WHALE TALES FROM BMMRO, ABACO BAHAMAS


Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

WHALE TALES FROM BMMRO, ABACO BAHAMAS

These photos of tailing sperm whales Physeter macrocephalus were taken in the last month or so off the coast of South Abaco, close to the HQ  of BMMRO (Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation) at Sandy Point.

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

The powerful tails, or flukes, of the sperm whale are the largest of any whale species relative to body size. As the whales prepare for a deep dive, the flukes are the last thing you’ll see…

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Marine mammals can be identified by individual characteristics such as tears to the fluke (whales – see header image), dorsal fin (dolphins) or ‘paddle’ (manatees). Many will be sighted and recorded, and later seen regularly, often for many years. Family dynasties can even be traced down the generations.

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

The whale above is in the final stages of a dive, just before the fluke slides beneath the surface and vanishes. The dramatic moments that precede this, with the unforgettable sight of water pouring off the spread tail – are over. The hunt for deep-down squid has begun in earnest.

BMMRO research boat, Sandy Point Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour))

BMMRO Research RIB (with Harry)

Main Photos: Charlotte Dunn/ BMMRO

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

SPERM WHALE BONES & RESEARCH: LIFE AFTER DEATH


SPERM WHALE BONES & RESEARCH: LIFE AFTER DEATH

I made this short video last year at BMMRO HQ, Sandy Point, Abaco. A sperm whale had stranded earlier in the year, and after the necropsy some of the bones were taken from the beach for research. In order to clean them, the bones were sunk and anchored to the seabed offshore in quite shallow water. Strandings are always sad, of course, but  it is good to know that even after death the creature makes an important contribution to scientific research. In a sense, it has life after death.

BMMRO / Rolling Harbour Abaco / Keith Salvesen

BABY SPERM WHALE, ABACO, BAHAMAS: HOPE FOR A NEW DECADE


Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

BABY SPERM WHALE, ABACO, BAHAMAS

HOPE FOR A NEW DECADE 

Looking back at 2019, one of the most enjoyable posts to put together featured an adult sperm whale with a neonate calf. The wonderful photos were obtained last summer during 2 research trips in the deeper water off the south coast of Abaco by the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) It seems fitting to greet the new decade with a revised version of my original post. There’s optimism in these images, and more generally in the recovery in some areas of the savagely depleted whale populations of past decades. I’d like to think that a smiling baby whale holds out hope for the 2020s.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

These are just some of the BMMRO research team’s images and footage of the baby sperm whale investigating the underwater world it has just been born into. Hopefully it will flourish and live for decades. If it does not, the overwhelmingly likely cause will be mankind, either directly or indirectly. 

CREDITS: Brilliant close-up footage plus the clips I have taken from it – Charlotte Dunn / Diane Claridge / BMMRO. 

DONATE: If you are touched by the magic of this little Bahamas sperm whale, may I invite you to consider making a donation to BMMRO for its research and conservation work – a scientific commitment that reaches far beyond the waters of the Bahamas. The system is set up to process donations from just $10 upwards, and every cent is used to further the work of BMMRO. Please click the logo below to reach the right page directly.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

 

BABY SPERM WHALE IN BAHAMAS WATERS: AMAZING FOOTAGE


Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

BABY SPERM WHALE IN BAHAMAS WATERS: AMAZING FOOTAGE

Over several years I have had the privilege of being able to feature wonderful photographs and video footage in this blog. Birds, course, and also reef fish, sharks, seahorses, coral and anemones and a whole lot more. I have also been involved throughout with the wonderful work of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO), and have been a part of team since 2017. Abaco is lucky enough to have the HQ at Sandy Point, but we must keep in mind that the organisation’s remit extends throughout the entire Bahamas archipelago, and has firm links with research and conservation organisations on the other islands.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

The clear turquoise waters around the islands and their cays are well-known to, and appreciated by, all. This is the playground of the smaller marine mammals – the dolphins, smaller whales and the (now a significant presence) manatees.

   

Less well known are the denizens of the deeper waters and the immense depths of the GREAT BAHAMA CANYON of the northern Bahamas. This is the realm of the large marine animals, from the mysterious speciality beaked whales right up to massive sperm whales. 

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

About 3 weeks ago, the BMMRO research team encountered something truly wondrous off the south Abaco coastline – something to quicken the pulse and gladden the heart – a newborn sperm whale investigating the underwater world it has just been born into. Hopefully it will flourish and live for decades. The hope is sadly tempered by the overwhelming – and increasing – evidence of the terrible effect that humans have caused in just one generation by the pollution of air, land and sea. 

Charlotte Dunn posted the footage of 2 separate sightings. Her first caption reads:

“Close encounter with a curious newborn (‘neonate’) sperm whale yesterday – reminding us of the importance of our Shared Waters project about the effects of ship traffic on resident sperm whales, http://www.bahamaswhales.org/research.aspx. The young individuals like this one will be the most impacted if we don’t make serious conservation changes. As this young whale matures, the policy changes we make in the Bahamas now will affect its survival”.

“While their mothers are feeding at depth (knocking sound in the background) this newborn is being cared for by a slightly older calf until the adults return.”

After the second encounter, Charlotte wrote: “Here’s another amazing short clip of the neonate sperm whale we videoed off south Abaco two weeks ago – thank you to the BEP Foundation and the Devereux Ocean Foundation for funding some of our important work with sperm whales in the Bahamas”.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

On Charlotte’s conservation points above, over the last 3 months or so I have been checking daily for posts and articles specifically related to stranded, dead, and killed whales, and their stomach contents as revealed by necropsies. I have collected images from around the world. I won’t wreck this marvellous find in Abaco waters by including any of these. This casual research reveals a horrifying attrition rate for marine mammals. Most animals were full of plastics, from micro through flip-flops all the way up to very large chunks. Some of this junk clearly was the actual cause of death rather than a contributing factor. A whale may take several weeks to die in this way. All of it is entirely the responsibility of mankind – and pretty much caused in the last 50 years.

So let’s enjoy this little sperm whale, and hope it grows to an adulthood that will have seen a radical change for the better in its birth environment – the one that should never have been considered ours to destroy.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

CREDITS: Brilliant close-up footage plus the clips I have taken from it – Charlotte Dunn / Diane Claridge / BMMRO.  

DONATE: If you are touched by the magic of this little Bahamas sperm whale, may I invite you to consider making a donation to BMMRO for its research and conservation work – a scientific commitment that reaches far beyond the waters of the Bahamas. The system is set up to process donations from just $10 upwards, and every cent is used to further the work of BMMRO. Please click the logo below to reach the right page directly.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Baby sperm whale off south Abaco, Bahamas ©BMMRO

DOLPHINS IN THE SEA OF ABACO: PLAYTIME


Dolphins, Sea of Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn / Keith Salvesen)

DOLPHINS IN THE SEA OF ABACO: PLAYTIME

Earlier this year, the team at Friends of the Environment in Marsh Harbour Abaco, in conjunction with BMMRO (Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation), arranged a fundraising trip to look for whales and dolphins. On both counts, the guests’ hopes and expectations were amply fulfilled – in fact, almost certainly exceeded.

Dolphins, Sea of Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn / Keith Salvesen)

Where there is a single dolphin, there will almost invariably be others – and so it proved. The group of bottlenose dolphins turned out to be in a very playful mode, living up to their reputation as delightful, inquisitive, entertainers.

Dolphins, Sea of Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn / Keith Salvesen)

One of the dolphins turned out to be a young 3rd generation animal from the same family, recently weaned. The BMMRO has a large photographic library of dolphins and whales, collected over many years. In the photo above, you’ll see that the dorsal fin of the nearest one is ragged, especially near the top. This is the primary method by which individual animals are recorded to assist with subsequent identification in the field (= water) or back at base in Sandy Point by means of the photo archive.

Dolphins, Sea of Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn / Keith Salvesen)

The trip was perfected when a young female sperm whale came close to the boat… and then rolled onto her side, flipper up, to get a good look at the boat and its human contents. A wonderful experience for all those on board.

Dolphins, Sea of Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn / Keith Salvesen)

Credits: BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn; Friends of the Environment

Dolphins, Sea of Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Charlotte Dunn / Keith Salvesen)

SPERM WHALES TAILING: ABACO, BAHAMAS


Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco, Bahamas (©BMMRO)

SPERM WHALES TAILING: ABACO, BAHAMAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco, Bahamas (©BMMRO)

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

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

Sperm Whale Tailing, Abaco, Bahamas (©BMMRO)

SPERM WHALES GATHERING IN ABACO WATERS


Sperm Whales, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Keith Salvesen)

SPERM WHALES GATHERING IN ABACO WATERS

During the past week, the BMMRO research boat has been tracking sperm whales off the south coast of Abaco. These huge creatures are the largest marine mammals found in Bahamian waters, and the area between Rocky Point around the south coast to Hole-in-the Wall is a great place to find them. 

Sperm Whales, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Keith Salvesen)Sperm Whales, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Keith Salvesen)

One reason they are found in this particular area is the existence of the Great Bahama Canyon, one of the deepest submarine canyons in the world. The depth of the canyon ensures that the waters are nutrient-rich, with food being drawn up from the depths towards the surface. In season it’s the perfect place for female sperm whales and their calves.

Sperm Whales, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Keith Salvesen)Sperm Whales, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Keith Salvesen)

The BMMRO research trip encountered more than a dozen sperm whales, mostly females with their calves. And the amazing thing is that the sightings are often made within sight of land. In these photos, the are two landmarks visible. One is the huge Disney vessel parked at Gorda Cay aka Castaway Cay (header image); the other is HOLE-IN-THE-WALL LIGHTHOUSE (above)

Sperm Whales, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Keith Salvesen) Sperm Whales, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Keith Salvesen)

Credits: All photos BMMRO 2018, with thanks to Diane & Charlotte as ever

Sperm Whales, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Keith Salvesen)

SPERM WHALES – BMMRO FIELD TRIP, BAHAMAS


Sperm Whales, Bahamas (BMMRO)

SPERM WHALES – BMMRO FIELD TRIP, BAHAMAS

I can never quite get my head around the fact that the waters around Abaco are home to the twin leviathans, sperm whales and humpback whales. And before anyone points it out, I realise they can’t actually be twins: sperms whales (cachelots) are TOOTHED WHALES whereas humpback whales are BALEEN WHALES

Sperm Whales, Bahamas (BMMRO)

During November, the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) undertook a rather special field trip. Using sophisticated devices, the scientists first located a group of sperm whales, and then tracked them through the night using the communications between the creatures – ‘vocalisations’ – to follow them. Later analysis of the recordings will have made it possible to identify the individuals through their unique vocal patterns – and so to recognise them again. 

Sperm Whale, Bahamas (BMMRO)

The hydrophonic equipment used is extremely sensitive, and can pick up the sounds made by whales and dolphins over a great distance. The box of tricks looks deceptively modest – I took these photos on a previous trip when we were looking for beaked whales and dolphins. Charlotte Dunn holds the microphone submerged on a cable and underwater sounds are amplified so that the slightest chirrup of a dolphin can be heard by everyone on the vessel. The sounds are recorded and locations carefully logged.

Besides the sperm whales, the BMMRO team also had sightings of spotted dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and beaked whales during the field trip. These bonus sightings will also have been logged for future reference. It all adds to the detailed research data that assists the conservation of the prolific marine mammal life in Bahamian waters.

Atlantic Spotted DolphinsAtlantic Spotted Dolphins, Bahamas (BMMRO)

By the time one of the whales decided to breach, it was some distance away, so I’m afraid I can’t bring you a dramatic close-up from the trip. But just to see this view at all is breathtaking.

All photos BMMRO except the 2 hydrophone ones on the research boat (Keith Salvesen)

MAKING A SPLASH: SPERM WHALES & MANATEES IN ABACO WATERS


Sperm Whale, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

MAKING A SPLASH: SPERM WHALES & MANATEES IN ABACO WATERS

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

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

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

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

Sperm Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco BMMRO4

A NEW MANATEE VISITS MARSH HABOUR

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

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

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

Randy the Abaco Manatee - tail notch

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

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CETACEAN SENSATION: SPERM WHALES & DOLPHINS ON ABACO


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CETACEAN SENSATION: SPERM WHALES & DOLPHINS ON ABACO

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

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

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

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

Great Bahama Canyon

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

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

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

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

AMAZING WHALE, DOLPHIN & MANATEE PHOTOS FROM ABACO


Whale Fluke (BMMRO Abaco Bahamas)AMAZING WHALE, DOLPHIN & MANATEE PHOTOS FROM ABACO

The BMMRO (Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation) had a great June for sightings of cetaceans and sirenians. Here is a sample of their wonderful photos from recent research expeditions (with thanks as ever for use permission).

RANDY THE WEST INDIAN MANATEE

After the recent excitement of Abaco’s manatee GEORGIE having returned to Cherokee after another of her epic journeys, another West Indian manatee has arrived at Sandy Point (conveniently the location of the BMMRO HQ). Sirenians and cetaceans are generally recognised from particular patterns to flukes or fins. The second image shows the notch in Randy’s tail that confirms ID.

Randy the West Indian Manatee, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas Randy the West Indian Manatee (tail), Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINSBottlenose Dolphins - BMMRO, Abaco, BahamasBottlenose Dolphins - BMMRO, Abaco, BahamasBottlenose Dolphins Abaco BMMRO FV

SPOTTED DOLPHINSSpotted Dolphins, BMMRO Abaco, Bahamas

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALESBlainville's Beaked Whales BMMRO Abaco, BahamasBlainville's Beaked Whales BMMRO Abaco, BahamasBlainville's Beaked Whales BMMRO Abaco, Bahamas

TWO COMPLETE FLUKES (THIS IMAGE & HEADER)

(note minor damage to the edges, from which ID of an individual can be made)Whale Fluke (BMMRO Abaco Bahamas)

SPERM WHALE & DIVER

Compare the diver’s fins in the foreground with the (partial) length of a huge sperm whale… Sperm Whale and Diver

RELATED LINKS:

DOLPHINS

WHALES

MANATEES

WHALES, DOLPHINS & MANATEES, ABACO: BMMRO NEWS


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WHALES, DOLPHINS & MANATEES, ABACO: BMMRO NEWS

BMMRO COLLABORATES WITH NEW PARTNER, ATLANTIS BLUE PROJECT

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

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Stranding Response to Support Conservation of Marine Mammals in the Bahamas 

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

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Field Research & Outreach to Support Conservation of Bahamas Marine Mammals

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

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JANUARY SIGHTINGS

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

BMMRO Sightings Jan 2014

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

bmmro_logoClick me!

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

3 MONTHS ON ABACO WITH THE BMMRO: AN INTERN’S STORY


BMMRO whale pic

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation LogoClick logo for website

BMMRO Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation Banner

3 MONTHS ON ABACO WITH THE BMMRO: AN INTERN’S STORY

My name is Jack Lucas and I am Marine Biology Student at Plymouth University in the UK. I came to the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation on Abaco in July 2013 for a 3 month internship, which has been an amazing experience from start to finish. Heres a summary of my summer spent at BMMRO.

Sperm Whale Fluking

I arrived at the start of July and was fortunate enough with my timing to be part of an assembled crew of scientists from all over the world coming together to start work on what was to be this summers main project; collecting faecal samples from Blainville’s beaked whales to assess stress hormones produced. This team included Dr Roz Rolland and Dr Scott Kraus from New England Aquarium, who are collaborating with BMMRO for the work, and the samples will be analysed back at their lab in the US. Also along for the ride was Roxy Corbett; a whale observer and field researcher from the US, and Dr Stephanie King; a acoustician from the Sea Mammal Research Unit in Scotland. The first day after arriving it was straight out on the boat to search for these elusive creatures and the beginning of a crash course in how to collect and store the faecal samples when we found them. For the first week the work was a mix of boat work when the weather permitted and practicing poop collection using custom-made fine-mesh nets and coffee grounds (as close to the real thing as we were willing to try!), as well as clearing out BMMRO’s garage and, under the direction of foreman Scott, the construction from scratch of a lab to prepare samples for storage.

An example of the use of coffee grounds to practise whale poop-scoop technique269RH note: NOT Jack’s arms / snappy diving suit…

Unfortunately, despite days of poop collection practice and endless hours searching for the whales at sea, the original poop team never got a chance to employ these by now highly developed skills or to see the lab being used, as the weather was so windy we barely encountered the animals let alone spent long enough with them to collect any samples. 

Despite the lack of beaked whales, we did encounter loads of marine mammals in the first few weeks, from sperm whales to three different species of dolphin; including the little-seen and even less-studied rough-toothed dolphin.

Rough-toothed Dolphin

After discussion with Charlotte and Di about a possible project for me to complete during my stay, it was to be this species that I would focus on and in between the usual office jobs it was my task to sort through the photos from 20 rough toothed encounters in the Bahamas since 1995 and create a catalogue of individuals. This initial task consisted of careful inspection, comparison and sorting of what turned out to be over 5000 photos, into an organised catalogue of 167 separate and distinctive individuals. Despite the hours of endless staring at fins, it was very rewarding as there were 13 resighted individuals found (we were not necessarily expecting any!) which suggests long-term site fidelity and association of these animals, in addition to year round use of the Grand Bahama Canyon. Even more rewarding; the results of this work have recently been submitted for a poster display at an Odontocete workshop in New Zealand this December and I am also writing up the results in a formal scientific paper, with the hopeful goal of publishing a note in a peer-review journal. 

 Scott, Jack, Stephanie and Di in the new lab at Sandy Point

Around a month in I was lucky enough to be sent by Di and Charlotte to Great Harbour Cay on the nearby Berry Islands to work with the manatees there, in particular Georgie; a recently released juvenile whose status is being carefully monitored after her rehabilitation at Atlantis’ Dolphin Cay following health problems. The work here for a week under the guidance of Kendria; a Bahamian contracted by BMMRO to monitor the manatees on the Berry Islands, consisted of tracking Georgie using a satellite tag attached to a belt around her tail. Once located, we logged her position and made any notes on her health and behaviour aswell as the other manatees that were often found with her (there are currently 6 located on Great Harbour Cay). Two days in her tag was found unattached at a locals dock (it has a weak-link incase of entanglement) and we had to locate her using underwater hydrophones to detect her belt. Once found, I had the rare opportunity of entering the water with her in order to re-attach a new tag to her belt; it was amazing and one of the best encounters I have had with any animal! It is impossible not to love these amiable and gentle creatures, especially when you observe their infamous ‘hugs’ in person! 

Georgie the Manatee

For more about Georgie’s re-release in the Berry Is. after her earlier shenanigans on Abaco, see HERE

After returning from the Berry Islands (and incidentally missing the first two poop collections of the season made by Charlotte!) it was back to hunting for the elusive beaked whales around South Abaco. During my time I had the chance to work with several interns coming to BMMRO including local marine-enthusiasts Tristan and AJ, and Courtney Cox from Florida. Oscar Ward from the UK also joined the team as Charlotte left for Scotland to complete her PhD, and was on hand during the poop-collection and other little excursions. In wasn’t until the last month of my time here that we managed to get close enough to the whales for me to get in the water and be towed alongside in the hope of seeing one defecate. One amazing morning two whales surfaced right off the bow of the boat and what resulted was again, one of the most amazing moments; swimming just a couple of feet away from an animal only a handful of people in the world have seen underwater. After nearly two months with no samples, the two weeks that followed were a flurry of boat days, poop-collection and whale watching; with a total of 7 samples collecting from beaked whales (5 in one day!!) and another 3 from sperm whales. This was the best possible end to my time here and I finally got a chance to use the much-practiced poop collection techniques. The samples included a number of squid beaks, and in one very deep dive collection a mass of parasitic worms and a weird cephalopod-type animal! We also got a chance in the last few weeks to test-run a new addition to the fleet, that included a dive compressor.

Ready to collect some poop…

Finally my time in the Bahamas had to come to an end, and I had to return home. The last 3 months has flown by and has been one of the most enjoyable and most importantly educational periods of my life and I cannot thank Di and Charlotte enough for making it all possible. The day-to-day boat runs, office work, equipment maintenance and station chores has given me a good insight into all aspects of field research. It was my first taste of life as a marine mammal scientist, and it has made me even more determined to pursue a career in this field; a perfect stepping stone from which to move forward. In addition my work with BMMRO (and what must of been a brilliant reference from the girls!) made it possible to secure a highly competitive internship in the Farallon Islands this winter tagging elephant seals amongst other work! I cannot wait to continue working in this field and finish writing up the results of my project here, and hope I have the chance to come to Abaco again to work with these amazing people and animals!Sperm Whale supplier of poop BMMRO

BMMRO would like to thank Jack for all his help during the summer, and all our interns for their assistance! To our sponsors, Friends of the Environment, Disney Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives and Rotary of Abaco, we thank you for your continued support.

To read more about the work of Interns on Abaco with the BMMRO at Sandy Point and Friends of the Environment in Marsh Harbour, check out Oscar Ward’s excellent blog SEVENTYPERCENTBLUE. There are articles on Life in the Mangroves, the Bahamas Climate, Whale Poop Collection, and most intriguing how he and co-intern Jack both came very close to being Black Tip  Fodder… real live Chums!

The Author researching underwater creatures

‘FAMILIAR FECES’: CETACEAN POOP-SCOOPING BY SPECIES


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‘FAMILIAR FECES’: CETACEAN POOP-SCOOPING BY SPECIES

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

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

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

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

An alternative method of collectionpoop15

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

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

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

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

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

BMMRO SIGHTINGS JULY 2013

ABACO WHALES & DOLPHINS, BMMRO SIGHTINGS & NEWSLETTER


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ABACO WHALES & DOLPHINS: BMMRO SIGHTINGS & NEWSLETTER

I haven’t posted Abaco whale, dolphin & manatee news for a while. Time for a catch-up. Georgie the young manatee that left her mother Rita and came to Abaco from the Berry Is. alone, is no longer here. She survived a very long journey, and investigated various coastal areas of Abaco – all the while being tracked. In the end she settled down in the Cherokee area. There were anxious times during Hurricane Sandy when she went missing (having by now shed her tracking device) but she eventually reappeared at Cherokee having found a safe haven from the storm. Sadly, however, her condition deteriorated and in the New Year she was relocated to Atlantis Dolphin Cay Marine Mammal Rescue Center. Some weeks ago a healthy Georgie was moved to a sea-pen to acclimatise her for release back into the wild.

Read more about Georgie the Manatee’s epic trip HERE and about the operation to relocate her HERE

ABACO DOLPHINS – A MOTHER & HER CALF 428475_595355517150345_807197303_n-1

The Bahamas Marines Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) is based at Sandy Point, Abaco. A number of research projects are underway, and recently these have involved work on Andros. The team are now back, and encountering Abaco’s own dolphins and whales. The main photos on the page have all been taken in the last week or so. [The header is by Norwegian artist Roll Inge Haaver]

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN, ABACO971695_596998516986045_1649965583_n

SPERM WHALE ‘TAILING’, ABACO (1 of 3 found yesterday using acoustic tracking)374338_596998896986007_1736456956_n

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BMMRO CHART OF CETACEAN SIGHTINGS FOR MARCH 2013

Of special note are the big whales – 3 sperm whales, and a humpback whale reported close to Cherokee.
BMMRO SIGHTINGS March 2013

Sperm whales. Humpbacks. How big are they? This useful chart shows the average lengths of various whales. I grabbed it off the internet a while ago, but regrettably forgot to mark the source. So, apologies to the originator for using it uncredited, a cyber-sin I try to avoid.what-largest-whale-cetacea-size-comparison-chart-590x338

Finally, the BMMRO’s latest 4-page Newsletter contains a wealth of information about their current activities, some great pictures, and even a quiz – check out BMMRO NEWSLETTER_Apr13

Click logo to linkbmmro_logo

ABACO / BAHAMAS WHALE, DOLPHIN & MANATEE SIGHTINGS AUGUST 2012


ABACO / BAHAMAS WHALE, DOLPHIN & MANATEE SIGHTINGS AUGUST 2012 

ANOTHER PYGMY WHALE STRANDING ON ELEUTHERA

The BMMRO has posted the cetacean / sirenian sightings for August. The main concentration off Abaco is in the food-rich south-west coast from Rocky Point down to Hole-in-the-Wall. This is where the deep water of the Great Bahama Canyon meets the shallow underwater coast of Abaco, providing an ideal feeding ground for whales and dolphins. This canyon is the largest underwater canyon in the world.

Plenty of dolphins were reported last month, and the sperm whales (including pygmy and dwarf) were still around (but for some sad Eleuthera pygmy sperm whale news, see below). Meanwhile, the yellow spot on the Berry Is. shows that all is well with the manatees.

STRANDING NOTIFICATION: PYGMY SPERM WHALE 

Last week the BMMRO was notified about a whale that had stranded dead on an Eleutheran beach on 27 August. The species was identified from the photographs as a pygmy sperm whale – the same species that stranded on the other side of Eleuthera the previous week.

Thanks to the Stranding Network, it was possible take a tissue sample and teeth for DNA, as well as more photos.The animal was about 6 feet long and moderately decomposed – possibly dead for up to 3 days. Unfortunately due to the state of decomposition a cause of death could not be determined. However more information about the animal will be obtained from the samples taken. With samples taken, the carcass can now be buried.

BMMRO WHALE & DOLPHIN SIGHTINGS ABACO JUNE 2012


BMMRO WHALE & DOLPHIN SIGHTINGS ABACO JUNE 2012

Actually, I say ‘Abaco’ but the most activity – and the most varied, species-wise – is off the southern coast of Grand Bahama. Abaco sightings are also confined to the south, with shows from a PIGMY SPERM WHALE and a BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALE  and dolphins in the arc between Rocky Point and Hole-in-the-Wall. To see recent aerial photos of this section of coast CLICK===>>> HERE

The manatees of the Berry Is. are no longer shown on this map. Their happy story (and their fame) has spread and they now have their own entries on the BMMRO FACEBOOK PAGE, like any self-respecting stars. You can reach it anytime direct from the Sidebar if you you want to keep track of the story of Rita and her calf Georgie’s rehabilitation – and the other manatees they have encountered as they get used to their freedom. 

ADDED The latest BMMRO quarterly newsletter has just been published – highly recommended for anyone with an interest in active whale / dolphin research, or in the latest news of the manatees of Berry Is. To see it CLICK===>>> BMMRO NEWSLETTER JULY 2012

BMMRO WHALE, DOLPHIN & MANATEE SIGHTINGS / WINTER REPORT


BMMRO WHALE, DOLPHIN & MANATEE SIGHTINGS AND WINTER REPORT DECEMBER 2011

This was an interesting month. For a start, a humpback whale was reported off Elbow Cay, and a sperm whale further out to sea to the east. There were several cetacean reports between Sandy Point and Hole-in-the-Wall. Perhaps best of all, West Indian manatees – mother and calf – were reported in the area at the end of December, just off the Berry Islands – photo below, and further details in the BMMRO Winter Newsletter via the blue link.

THE WINTER NEWSLETTER contains much of cetacean interest, as always. It features articles on the effects of climate change of the declining Sea of Abaco bottlenose dolphin population; manatees in the Bahamas; ‘Life after Death’ – the importance of whale carcasses on the deep sea eco-system; sonic body-length measurement of sperm whales; the false killer whale stranding on Guana Cay (see POST); educational news update; and much more besides

BMMRO NEWSLETTER WINTER 2011/12

Courtesy of NAHRVALUR and her excellent wildlife blog, here is a cute view of a manatee in a Florida Reserve, where a webcam has been installed 

Manatees (family Trichechidae, genus Trichechus) are large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals sometimes known as sea cows. There are three accepted living species of Trichechidae, representing three of the four living species in the order Sirenia: the Amazonian manatee (Trichechus inunguis), the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), and the West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis). They measure up to 13 feet (4.0 m) long, weigh as much as 1,300 pounds (590 kg), and have paddle-like flippers. The name manatí comes from the Taíno, a pre-Columbian people of the Caribbean, meaning “breast”
I’ll write a separate post about these creatures later, and cross-refer from here. rh
NOW CLICK LINK===>>>       MANATEES: THE FACTS