WHALE-WATCHING: THE APPLIANCE OF SCIENCE


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

WHALE-WATCHING: THE APPLIANCE OF SCIENCE

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation has just celebrated its 25th year of existence. It was formed in 1991. The omnivorous leviathan Amazonus giganticus emerged in 1994 and the invasive species Megacorpus googleii not until 1998. A full 10 years later the first garbled recordings of Sarahpalinus illogicus were made. And all the while, a watchful eye was being kept on the cetaceans of the Bahamas – researching, counting, measuring, identifying, recording, poop-scooping, analysing samples, tagging, comparing, protecting and conserving. 

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 20 (Keith Salvesen

As the years passed, so the science and technology evolved and became more sophisticated. Researching became at the same time easier, yet more complex as the organisation’s remit expanded to accommodate the vast increase in data collection now made possible by refined techniques. Here are two very recent examples – 25th anniversary projects, in fact – with thanks to Charlotte, Diane, their team and their colleagues in linked organisations.

TAGGING BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES

Last month, a tagging project started, involving suction cups being attached to the backs of BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES. The purpose of the research is to compare the foraging efficiency of the whales in Abaco waters with those of Andros, the second part of the project. I imagine this will provide valuable insights into the whale movements and behaviours in each location as well as such issues as the comparative availability of the food supply, and other factors that may affect expected foraging patterns. 

The tag is moved towards an adult male. Note the aerial (antenna?) at the back of itTagging a Blainville's beaked whale with a suction cup 1

Planting the tag on the whale’s backTagging a Blainville's beaked whale with a suction cup 2

Successful suction!Tagging a Blainville's beaked whale with a suction cup 3

The tag in placeTagging a Blainville's beaked whale with a suction cup 4

The tag is tracked for 18 hours, after which it is retrieved and the recordings can then be analysed back at BMMRO HQ in Sandy Point. So far, an adult male, a young male and two adult females have been tagged. Each female had a calf, but these were not tagged.

Female beaked whale with her calfBlainville's beaked whale female and calf

AERIAL PHOTOGRAMMETRY USING A HEXACOPTER

Drone technology is rapidly expanding as new uses for them are devised. BMMRO in conjunction with NOAA have used a sophisticated HEXACOPTER to take the first  PHOTOGRAMMETRY images of Blainville’s beaked whales. These aerial photographs were taken from approximately 100ft altitude. But note: not just anyone with a $50 drone can do this: the project required flight clearance from the Bahamas Department of Civil Aviation and a permit for research on marine mammals granted by the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources.

 Blainville’s beaked whale photogrammetry image – adult male (note ‘erupted’ teeth) Blainville's beaked whale photogrammetry image - adult male (note 'erupted' teeth) BMMRO

 Blainville’s beaked whale photogrammetry image – female and calf Blainville's beaked whale photogrammetry image - female and calf BMMRO

STOP PRESS Two additional images from the latest batch Blainville's beaked whales photogrammetry image - BMMRO  Blainville's beaked whales photogrammetry image - BMMRO

Photogrammetry: the science of making measurements from photographs. Applications include satellite tracking of the relative positioning and alterations in all Earth environments (e.g. tectonic motions etc), research on the swimming of fish, of bird or insect flight, and other relative motion processes. The results are used to guide and match the results of computational models of the natural systems. They help to invalidate or confirm new theories, to design novel vehicles or new methods for predicting or/and controlling the consequences of earthquakes, tsunamis etc, or to understand the flow of fluids next to solid structures, and many other processes. (Wiki-précis)

Hexacopter (6 rotors)Hexacopter_Multicopter_DJI-S800_on-air_credit_Alexander_Glinz

Tag Team: BMMRO, University of St Andrews (Scotland), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Hexacopter: BMMRO, NOAA

Photo Credits: top two, moi (from BMMRO research vessel); remainder except for last, BMMRO; last, Wiki

MAKE FRIENDS WITH ANEMONE (2): SPECTACULAR REEF PLANTS


Corkscrew Anenome = Peterson Cleaner Shrimps ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba copy

Corkscrew Anemone with Peterson Cleaner Shrimps

MAKE FRIENDS WITH ANEMONE (2):  SPECTACULAR REEF PLANTS

Going snorkelling? Planning a scuba day on the reef? You’ll see wonderful fish and amazing coral for sure. But sometimes the beauty of the plant-life on the reef can be overlooked. Check out the anemone in the header image, with the camouflaged cleaner shrimps playing around it. You wouldn’t want to miss a sight like that. The many and varied forms and colours of anemone on the reefs of the Bahamas make up a vital component of a spectacular underwater world.

Giant Anenome ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyGiant Anemone ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 4Anemone Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaAnemone on Rope ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaAnemone ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama ScubaAnemone (Giant) ©Melinda Riger @GBS copyAnemone ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

All photos: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba, with thanks

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (9): THE HARLEQUIN BASS


Harlequin Bass ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (9): THE HARLEQUIN BASS

I’m conscious of being rather unfair on this pretty dwarf bass species by including it in the WTF? series. The usual denizen of the series is a fish so strange that one’s immediate instinct is to yell into one’s facemask, “WTF?”. BATFISH or FROGFISH or GUITARFISH and their bizarre ilk. So with apologies to this species for its somewhat harsh classification, here are some quite flattering photos of it to make up for any hurt feelings.

Harlequin Bass Fish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyHarlequin Bass (jpc what'sthatfish)

The Harlequin Bass Serranus tigrinus has unusually striking body markings and a rather endearing spotty tailfin. They are hardy creatures and I note that they are recommended aquarium fish “and make a great candidate for beginners”, though there are warnings that they are “semi-aggressive”. NB they are only a few inches long, so no need to panic.

Harlequin_Bass_Serranus_tigrinus wikiHarlequin_Bass_(Serranus_tigrinus) wiki

If you are still not confident that you can ID one in the wild, here is a short video… Actually I’m really including it to show how these fish swim around. And next time, I promise a truly eye-watering WTF? fish from Bahamian waters, though its camouflage is so good that you may never notice it…

Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (1, 2); jpc/ what’s that fish; wiki

REMARKABLE REEF CREATURES TO ADMIRE


Octopus (Adam Rees : Scuba Works)

REMARKABLE REEF CREATURES TO ADMIRE

Here is a small collection of recent photographs from Adam Rees of Scuba Works. Three OCTOPUSES, an astounding FROGFISH,  a SEAHORSE, a MANTIS SHRIMP at close quarters, and a wonderful HAWKSBILL TURTLE. Clicking on a link will take you to a post with more photos and information about each creature. If these images don’t make you want to scuba then… what will?

Frogfish Hunting (Adam Rees : Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees : Scuba Works)Mantis Shrimp (Adam Rees : Scuba Works)Octopus 3 (Adam Rees : Scuba Works)Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees : Scuba Works)Octopus 2 (Adam Rees : Scuba Works)

All photos Adam Rees / Scuba Works, with thanks for use permission

“HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU”: DO SOMETHING GREEN!


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Delphi, Abaco (Craig Nash)

“HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU”: DO SOMETHING GREEN!

Today is the 46th Earth Day, a global event to encourage ecology and conservation, and to discourage the spoiling of the planet by mankind. What becomes lost now may never be retrieved. Plant a tree. Grow some bee- or butterfly-friendly flowers. Clear a patch of beach of plastic trash. Recycle stuff. That sort of thing. 

Atala Hairstreak Eumaeus atala – DelphiAtala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Gulf Fritillary Agraulis vanillae – Neem FarmGulf Fritillary, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I’d lined up some horror-images of plastic-filled birds, entangled turtles, damaged reefs and so forth, of which I have a depressingly large archive. Then, in a spirit of *vogue word alert* positivity I scrapped that miserable idea and decided instead to celebrate some of the natural wonders that can be found on Abaco. 

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT – one of Abaco’s 5 ENDEMIC BIRDSBahamas-Great Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer

CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD (f) preening – Gilpin PointCuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Some signal species serve as a continuing tribute to those who work to conserve them. The gorgeous ABACO PARROTS, now saved from the brink of extinction – and currently establishing a new colony on New Providence. The rare PIPING PLOVERS that find a safe home to spend their winters on Abaco’s beaches. The 5 ENDEMIC BIRD species. The WHALES & DOLPHINS that populate the waters. The west-indian MANATEES, until very recently almost unknown for Abaco yet now providing a curious addition to the scene as they visit their favourite haunts.

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALE (m) approaching the BMMRO research vesselBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 14 (Keith Salvesen

BOTTLENOSE DOLHIN, Sandy Point (about to dive under the boat)Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 7

Habitat protection has been provided over substantial areas on both land and sea by the creation of natural parks and preserves. These have very recently been extended by the establishment of 4 large PROTECTED AREAS for East Abaco Creeks, Cross Harbour, the Marls and the South Abaco Blue Holes, a wonderful reward for a great deal of hard lobbying by conservation organisations and by many concerned individuals. 

QUEEN ANGELFISHQueen Angelfish ©Melinda Stevens Riger / G B Scuba

BANDED CORAL SHRIMPBanded Coral Shrimp ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

Scientific research and conservation work is continuously carried out in Abaco waters. The CORAL REEFS that form the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world; the BLUE HOLES that lead to wonderful caves and cathedral caverns of crystal; the vast area of the MARLS and the species that rely on the mangrove swamps; the MANGROVES themselves: all these are watched over and monitored for ways to protect them best for future generations. 

PIPING PLOVER pair, Delphi (taken last month)Piping Plover pair, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

PIPING PLOVER on AbacoPiping Plover, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

I’ve mentioned trees and plants. There are a variety of well-known sources for both on Abaco – on the mainland, anyway, and maybe some cays. Any will advise on bee and butterfly attractants. Thinking of which, bird seed feeders and hummer sugar water feeders are cheap and guarantee the interest of garden and coppice birds, and during the winter months some brightly coloured migrants such as buntings and grosbeaks. 

HIBISCUS – DelphiHibiscus, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

 BOUGAINVILLEA  – DelphiBougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Bird of Paradise flower STRELITZIA – Marsh Harbour (seemingly on a steep slope!)Bird of Paradise Flower (Strelitzia) Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU!

RALPH’S CAVE South AbacoRalph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk)

Credits: all images RH except: Abaco parrot, Craig Nash; Bahama yellowthroat, Gerlinde Taurer; Angelfish & Shrimp, Melinda Riger; single piping plover, Bruce Hallett; Ralph’s Cave, Brian Kakuk

PELICAN BRIEF (2): SANDY POINT, ABACO


Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 04

PELICAN BRIEF (2): SANDY POINT, ABACO

The small settlement of Sandy Point is literally at the end of the road. Beyond the limit of the tarmac lies the shallow sea. The Highway – Abaco’s only main road – extends the length of the skinny island, 120 miles roughly north to south with occasional side roads to settlements, dirt roads, forestry tracks, and something a bit more significant for Marsh Harbour – a roundabout, a single set of working traffic lights, the only ones on the island. There’s a second set but I have never seen them working. I don’t think anyone ever has. Maybe they were never even wired up.

Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 7

We went to Sandy Point for lunch with friends at the famous (though not yet world-famous) Nancy’s, with its reliably comforting menu of a choice of the same 3 dishes permanently on offer (fresh fish, conch, or chicken), plus Kalik or Sands beer. Simple yet satisfying. Sandy Point is a great place for birding, both sea / shore / wading birds, and land birds. Ospreys are often around. And brown pelicans. At high tide they dive off the dock (see HERE). At low tide, when the long sand bars are just visible above the water level, the pelicans use them as base for their fishing operations, often some 200 yards from the shoreline.

Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 11

We were watching 5 pelicans doing just that – lazily flapping aloft from the water in their clumsy way, then turning swiftly and diving with some elegance before smashing into the water for fish, returning in triumph or sorrow to the sand bar to eat… or plan the next foray. Then one detached itself from the group and flew closer to us for a single dive in deeper water, before flapping heavily back to the sand bar.

I took a sequence of photos with ‘Hated Camera’ (having drowned ‘Loved Camera’ in a minor marine mishap). As I have since discovered, ‘HC’ was on the wrong setting the whole time – by which I mean several days (some small but important side switch I’d neglected to remember). Hence the pelican images are in small format because I am slightly ashamed of the quality… There’s a theory about cartoons that there are two possible reasons for pairing them together on a magazine page: (1) they are each doubly funny and therefore only need half the space; or (2) they are only half as funny and so two are needed to double the overall chuckle quotient…

So here is the pelican dive sequence – unsuccessful in terms of fish – with the bird then flying back past us to the sand bar to rejoin his 4 buddies. I’ve put 2 images per line – either because (on the cartoon principle above) they are so good they only need half the allotted space or (hint: this is the truth) they are of such indifferent image quality that I am too embarrassed to enlarge them…

Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 01 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 02 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 03 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 04 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 05 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 06 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 07 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 08 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 10 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 11 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 12 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 13

In the final image you can just make out a spooky ghost ship on the horizon. This is the huge vessel moored at the ‘Disney’ island, historically named Gorda Cay but now ‘pirated up’ to Castaway Cay. Arrrrrrrr!

Credits: all images RH & ‘Hated Camera’; Mrs RH kindly being encouraging about the results

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (7): THE SOAPFISH


Soapfish ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (7): THE SOAPFISH 

The WTF? series features some of the stranger fish that inhabit the waters of the Bahamas. Ones that, were you to encounter one on the reef, might make you exclaim “WTF?”. The soapfish Rypticus belongs in the same family as grouper and sea bass. Within the soapfish genus there are quite a few varieties in different shapes, sizes and colours that include several mottled, freckled, spotted and generally blotchy fish.  This post features one (or two) of them! Sorry to be lame here and lacking in authority, but having looked carefully online at images of several types of soapfish, I reckon there are 3 candidates. Freckled, I think these are. Enlightenment would be welcome!

Soapfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Rypticus tend to inhabit shallower tropical and sub-tropical waters. They are mainly nocturnal in their habits, feeding at night on small fish, crustaceans and molluscs. The WTF? factor arises from the creature’s oddly truncated shape. If you cover the back end of the fish in the image below with your hand, you might expect the fish to be about the same length again. But no, there’s just the tail to come. It looks a bit cut in half.

Soapfish © Melinda Riger @GB Scuba

DOES THE SOAPFISH HAVE ANY AWESOME POWERS?

I’m glad you asked because in fact it has two. First, these fish respond to threats by secreting large amounts of toxic mucus from their skins. This acts as a defensive barrier to repel predators. Secondly, female soapfish are able to change sex to male. This is not uncommon among fish, and in some (e.g. Clownfish) the change works the other way, male to female. I read a lot about chemicals and gonads in this connection, then decided to spare you the details. So basically, it’s toxic slimy coats and female gender realignment.

Soapfish ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Credits: all photos, Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba