less common sighting of a male replete with barnacle-encrusted teeth  protruding upwards from his lower jaw.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 21 (Keith SalvesenBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 13 (Keith SalvesenBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 12 (Keith Salvesen

The male initially stayed slightly further away from the boat than the others, perhaps assessing the threat to the group. Then he too joined in, passing and repassing the boat, swimming away and returning, remaining on the surface and offering a wonderful view of his noble head (see header image and below).

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 15 (Keith SalvesenBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 16 (Keith Salvesen

Looking at my photos later, I realised that a second male must have joined the group for a short time. The image below shows a male with far fewer barnacles – certainly not the male we had been watching.Blainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 20 (Keith Salvesen

It was remarkable to see these huge creatures behaving in much the same way as dolphins, swimming playfully around and under a boat, moving away, then returning for more. These whales are some 15 feet long and weigh about 2000 pounds. They were inquisitive, unafraid (even with calves in the group) and gentle. Maybe they sensed that they have been to subject of years of intricate research by Diane and Charlotte that will materially assist with the preservation their species. More likely, the group were simply enjoying themselves in the sun with a peaceful intruder in their territory.

You don’t have to go miles offshore to see whales in Abaco watersAdult male Blainville's Beaked Whale, Rocky Point, Abaco (Rolling Harbour)FullSizeRender

BMMRO research RHIB with Diane           BMMRO HQ, Sandy Point, AbacoBMMRO Research Boat, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) BMMRO HQ, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: All photos RH except one; Charlotte & Diane for a brilliant day out; Mr Blainville for a brilliant whale; Mrs RH for snapping me snapping the whale – a photograph that was featured in a competition in the Guardian Newspaper. 

220px-Henri_Marie_Ducrotay_de_Blainville

WHALE TALES FROM ABACO (1): BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES


Blainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

WHALE TALES FROM ABACO (1): BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES

Back in March we were invited by Charlotte and Diane of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO to spend a day out with them on the research boat, a chance we jumped at. I had been writing on and off about the organisation’s whale, dolphin and manatee research since the very early days of this blog. We’d seen bottlenose dolphins in Abaco waters, but never whales. This was the big day…

Our first sighting was a short distance south of Rocky Point, as we moved beyond the turquoise water of the low sandbanks into the deeper, darker ocean waters of the Bahama canyon beyond. Whale territory. The shoreline was plainly in view to the east; and to the north, on the horizon, was the massive bulk of the ‘fun ship’ parked at Castaway (Gorda) cay.

Beaked whale or fun ship for a day out? You decide…Blainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

A Blainville’s beaked whale noses towards the research vesselBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

The Blainville’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris) is also known slightly less politely as the dense-beaked whale.  It is named for the French zoologist Henri de Blainville who first described the species in 1817 based on his examinations of a piece of jaw or ‘rostrum’ — the heaviest bone he had ever come across — which resulted in the name densirostris (Latin for “dense beak”).

The beak breaks the surfaceBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

The BMMRO has carried out intensive research on the species for a number of years in the northern Bahamas, with detailed documentation of sightings and photo identification of individual animals. More recently, these whales have been the subject of incredibly detailed research into their species intercommunication through vocalisations – mainly clicks and click patterns. To view Charlotte’s PhD thesis for St Andrew’s University click HERE (and many congratulations, Dr Dunn…). Just reading the contents table will give a good idea of the scope and complexity of the research. 

The blowhole, used for breathing, in close-up. You can hear this in the video below.Blainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

Our amazing first encounter with 6 whales lasted nearly an hour. Usually, they stay near the surface for 20 minutes or so, then they do a deep dive lasting roughly 20 minutes before resurfacing. But on this occasion they behaved more like huge dolphins, swimming towards the boat, around it, under it, then drifting away again before returning.

Blainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

Given their length of some 15 feet and weight of about 2000 pounds, it was a extraordinary experience to see them at such close quarters.

Whale showing healed circular wounds caused by COOKIECUTTER SHARKSBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

The Blainville’s range is extensive and in general terms they may be found in tropical and sub-tropical waters worldwide. They are by no means uncommon, but apart from the data collected by the BMMRO it seems that comparatively little is known about them. Their diet is thought to consist mainly of squid found at depth. They are protected by a variety of Agreements, Memoranda of Understanding, Protocols and so forth throughout the worldwide range.

Cetacea_range_map_Blainvilles_Beaked_WhaleBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

The research boat is equipped with sonar the can pick up the click and whistles of whales and dolphins from a considerable distance. It was remarkable to watch a group of cetaceans and to be able to hear them loudly and animatedly communicating with each other..Blainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

Another vital aspect of the research is poop scooping. As soon as the whales had gathered round the boat, Charlotte slid into the water with her scoop net… the cloudy poop yields a mass of information about an individual creature. I wrote about this interesting job, often tasked to interns (who practice with coffee grounds) in ‘FAMILIAR FECES’.

Charlotte expertly wields the poop scoopBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) 11 16.46.13

Then, all too soon, it was deep dive time. The whales moved off from the boat and slowly, without show or splash, disappeared. And we went to investigate HOLE-IN-THE-WALL at close quarters. The next post will feature an adult male Blainville’s beaked whale, with his massive barnacle-encrusted teeth protruding upwards from his lower jaw.

The remains of a neat and undramatic deep diveBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

In this very short video of two whales right by the boat: you can actually hear their breathing.

BMMRO research RHIB with Diane           BMMRO HQ, Sandy Point, AbacoBMMRO Research Boat, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) BMMRO HQ, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: All photos RH; Charlotte & Diane for a brilliant day out; Mr Blainville for a brilliant whale

220px-Henri_Marie_Ducrotay_de_Blainville

CARIBBEAN REEF SQUID: SUPERPOWERS & SEX LIVES REVEALED


Squid ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

CARIBBEAN REEF SQUID: SUPERPOWERS & SEX LIVES REVEALED

The Caribbean reef squid Sepioteuthis sepioidea is a small squid species of the Caribbean Sea and the Floridian coast. Its fins extend nearly the whole length of the body and undulate rapidly as it swims. Recently, it has been discovered that this squid is capable of brief flight out of the water.Squid ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Reef squid tend to form small shoals in and around reefs. It is by far the most common squid species in its range, and can be sighted both close to the shore and quite near the surface (although that increases the risk of predation by seabirds).

A silvery squid swimming just below the surfaceCaribbean_reef_squid (Ed Brown)

Squid are voracious eaters, dragging their prey to their mouths and using a beak to cut it up. Their target species are small fish, molluscs and crustaceans. They have a ‘raspy tongue’ known as a radula which further breaks up the food for easy consumption.

Squid at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve, AbacoSquid Fowl Cay, Abaco Ellen Sokol, Kiskeedee Sailing Charters

SQUID SUPERPOWERS (SUPERCOOL)

  • Squid can change colour, texture and shape
  • This enviable power is used defensively as camouflage or to appear larger if threatened
  • It is also used in courtship rituals, something that humans would find most disconcerting
  • Colour patterns are also used for routine squid-to-squid communication AND GET THIS:
  • A squid can send a message to another on one side, and a different one to a squid on the other

Squid © Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba copy

SQUID SEX (1) “ROMANCING THE SQUID”

  • A male will gently stroke a female with his tentacles
  • The female will (most likely) flash an ‘alarm’ pattern
  • The male soothes her (don’t try this at home, guys) by blowing and jetting water at her
  • If he’s not getting on well, he’ll move off and repeat the routine until she sees his good points
  • However this on / off courtship can last for hours until at last he succeeds by…
  • …attaching a sticky packet of sperm onto the female’s body (romance is not dead)
  • She reaches for it and moves it to her “seminal receptacle”
  • Meanwhile he stays close, emitting a pulsing pattern, as well he might after all that
  • She then finds a safe place to lay her eggs. Job done.Two_Caribbean_Reef_Squid,(Clark Anderson)

SQUID SEX (2) IT ALL ENDS BADLY

  • As soon the female squid has laid her eggs, she dies at once
  • The male squid live a bit longer, and may have other packets to stick – then he dies too
  • It’s all horribly reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. Without the balcony scene.Sepioteuthis sepioidea Caribbean Reef Squid (Nick Hobgood)

USES OF SQUID ON ABACO

Squid are prolific in the seas around Abaco, which is fortunate because they form a large part of the diet of some whale species, particularly the Blainville’s Beaked Whales that are commonly found in Abaco waters. I have a post on these magnificent creatures in preparation right now, and am in the process of sorting out suitable photos from a large number taken during a research expedition in March. 

More Squid at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve, AbacoSquid School, Fowl Cay, Abaco Ellen Sokol, Kiskeedee Sailing Charters

Credits: As ever (for underwater pics) Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; also Ellen Sokol of Kiskeedee Sailing Charters, who kindly sent me the Fowl Cay photos; also Ed Brown, Clark Anderson and Nick Hobgood for ‘open-sourcing’ their great images