Change is in the air. And in the sea. Above, you will notice the brand new logo of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research OrganisationBMMRO based in Sandy point, Abaco. Several major Bahamas-wide projects are in progress or in preparation, and as we approach 2020, this is the perfect time for some marine mammal news, illustrated with great images from BMMRO research trips.
BMMRO’s scientific research over many years is a prime reason why we all have the privilege of seeing the neonate sperm whale calf in the header image. It was photographed with its mother off South Abaco last Spring. Much-appreciated support of the essential research and conservation work of the organisation helps to ensure that the whales, dolphins and manatees in Bahamas waters are watched over, documented in minute detail (even their calls) and protected. The marine mammals of the Bahamas have a promising future looking ahead to 2020, and well beyond.
Not so long ago, most people had no idea that the waters of the Bahamas in general – and Abaco in particular – contained a small population of these curious, gentle, trusting creatures. When I first wrote about them and their adventures, there was surprise – maybe disbelief. A few years later, all that has changed thanks to theBMMROand an outreach program that raised awareness – and consequently the sighting and reporting – of manatees. They are now widely recognised as they nose their way round harbours, docks and landing stages – and quite rightly they still excite delight and a degree of wonderment.
You can find out more – lots more – about Bahamas manatees on my page HERE. I have a post in progress about recent manatee developments with a rescue one but alas I have found I have already run out of week through some kind of bizarre time / space continuum dislocation (specifically, flagrant time-mismanagement). So I am posting a few adorable images to be going on with.
And remember, if you happen to see one, please do report it to the BMMRO or let me know. Useful data includes date, location and a description if possible of any damage – notches and nicks – to the paddle (= tail). It’s a good method for ID. Photos a bonus. Every sighting adds to the database of knowledge about these strangest of creatures of the Bahamian seas. And you’ll be pleased to know that they are undoubtedly managing to breed in the Bahamas: there are baby manatees to prove it…
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
BAHAMAS MANATEE MAGIC ON ABACO & BEYOND
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 pageHERE.
Georgie’s epic trip (Sept 12) continued to Cherokee Sound; and Randy’s ‘pursuit’ (Sept 14)
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
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 tohttp://www.bahamaswhales.org/sightings/index.htmlNB 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”
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 (sub-adult male) Last sighted in Hope Town August 12th, 2015 Key feature – triangle cut on right side of paddle
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’s Calf Last seen August 6th, Spanish Wells Key feature – none yet, just really tiny!
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 (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. (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 (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, West Grand Bahama – Key feature: too distant!
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.
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…)
GEORGIE THE (FORMER) ABACO MANATEE RETURNS TO THE BERRY IS.
Last year I posted about Georgie, the young manatee that made Abaco her home for several months. Georgie was born in Spanish Wells. She and her mother Rita travelled to Nassau Harbour, where in April 2012 they were rescued from the multiple shipping hazards and released in Great Harbour Cay, Berry Is. Both were equipped with tags to monitor their movements. In June, the newly-weaned Georgie embarked on a big solo adventure by swimming to Abaco. Her tracking device showed that she called in at the Marls, before continuing right round the top of Abaco and down the east side, calling in at various Cays on the way. In all, her journey was some 200 miles long. She eventually settled down in the Cherokee and Casuarina area, and in a modest way became a lettuce-chomping celebrity.
The BMMRO has recently updated Georgie’s story: “Georgie remained in Cherokee Sound throughout the fall, including during hurricane Sandy but in January she was beginning to look slightly underweight. Concern was raised about her general appearance and the decision was made… to conduct a field health assessment and relocate her to the Atlantis Marine Mammal Rescue Center. “
“Georgie underwent a series of general health evaluations and was fed approximately 75 pounds of lettuce each day. She gained more than 200 pounds during the course of her care and weighed 569 pounds upon her recent release”.
“We are pleased to announce that Georgie has now been released once more to Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands after a successful rehabilitation at Atlantis’ Dolphin Cay. She was successfully released on Wednesday 14th August by the Atlantis Animal Rescue Team from the Atlantis Dolphin Cay Marine Mammal Rescue Center, with the help of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO). She has a satellite tag attached to her which will help post-release monitoring, currently being conducted by representatives from BMMRO and Dolphin Cay.”
Georgie being let down from the boat, back into Great Harbour Cay (K. Ferguson)
Georgie with her tag shortly after release (K. Ferguson)
Georgie socialising with a young male manatee in Great Harbour Cay a few days later (K. Ferguson)
“The first 3 weeks of Georgie’s release showed her venturing on longer and longer journeys, with the blue circles showing her first weeks’ movements, the red her second, and finally the yellow circles her locations up to Saturday. She is doing very well and often seen with the other manatees in the area.”
GEORGIE: THE MOVIE OF THE MOVIE
Apologies for using an iPh*ne to capture the movie – I wasn’t able to embed it directly. Updates on Georgie will be posted on BMMRO’sFACEBOOK PAGE
Credits and thanks to BMMRO and Kendria Ferguson for use of photos and the maroon text…
The legendaryCONCH SALAD TVis a great resource for Bahamas wildlife and way-of-life enlightenment. Their instructive videos are very well put together, and cover Nature, Marine, Art, Science, Music, Culture, Cooking, and broader Bahamas issues. The video below is 9 minutes of Bottlenose Dolphin action, and is recommended for relaxation, gentle instruction, and Kalik-swigging accompaniment…
It time to catch up with last month’s Cetacean sightings around Abaco. The Manatee reports are of Georgie in the Cherokee area – alas no longer resident on Abaco but safely at Atlantis where she is being cared for. To know more about the Blainville’s beaked whale on Abaco, click HERE
GEORGIE THE ABACO MANATEE: FAREWELL CHEROKEE, HELLO ATLANTIS
Many people have shown an interest in the adventures of Georgie the Manatee over the last 18 months or so, and the work of the BMMRO in monitoring her movements and welfare. She has travelled a great many miles in that time, to and around Abaco; settled down eventually in Cherokee; successfully shed her satellite tag; gone awol a couple of times; and happily reappeared at Cherokee each time. Recently there have been increasing concerns about her wellbeing, and a joint venture has overseen her capture & return to the Atlantis Marine Mammal Rescue Center for observations and health evaluation. The full story published in the Bahamas Weekly [click logo below] with photos by Tim Aylen is set out below. I have also included some very good pictures of Georgie and the preparations for her journey, taken by Cindy James Pinder (with thanks for permission to use them). So Abaco – and Cherokee in particular – has sadly lost its only (briefly) resident manatee. I can’t make out when the last resident manatee was recorded on Abaco, but not very recently I think. Fingers crossed for Georgie’s future – I will continue to post updates on how she gets on.
UPDATE 1 FROM BMMRO“On January 26th, Georgie was captured in Casaurina canal and transported to Dolphin Cay-Atlantis. Videos taken by BMMRO on January 15th highlighted areas of concern in regards to Georgie’s current body condition. Those videos were then circulated amongst a group of manatee researches abroad and their opinions and advice were taken into consideration by the Department of Marine Resources (DMR). Georgie had lost a considerable amount of weight since her arrival to Abaco (September 2012) and need medical attention. DMR gave Dolphin Cay permission to capture Georgie and transport her to their marine mammal rehabilitation facility until she was healthy enough to return to the wild. Health assessments were conducted the day of capture (prior to transporting her to Nassau) and on January 27th. BMMRO’s Manatee Lady (and Educational Officer), Kendria Ferguson, visited Georgie on January 29th and is happy to report that Georgie is doing well. She is currently on a meal plan that will assist her with getting the necessary nutrients she needs to get healthy. BMMRO will continue to monitor Georgie’s progress and will provide updates here on our FB page. Thank you for all your support, please help us to continue to monitor manatees in The Bahamas by making a donation on our website www.bahamaswhales.org.”
ATLANTIS RESCUES ENDANGERED MANATEE & RELOCATES HER TO DOLPHIN CAY
By Atlantis, Paradise Island and One&Only Ocean Club Jan 31, 2013 6:22:53 PM
Photo: Tim Aylen
PARADISE ISLAND, THE BAHAMASThe Atlantis Animal Rescue Team, under the direction of the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources (BDMR) and with assistance from The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization (BMMRO), successfully rescued Georgie, a West Indian manatee and relocated her to the Atlantis Dolphin Cay Marine Mammal Rescue Center. Dolphin Cay is home to the only live marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation center in The Bahamas and is a member of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Manatees in addition to all marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 2005 and only authorized facilities are able to respond such requests from Government.
Georgie was first sighted in Spanish Wells in June 2010 where she was born to Rita, a known Florida Manatee. In October of 2011 both Rita and Georgie appeared in the busy Nassau Harbor and at the request of the Bahamas Government, the Dolphin Cay Team rescued them and brought them to a safe environment at the Atlantis Dolphin Cay Marine Mammal Rescue Center where health assessments and evaluations could be conducted. With the assistance of the BDMR, BMMRO, United States Geological Survey, and Save the Manatee Club, the Atlantis Animal Rescue Team released both Rita and Georgie in April of 2012, equipped with tags to monitor their movements for several months. In October of 2012, it was observed that Rita and Georgie had split up and Georgie made a dramatic move from the Berry Islands release site to Cherokee in Abaco, The Bahamas. The Dolphin Cay team made several trips to Abaco, meeting up with BMMRO to try to get a good look at Georgie’s overall body condition. Concern was raised by BMMRO recently about her general appearance and the decision was made by the Department of Marine Resources for the Dolphin Cay team to conduct a field health assessment and relocate her to the Atlantis Marine Mammal Rescue Center.
Photo: Tim Aylen
Georgie will undergo a series of general health evaluations. Once she is healthy, the teams will pull together once again and relocate her back to Great Harbor Cay in the Berry Islands with the hope that she rejoins with the resident group of manatees in that area. At this time, Georgie is under observation at Dolphin Cay and doing well in her new environment.
Atlantis is the home of world’s largest open-air marine habitat with over 50,000 marine animals in lagoons and displays as well as Dolphin Cay, the state-of-the-art dolphin interaction and education center. Dolphin Cay and Atlantis are accredited members of both the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. Both the marine habitat and Dolphin Cay were created with the goal of enlightening visitors about the wonders of these remarkable ocean inhabitants. Dolphin Cay is also the residence of the Katrina Dolphins and Sea Lions some of whom were swept to sea during Hurricane Katrina.
A report by Kendria Ferguson on the impact of Hurricanes Sandy for the BMMRO
After all the exciting but unexpected events of October, slowly life is returning to normal. As the whimsical but intimidating winds of Hurricane Sandy encompassed the research center, we felt a few limited blockbuster hits. Without power for four days and no contact with the world outside of Sandy Point, we felt like we were in a twilight zone! Hurricane force winds crept up on Abaco during the wee hours on Thursday, October 25th; predicted to be a Category 1, Hurricane Sandy surely made her presence felt! Luckily, we only had a few minor leaks at the research center but the community of Sandy Point and other parts of Abaco had severe flooding and extensive damage.
Trapped in a house for four days with a hurricane that refused to leave, our concern for Georgie (the Christopher Columbus of our Bahamian manatees) began to grow. Georgie recently separated from her mother (Rita) in June of this year, and shortly thereafter decided to take a detour to Abaco, over 70 miles from the Berry Islands, Northern Bahamas, where she previously resided with a small population of manatees. Having travelled a tremendous distance around Abaco, she finally settled in at a small community called Cherokee Sound, located on the eastern side of Abaco. During Hurricane Irene, October 2011, Georgie and her mother swam from Spanish Wells, Eleuthera to Nassau. Whether this shift in locations was entirely due to the passing of a hurricane is unknown but scientists feared that Georgie could possibly get confused during the storm and take off to an unknown location.
Last sighted on the 24th of October, Georgie wasn’t seen again until November 4th, almost a week after Sandy had passed the community of Cherokee. She returned with a back covered in moss, an outstandingly healthy looking figure and thankfully no visible injuries/wounds as a result of the storm (these photos were taken on November 5th).
After hurricanes, an increase in shark bites has been documented amongst the dolphin population that inhabit the Little Bahama Bank (Fearnbach et al. 2012). Scientists believe that hurricanes may be the driving force for the relocation of dolphins to waters deeper than their preferred habitat which therefore makes them more accessible to predators such as oceanic sharks. Increase in wave height, storm surge, sediment erosion and deposition can make these once tranquil shallow habitats confusing for dolphins and manatees to navigate.
Photograph of a juvenile dolphin with a fresh and severe shark-bite wound on its flank
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, a decline in adult survival rate after the passing of major hurricanes (Category 3 and higher) among manatee populations in Florida were attributed to possible injury from debris, strandings and displacement of animals as a result of habitat loss and strong water currents (Langtimm et al. 2003).
As we hoped, Georgie appeared to have tucked herself into the nearby mangroves and returned within eyesight when she felt it was safe enough to leave the shelter she sought out during hurricane Sandy. Now that the storm has passed, falling debris has been cleared and our shallow water habitats have returned to the calm and often crystal clear waters we remembered them to be. We can all now let out a huge sigh of relief! We all survived Super-Storm-Sandy!
Fearnbach, H. D. (2012). Seasonality of calving and predation risk in bottlenose dolphins on Little Bahama Bank. . Marine Mammal Science, 28(2), 402-411. Langtimm, C. A. (2003). Lower survival probabilities for adult Florida manatees in years with intense coastal storms. Ecological Applications, 13:257-268.
Story by Kedria Ferguson, BMMRO’s education officer and manatee expert