ONE GOOD INTERN DESERVES ANOTHER (Part 1)


Coral reef research, Australia (Oscar Ward)

ONE GOOD INTERN DESERVES ANOTHER (Part 1)

Four years ago a young English friend of ours, Oscar Ward, was lucky enough to be offered an internship with the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO). At the time, he was post-school, and waiting to start a degree course in marine biology at university. He had no practical experience at all, so he had to progress from the menial tasks (scraping barnacles off the bottom of the research boat) to the more adventurous (whale poop-scooping) to the scholarly (collection and analysis of samples and data, including audio file matching of whale calls for identification). The need for hard work, concentration and accuracy were made clear from the outset… and as you will see, Oscar’s short internship has stood him in very good stead during his university course.

Oscar weekending at Gilpin Point – self-sufficientBMMRO Internship - weekend off (Oscar Ward)

From a promising start on Abaco, and with 2 year’s study behind him, Oscar is currently spending the 3rd year of his 4-year course in Australia, working with The Australian Institute of Marine Science. He has been involved in a number of complex projects focussed on corals and reef life – as we all know, a matter of huge concern – and the projections for the future of the reef systems in a time of warming seas and raised acid levels. Oscar also assists PhD students, for example examining the damaging effects of parasitic worms on coral; and the effect of changing light conditions on corals.

Nurse Sharks, Great Barrier Reef (Oscar Ward)

Much of Oscar’s time has been spent doing fieldwork. Often he is at sea, monitoring and collecting samples in the Southern Great Barrier Reef, diving two or three times a day. This work is often carried out in restricted or preservation zones, and with ever-present manta rays, sharks and sea turtles around him.

Manta Ray, Great Barrier Reef (Oscar Ward)

Right now Oscar is involved with the investigations into the recent bleaching events, work that is at the forefront of serious concern for the GBR and far beyond. I have recently corresponded with him – he has definitely not forgotten that his grounding for the fieldwork and studies that he is engaged in – and very likely his career – came from his time on Abaco and the lessons he learned during his time with the BMMRO at Sandy Point.  (In part 2: another good intern, currently at Sandy Point)

Coral reef research, Australia (Oscar Ward)

All photos: Oscar Ward (the header image is taken from a research vessel – no idea how, maybe a drone with fish-eye lens?)

ATLANTIC SPOTTED DOLPHINS OFF ROCKY POINT, ABACO


Atlantic Spotted Dolphins off Rocky Point, Abaco

This pair was in a group of 8 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins that we encountered yesterday during a day’s expedition on the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) research boat. We spent nearly an hour with them, and there will be a longer post about these magnificent creatures in due course. But right now, I’m still in single image posting mode while “on-island”…

Photo: Keith Salvesen / BMMRO

BROWN PELICANS ON ABACO & BEYOND


Brown Pelican, Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

BROWN PELICANS ON ABACO & BEYOND

Six more sleeps. That’s all. Suddenly, a trip that seemed ages away is rushing towards us. Or, to put it more plausibly science-wise, we are rushing towards it. Abaco beckons, with bonefish, rays, sharks, reef fishes, whales, dolphins, birds and butterflies to investigate. Plus Kaliks to consume. 

Brown Pelican, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

Idly thinking along those lines and vaguely plotting the first few days, took me to Sandy Point, home of the BMMRO (Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation) and of course the legendary Nancy’s, the restaurant at the end of the road. From where it is a short step to the dock on which the pelicans gather and use as a launch pad for their fishing dives.

I photographed this bird at the end of the SP dock, looking rather bedraggled after a diveBrown Pelican (m), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Note the significant plumage differences between the male (above) & this femaleBrown Pelican (f), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I recently read somewhere that the brown pelican is (or has become) quite uncommon in the Bahamas. On Abaco it is a permanent resident breeding species, so a drop in numbers equals fewer nests, fewer chicks and… fewer numbers. It’s a classic cycle towards serious population decline and all that is implied. Has anyone noticed an apparent reduction in numbers, I wonder? Comments welcome.

Brown Pelican, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

Brown Pelican, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The pelicans above were all photographed on Abaco. The two below were not, but are both by exceptional photographers. One, Phil Lanoue, specialises in dramatic sequences, and his work features elsewhere in this blog. The final image was sportingly uploaded by Alan Schmierer from Flickr into the ‘public domain’.

Coming in to land…Brown Pelican coming in to land (Phil Lanoue)

While we are on Abaco, I plan to keep posting as and when, subject to connectivity (always a proviso in the Bahamas). My big hope is that the piping plovers that were on the beach last year and returned this season, will have resisted the increasingly insistent call to fly north to the breeding grounds. If they could just hang on for just a few more days… 

Brown Pelican preening (Alan Schmierer)

Credits: Tom Sheley (1); Tony Hepburn (2); Keith Salvesen (3, 4, 6); Woody Bracey (5); Phil Lanoue (7); Alan Schmierer (8); Birdorable (cartoon)

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.

bmmro-humpbacks-5

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
humpback_whale_size-svg

bmmro-humpbacks-1

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)
humpback_stellwagen-whit-wells-wiki

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

220px-Henri_Marie_Ducrotay_de_Blainville

MANATEE AWARENESS MONTH (& BABY TALK)


Rita the Mantee & her new baby. Bahamas (BMMRO)

MANATEE AWARENESS MONTH (& BABY TALK)

Are you aware of the Bahamas manatees? Just a few years ago your answer might well have been “Bahamas what? No, why? Where?” But suddenly they arrived. And their numbers are increasing. Alternatively, of course, they have always been there, mooching around peacefully and unnoticed in the seagrass. 

Manatee Awareness Graphic (Peppermint Narwhal)

Rita and her recently born daughter – Kamalame, AndrosRita the Mantee & her new baby. Bahamas (BMMRO)

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO has been keeping tabs on occasional sightings of manatees in Bahamian waters for some years. But until around 2012 – when I first learned of them and wrote about them – they appeared to be few and far between. They seemed to be unrecorded for Abaco, or anyway unphotographed.** Then the sightings began. Names were given to individuals, identified primarily by distinctive marks or cuts on their ‘paddles’ (tails). Gina. Rita. Georgie. Randy. JJ. Sightings in Hope Town, Little Harbour, Cherokee and the Casuarina canal. Manatees had arrived and were being paid attention. The ease of digital photography and the rapidly increasing use of social media resulted in more reports, wider interest and – yes – greater awareness both on Abaco and elsewhere in the wider Bahamas

**so much for being factually assertive! Many thanks to Mary for her account of one on Green Turtle Cay ‘seen by everyone’; and Kelley for her 2008 one in Galleon Bay canal… of which she actually got a photo…

manatee-galleon-bay-canal-tc-abaco-feb-2007-kelley-niedoba

To give you an idea of the rapid spread of the West-Indian Manatee population, here is a great infographic made recently by Felice Leanne Knowles of the BMMRO, mapping 2016 sightings of both known and unidentified manatees in the Bahamas. An amazing 15 in all, in an area where the natural fresh water these creatures need for survival is in short supply.

Bahamas Manatee sightings infographic (BMMRO / Felice Knowles)

You’ll see that in July both Gina and Rita had nosed their way down to Andros. At this time, Gina was known to be heavily pregnant. She gave birth in Kamalame Cay, and the photos of her above with her new calf were taken there.

The baby manatee is known to be a female and there is currently a competition to name her. A spreadsheet-worth of names was submitted to the BMMRO, and they have been whittled down to 3 for a final poll-off between Andie (Andros), Kaman (Kam[alame] An[dros]) and Morgan (Arrrrrrrr in Piratese). 

Waiting for a name…Rita the Mantee & her new baby. Bahamas (BMMRO)

RELATED LINKS

BAHAMAS MANATEE CLUB (BMMRO)

BAHAMAS MANATEES: GINA’S GOOD NEWS

BAHAMAS MANATEES: A SHORT HISTORY 1904 – 2015

WEST INDIAN MANATEES (RH PAGE)

img_4120

Credits: BMMRO and individual photographers whom I will identify when my backup has finished churning away; Felice Leanne Knowles; ‘Kelly’ (header); @kamalamecay; Sarah Jayne Buchanan; Peppermint Narwhal for their (as usual) inspired illustrative graphics.

mantsw~1

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

l_bmmro 25th ann_20160304134635-1

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.

imgres-3

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.

imgres-4

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.

imgres-5

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.

imgres-6

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