Dolphin leaping, Abaco (BMMRO)


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.


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.



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.



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.



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.





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

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


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


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.


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


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


Gina the Bahamas Manatee (pregnant) Eleuthera (BMMRO)

Gina the Manatee, Eleuthera – expectant mother (BMMRO)


Earlier this year I posted the welcome news that Bahamas manatee Gina was beyond any doubt pregnant. You can read about it HERE. Gina has been living for some time in Eleutheran waters, under regular observation by the BMMRO. At the turn of the year, she was re-tagged in Harbour Island, Eleuthera, when her pregnancy was discovered. I promised to give an update and this is a perfect moment. Gina’s calf was safely born and is growing fast. The pair have spent a lot of time in and around Spanish Wells, Eleuthera. Recently they have begun to move further afield, and there have been several sightings with some great photos shared on FB and in particular on Felice Leanne Knowles’s terrific BAHAMAS MANATEE CLUB page, some of which are included here duly credited.

Gina the Bahamas Manatee (pregnant) Eleuthera (BMMRO)

Gina’s calf is currently just called “Gina’s calf”. Its gender is unknown, and it will take a close inspection from below to ascertain from its… I don’t have to go on with this, do I? The point being that the chosen name will need to be unisex because it may take a while until there is sufficient development of the… I don’t have to go on with this either, do I? Let’s see the nameless calf at once! Details of the competition at the end of this post…

Gina with her newborn calf, July 27 (BMMRO) (note apparent prop scars on Gina)11209341_1012183408800885_310154952620912454_n

Spanish Wells, October 26 (π Junea Pinder / BMMRO) Gina the Bahamas manatee and her calf (Junea Pinder / BMMRO) Gina the Bahamas manatee and her calf (Junea Pinder / BMMRO)

Gregory Town, November 5 (Lynne Hirzel / BMMRO)12188935_10156306821645195_3509772562942760375_n 12219637_10156306821330195_1471887362053804519_n

Hatchet Bay, November 13    (π Jeffrey Louis / BMMRO)  10425501_1042928762405755_7163144254688618862_n 12108239_1042928735739091_6064773734031487371_n

November 18: Now you see it… (π Norma Roberts / BMMRO)Gina & Calf Norma Roberts 1 copy

…and now you don’t…Gina & Calf Norma Roberts 2 copy


ATTENTION TEAM MANATEES!!! Due to a consistent influx of sighting information and photos, we would like to add Gina’s calf to our catalogue. It would be nice for it to have a NAME!! We cannot monitor these manatees without your help and it is only fitting that  YOU name the manatee. The deadline for name suggestions is November 29th, 2015 and the winning name will be revealed on November 30th, 2015. The member with the winning name suggestion will receive an official manatee club T-Shirt!!


1. The name must be submitted on the Club Page Bahamas Manatee Club as an individual post – DO NOT comment your suggestion.
2. The name must be unisex – we do not know the sex of the calf yet.
3. A meaning or description must be submitted along with the name.
4. Please do not submit any derogatory or explicit “names.”
5. If you are submitting on behalf of a child who is not on Facebook, please add their name to the post as well.

Spread the word! Tell your friends and families to join the club and help us with a name!! The name will be selected on it’s meaning or description as it relates to marine mammals OR The Bahamas. The amount of “likes” per post will also go into consideration during the selection process.

Regretful Note: I made the stupid mistake of being amongst the very first to post my suggestion, meaning that after a day or two I’d get no likes at all, as more people got involved and my offering sank slowly. But there’ve been plenty of much better ones since, so probably just as well!

Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization

Bahamas Manatee Club

For more information about West Indian manatees, you can visit the MANATEE PAGE. There are several links there to specific manatee stories.

Finally, here is a great manatee map that Felice has recently made, showing which of the increasing number of manatees is where at the moment. Just think, only 4 or 5 were known about four years back. Now look!


Credits: primary founts of Bahamas manatee knowledge Felice & BMMRO; Photos BMMRO, Junea Pinder, Lynne Hirzel, Jeffrey Louis, Norma Roberts



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


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. 



Bahamas Manatee Randy 2 (BMMRO)

West Indian Manatee Randy, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas


Felice Leanne Knowles of the Bahamas Manatee Club has written a great round-up of the Bahamas manatee history for International Manatee Day. She has included their current whereabouts as at September 2015. I’ve added some illustrative images. I’ve called it a “short” history since, although the incidence of recorded manatee sightings in The Bahamas spans 109 years, there was a complete blank of 73 years until 1976, then only sporadic reports until the 1990s.

Randy at Sandy Point, Abaco (2015). Note the distinctive notch in his paddle that confirms his IDBahamas Manatee Randy, Sandy Point Abaco 2 (BMMRO)Bahamas Manatee Randy's notched paddle (BMMRO)

images copy

“The first official documentation of a manatee sighting in The Bahamas was in 1904. The next report was not until 1975. Since the 90’s manatees have been sighted much more frequently.

GINA was first sighted in The Bahamas in 1998 at the AUTEC base in Andros. Since then, she has made The Bahamas her home and has had four calves. Gina is currently in Spanish Wells with her youngest calf of ~ 2 months. RANDY (~7 years old), her son, is currently in Hope Town, Abaco and her daughter JJ (~3.5 years old) was last seen in February, 2015 in Great Harbour Cay, the Berry Islands. Her eldest calf was lost to a motor craft strike.

Gina with one of her calvesBahamas Manatee Gina & Calf (BMMRO)

Gina with her newest calf, photographed recently in EleutheraBahamas Manatee Gina & calf, Eleuthera (The Front Porch)

Since Gina’s arrival, more manatees have been sighted in The Bahamas as persons and organisations became more aware. RITA was first sighted 2009 in Spanish Wells, Eleuthera and was actually pregnant! She gave birth to GEORGIE on June 25th, 2010. Rita was last seen at the AUTEC base in Andros two weeks ago and Georgie was last seen in Casaurina in July 2015. These two ladies have a very interesting story which can be followed on our website: [You can also read about Georgie’s adventure-packed life, with additional links, HERE]

Georgie, Rita’s daughter, at Cherokee, AbacoGeorgie the Manatee, Cherokee, Abaco DSC_0009-001

Two large adult males are also inhabiting The Bahamas, KONG and BLACKBEARD. Kong was first sighted by BMMRO in December of 2011, but could have been in The Bahamas before. Kong has been a true Berry Islander and has always been sighted in Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands. Blackbeard was first sighted in Long Island in 2010. Blackbeard got his name because he has surely traveled the Bahamian waters. He has been to Long, Cat, Eleuthera, and New Providence islands. Since his arrival in New Providence in December 2014, he has already circumnavigated the island twice for sure. He has become very popular down there to the residents and to guests.

Randy in a playful moodBahamas Manatee Randy (BMMRO)

There have been sightings of many other manatees, but we have not received enough photographs and information to give the manatees proper identification names and sexes. Currently, we propose that there are ~15 manatees inhabiting The Bahamas, but this number is not set in stone.

As yet unidentified manatee in Marsh Harbour, summer 2015. Note 3 prop scars on its backBahamas Manatee, Marsh harbour Abaco. No ID. (BMMRO)

BMMRO is working hard to monitor and protect the manatee population in The Bahamas and we cannot do it without the help from the public. Please stay encouraged and continue to care for these magnificent marine mammals. We would like to thank everyone who plays a role in protecting our Bahamian beauty, for providing sighting reports, for providing photographs, and for sharing information about manatees. 

Gina checking out the camera! Manatees are gentle & very curious… maybe in both sensesBahamas Manatee Gina (BMMRO)

“Always remember your manatee manners: “Do not touch, follow, or chase them, do not feed them, and do not give them fresh water to drink”.”

Manatee Awareness Poster jpg copy

Props to Felice, Bahamas Manatee Club , BMMRO and ‘The Front Porch’, Eleuthera


Gina the Manatee & her calf (BMMRO)

Gina (adult female) and her calf – last seen August 6th, 2015 in Spanish Wells Key feature – numerous paddle cuts; white oval scar on left side of back; linear scar on posterior right side of body


Four years ago, there were no manatees in Abaco waters. Then a couple of adventuresome sirenians made the trip over from the Berry Is. and since then, there have been at least one, sometimes two and occasionally three resident on Abaco. And for slow, gentle, animals they certainly move around, too. In the past, I wrote quite often about the manatees, charting their journeys based on satellite tracking and sightings. I reported the tantalising prospect of the young male, Randy, hooking up with young female Georgie in Cherokee Sound, only to turn back when he reached Little Harbour. You can read more about the manatees of Abaco on my manatee page HERE.

     Georgie’s epic trip (Sept 12) continued to Cherokee Sound; and Randy’s ‘pursuit’ (Sept 14)Georgie Manatee's direct route to Abaco       Randy's the Manatee's trip Berry Is. to Abaco copy

The most comprehensive source for Bahamas Manatee information is now to be found by joining the open Facebook group BAHAMA MANATEE CLUB, skilfully curated by Felice Leanne Knowles. There, you can follow the meanderings of your favourite Abaco manatee, watching as he or she moves around the island and cays. In recent months there have been sightings of single or pairs of manatees in several places, including Sandy Point, Little harbour, Marsh Harbour, Schooner Bay and Hope Town Harbour (where two are right now). Here’s an excellent example of how, just like a Beach Boy, an Abaco manatee gets around. In July, Randy moved from Sandy Point to Schooner Bay in 2 days. The big question is, did he travel round the longer top route, as he has in the past; or (more likely in the time taken) via Hole-in-the-Wall?

Randy the Abaco Manatee goes swimabout

Randy the Abaco Manatee goes swimabout

Felice has just produced a great map that shows the present locations of all the Bahamas manatees currently recorded. She has also supplied photos and information about them. Most have names and are well-known to the research team and the locals where they stay. There is one new calf – Gina’s –  this year. One or two manatees are new on the scene and have yet to be identified or named. 

Manatees Throughout The Bahamas

The map shows the last location of the named manatees. The pink dots label females, the green dots label males, and the yellow dots label unknown manatees. The number of unknown manatees has been approximated to reduce error. The photos are of the individual manatees with dates and specific locations of their most recent sighting. We do not have enough data and photos to confirm the unknowns labeled. Any help from the public would be greatly appreciated. Send sighting reports to NB Felice points out Full body and paddle photos are very important for the identification of manatees. Facial shots do not provide enough information for a manatee to be identified”

Bahamas Manatee Location Map - Aug 2015 (Felice Leanne Knowles)

Gina the Manatee, Casuarina, Abaco (BMMRO / FLK)

Georgie (sub-adult female) Last seen in Casuarina, Abaco 9th July, 2015 Key feature – 2 pink scars on the right posterior of her body

Randy the Manatee, Hope Town, Abaco (BMMRO / FLK)

Randy (sub-adult male) Last sighted in Hope Town August 12th, 2015 Key feature – triangle cut on right side of paddle

Manatees, Hope Town, Abaco (BMMRO / FLK)

Unknown (adult, presumed female) with Randy Last seen in Hope Town August 12th, 2015 Key feature – 3 prop scars on the posterior right side of body

Gina the Manatee with her calf, Spanish Wells Bahamas (BMMRO / FLK)

Gina’s Calf Last seen August 6th, Spanish Wells Key feature – none yet, just really tiny!

Blackbeard the manatee, Lyford Cay, New Providence (BMMRO / FLK)

Blackbeard (adult male) Last seen in Lyford Cay August 13th, 2015 Key features – triangle cut on right side of paddle (similar to Randy’s); oval scar on centre of paddle; three prop scars on the back and linear scar

Kong the Bahamas Manatee, Great Harbour Cay Marina, Berry Is. (BMMRO / FLK)

Kong (adult male) Last seen in Great Harbour Cay Marina, February 25th, 2015 Key feature – triangle cut on the left side of paddle; linear scar across the back; oval scar on the back near paddle

J.J. the manatee, Great Harbour Cay Marina, Berry Islands (BMMRO / FLK)

J.J. (sub-adult female) Last seen in Great Harbour Cay Marina, Berry Islands, February 25th, 2015 Key feature – 3 small semi-circular cuts out of paddle at the very end

Rita the Manatee, Hawks Nest Marine, Cat Island (BMMRO/ FLK)

Rita (adult female) Last seen 23rd March, 2014 Hawks Nest Marine, Cat Island Key feature – Large triangle cut on right side of paddle; two small triangular cuts side by side forming a “w” on the left side of paddle

Unknown adult Manatee, West Grand Bahama (BMMRO /FLK)

Unknown adult, West Grand Bahama – Key feature: too distant!

Manatee Awareness Poster jpg

You may have noticed that several of the manatees shown carry scars attributable to prop wounds. Almost all carry injuries of some sort. Because manatees are slow, gentle, inquisitive and trusting creatures, they are especially vulnerable in harbour areas for obvious reasons. Elsewhere than the Bahamas, boat-strike is one of the main causes of manatee mortality. The BMMRO recently issued the above advisory notice because of the uncertainty about the rights and wrongs of watering manatees from docks with hoses and feeding them lettuce etc. Overall the message is that, though creatures of wonder, they are better off being admired but left to their own devices. They are adept at finding the fresh water sources they need, and their sea-grass diet is amply provided for. Dependence on humans, however well-meaning, is actually harmful.

The Travelling Mantee’s Favourite Song







Credits: first and foremost, Felice Leanne Knowles; also BMMRO, Charlotte, & Diane for permission to make free with their material and photos from the get-go; any other photographers of the manatees shown and posted via BMMRO / FLK (Cha Boyce, Jessica Mullen,Otis Wilhoyte I think, maybe others…)

Manatee Logo (


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


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