SPERM WHALES TAILING: ABACO, BAHAMAS


Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco, Bahamas (©BMMRO)

SPERM WHALES TAILING: ABACO, BAHAMAS

There can be very few people in the world whose breath would not be taken away by the sight of a massive sperm whale tailing close by. And as it happens, this very phenomenon can be seen in the deeper waters around the coast of Abaco. Here is a small gallery of photos of sperm whales tailing, taken from the BMMRO research vessel. There’s no point in my writing a lot of commentary to the images – they speak for themselves of the awesome (in its correct sense) power and grace of these huge mammals.

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco, Bahamas (©BMMRO) Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco, Bahamas (©BMMRO)

In these images, you will notice that the whales have distinctive patterns of notches and tears in their flukes (ie tail fins). As with a dolphin’s dorsal fin, these areas of damage are like fingerprints – unique to each individual, and a sure means to identification. The researchers log each sighting and assign a cypher – a whale will become known as ‘B42’ and not usually by a less scientific name like ‘Derek’ or ‘Susie’).

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco, Bahamas (©BMMRO) Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco, Bahamas (©BMMRO)

Q. What happened next?  A. You would see the tail emerge as the whale dives deep… Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco, Bahamas (©BMMRO)

One of my favourite whale views is of the tail as it rises above the surface with water streaming off the flukes, before it flicks over and disappears beneath the waves. 

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco, Bahamas (©BMMRO)

A juvenile takes a dive alongside an adult. One day that tail will be massive…Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco, Bahamas (©BMMRO)

Credits: all photos © BMMRO, with thanks as ever to Diane and Charlotte

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco, Bahamas (©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

HUMPBACK WHALE SEEN OFF SANDY POINT, ABACO


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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… 
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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

MAKING A SPLASH: SPERM WHALES & MANATEES IN ABACO WATERS


Sperm Whale, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

MAKING A SPLASH: SPERM WHALES & MANATEES IN ABACO WATERS

After a quiet spell on the cetacean and sirenian front, there is exciting news to report. First, the BMMRO encountered two sperm whales just off Sandy Point.  I don’t know how close to the shore they actually were, but it was very friendly of them to come so near to the BMMRO HQ.Sperm Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco BMMRO3

When whales are sighted from the research vessel, one of the tasks is to collect feces. This job is often undertaken by interns, and is a good way to learn that serious research may well involve unattractive work… They practise with… er… coffee grounds and a net. For more on this important yet unappealing aspect of whale research, CLICK NICE TO SEE FAMILIAR FECES. Another essential part of any sighting is to take fluke photos to enable ID.  Every whale has different and distinctive patterning to the fluke, including general wear and tear. As a photo archive is built up, the researchers are able to recognise a particular whale and cross-reference it with previous sightings.

Sperm Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco BMMRO2Sperm Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco BMMRO1

The third task of a sighting is to record clicks made by an individual whale. This enables an estimate of the whale’s size to be made, and again a sound archive is gradually built up from which comparisons can be made.

Sperm Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco BMMRO4

A NEW MANATEE VISITS MARSH HABOUR

FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT has just reported the sighting of a new manatee at the head of Marsh Harbour harbour. I’m not aware of any other sightings in the last couple of days, but as they say,  “Please keep your eyes out and drive carefully! Contact Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization with any further sighting reports by calling 357-6666. You can also share photos with them on Facebook. Also, please do not feed the manatee. They are able to find their own food and anything else may make them unhealthy”.

This is Abaco’s third recent manatee. First there was GEORGIE, who as far as I know is still comfortably settled in the Cherokee area. Then RANDY arrived earlier this and got to within about a few miles of Georgie… High hopes of a meeting – and ‘friendship, maybe more’ – were dashed when Randy turned round and headed back to Castaway Cay. Let’s hope this newcomer stays around. I wonder what he – or she – will be named? My suggestion is Abby or Abi, which I think is unisex…

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Just as with the whale flukes, the tail of a manatee is an important means of identification. The new manatee’s tail has its own distinctive edge pattern, which will enable its future recognition. Here is an image of Randy’s tail, with its unique notch. 

Randy the Abaco Manatee - tail notch

Credits: BMMRO & FOTE with thanks as ever for use permissions

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CETACEAN SENSATION: SPERM WHALES & DOLPHINS ON ABACO


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CETACEAN SENSATION: SPERM WHALES & DOLPHINS ON ABACO

July has been ‘Whale Camp’ month for the BMMRO, when a small group of lucky youngsters get to spend time out at sea searching for whales and dolphins, and learning the intricacies of data recording and research. One target was the sperm whale, a species that may be found off the coasts of South Abaco. This is a favoured place because the deep trench of the Great Bahama Canyon throws up the food these whales need (see map below).

After some time spent searching, the BMMRO reported  “the sperm whales are back! We found a single animal yesterday, and finally in the evening found the rest of the group, 10+ animals including 3 mother-calf pairs, and dolphins at Rocky Point!” Here are some of the photos from the trip.

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) Sperm Whale, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) Sperm Whale, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)

This map of the northern Bahamas shows the V-shaped tails of the Great Bahama Canyon, and explains why the east coast and (in particular) the shallower south-west coast between Hole-in-the-Wall and Rocky Point is so attractive to feeding whale species.

Great Bahama Canyon

The dolphins were quite prolific in July, in particular bottlenose and spotted dolphins. These photos were mostly taken while the search for sperm whales was going on: the BMMRO posted “lots of dolphins up at Gorda Cay yesterday… still not hearing any sperm whales in the area, has been a couple of weeks without sign of them so they should be showing up again soon…” As they obligingly did!

Bottlenose Dolphin, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO) Bottlenose Dolphin, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)Spotted Dolphins, Abaco, Bahamas (BMMRO)

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Today is the first day of the crawfish season and Facebook Abaco has been crawling with crawfish for a couple of days in feverish anticipation. So I decided to stick with whales and dolphins instead because there are enough crawfish images out there to keep anyone happy. However I did particularly like this offering today from Albury’s Ferry Services, always a byword for tastefulness and decorum. I’ve borrowed their picture (they borrow mine sometimes) – I wondered if it need a little more exposure, then decided there was probably quite enough already….

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Photo credits: all cetaceans, BMMRO; Crawfish Ladies, Albury’s Ferries; ‘Keep Calm’, Mariah Sawyer

WHALES, DOLPHINS & MANATEES, ABACO: BMMRO NEWS


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WHALES, DOLPHINS & MANATEES, ABACO: BMMRO NEWS

BMMRO COLLABORATES WITH NEW PARTNER, ATLANTIS BLUE PROJECT

The ATLANTIS BLUE PROJECT is managed by the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation, a private non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of global marine ecosystems through scientific research, education, and community outreach. BMMRO is excited to now be a part of this project and in turn has received two grants from the Atlantis Blue Project for 2014 

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Stranding Response to Support Conservation of Marine Mammals in the Bahamas 

Increasing capacity and available funds to respond rapidly to strandings in The Bahamas will increase our ability to determine cause of death and/or successful rehabilitation of marine mammals. At the first stranding workshop held in the Bahamas in 2008, the Honourable Lawrence Cartwright, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources officially opened the workshop stating “I believe the establishment of a Marine Mammal Stranding Network in The Bahamas will serve to promote the conservation of marine mammal species and their habitat by improving the rescue and humane care of stranded marine mammals, advancing stranding science, and increasing public awareness through education.” This funding will provide the resources to train veterinarians on how to work with stranded marine mammals as well as provide the resources to respond to strandings.

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Field Research & Outreach to Support Conservation of Bahamas Marine Mammals

Cetaceans are long-lived, highly specialised animals with delayed reproduction and low fecundity, which makes them incapable of rapid adaptation and thus particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic impacts. BMMRO has compiled an unprecedented long-term dataset for the region, which has become increasingly valuable to inform about the baseline ecology of some odontocete species. This research will ensure that this important work continues to fill key gaps in our knowledge about the ecology of marine mammals. Additionally, we will increase awareness and build capacity amongst Bahamians, both of which will contribute to local conservation needs.

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JANUARY SIGHTINGS

For Abaco, the excitement is the sperm whale seen just off the Rocky Point area. More generally for the northern Bahamas, in addition to the manatee Georgie (former temporary resident of Abaco) and others, there was a manatee reported on Eleuthera. It looks as though these gently creatures continue to find the area to their liking.

BMMRO Sightings Jan 2014

I must be going now – thanks for visiting Rolling Harbour…blue6

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(Thanks as ever to Charlotte & co at BMMRO for permission to use and adapt their material!)

‘FAMILIAR FECES’: CETACEAN POOP-SCOOPING BY SPECIES


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‘FAMILIAR FECES’: CETACEAN POOP-SCOOPING BY SPECIES

UPDATE I name-checked BMMRO intern Oscar Ward’s blog below. Now he’s been out on the ocean on ‘poop patrol’. You can read Oscar’s account of his experiences HERE

Among the many pleasures for cetacean research scientists must be the joy of whale poop collection. Followed by close inspection and analysis. The Bahamas  Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO conducts research expeditions, in conjunction with such organisations as the New England Aquarium NEAQ and Friends of the Environment FOTE, in Abaco waters and further afield in the Bahamas. The attention this year has been on beaked whale feces, though available sperm whale feces are not to be sniffed at. Images and info below are courtesy of the organisations mentioned above, with thanks for use permission

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A researcher working with BMMRO demonstrates feces collection using coffee grounds. She collects the coffee granules in her net and places the entire sample into a ziplock bag, ready to hand to the boat for processing 269

The purpose of feces collection is to look at the stress and reproductive hormones of the whales and to gather a baseline for these animals with which to compare other populations that are under threat3

An alternative method of collectionpoop15

Blainville’s Beaked Whales (suppliers of raw research material)Blainville's Beaked Whale AbacoBeaked whale - supplier of poop BMMRO

There are some conditions – dare I say windy ones – when Blainville’s beaked whales may be hard to locate. At such times, collection of pieces of other species feces rarely ceases… Here is a sperm whale in the act of producing laboratory samplesTail_18Jun10_01_Pm_CAD_123

Weather of the sort that makes the day’s collection more complicated. Indeed, it looks and uphill task…GOPR0109

That’s enough on the topic for now. Later in the month there will be some great dolphin pictures to enjoy. Below is the BMMRO sightings chart for July, which I forgot to publish sooner.

Finally, a young UK friend of ours, Oscar Ward, has recently won his place to study marine biology at university next Autumn. He has just arrived on Abaco to start an internship with the BMMRO at Sandy Point. He will then be moving to Friends of the Environment in MH. He has set up an excellent blog to record his experiences, with his first Abaco post going up today, I notice. You can follow Oscar at SEVENTYPERCENT.COM And if you see him around, do say hi! to him.

BMMRO SIGHTINGS JULY 2013