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Belize Dolphin Studies

DS21 Update - Thursday, July 28, 2011

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  • Abbie Sloan 2
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  • Robbie Christian 2

Ocean Explorations!

I woke up bug-less and sweat-less; I knew it would be a good day even though I went to sleep around 1 after going on a crocodile survey and finishing my journal the previous night. Sammie woke me up at 7. Half asleep, I made my way off the top bunk without falling, surprisingly. I woke all the girls up in our beach cabin and ran down the beach to wake the boys up. On my back to the cabin Eric, Galen and Jandro pointed out dolphins in the distance. Too bad I didn’t have my contacts in yet! We all made it to breakfast by 7:30 for pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage and cantaloupe. Yummy!

After breakfast we went over the data we collected from the past dolphin sightings to make sure we each had the information for our research papers. A few crammed in a last few minutes to work on their journals and we were on the boats in search of dolphins by 9. Aboard Miss Kira with our lovely guide Alton we had Abbie, Sarah, Josephine, Cooper, Chelsea and myself. Eric, Robbie, Dianne and Stephen, Sammie, Nathalie, Victoria, Jandro, Galen, Michael, and Caleb were with Captain Richard on Miss Callie, a slightly larger boat. About 10 minutes later we heard Robbie from Miss Callie on the walkie talkie say they found dolphins. Aboard Miss Callie we in charge of environmental variables and immediately recorded salinity, cloud coverage, GPS coordinates etc. We stayed with 2 pairs of mother and calf bottlenose dolphins for about a half hour. The whole time Abbie was on the bow snapping shots of the dolphins as they surfaced for air. At one point she was so focused on taking the pictures that the walkie talkie fell off her life jacket and into the water. I had the ‘go pro’ above water camera, and the rest on Miss Kira continued with environment factors and scanning for the speeding dolphins who popped up everywhere unexpected.

The other boat dealt with the hydrophone, the underwater camera, and another above water camera. The mothers and calves were curious as the circled around the boat coming close to the boat with curiosity. They moved fairly slowly, seeming to be relaxed. In the beginning they were logging, chuffing and swimming slowly and continuously however towards the end they were much more active as they played and swirled around in the water and around the boat. We saw a mother and calf porpoise (porpoise meaning jump completely out of the water) twice, before disappearing.

As we continued, the boats split up. We took environmental factors every 30 minutes and GPS coordinates every 15 minutes. The wind really picked up, and we began to see heat lightening in the distance every so often. As many locals have told us so far, Belize tropical storms are extremely unpredictable. We were safe, so no worries, but it was very different weather from the previous hot and humid days. The other boat was now out of sight and according to Alton they were behind us. We plowed through and continued scanning the water eager for a dorsal fin to pop up. It started drizzling a little and some of us put out rain jackets. Josephine was sprawled out on the deck of the boat and Cooper was spread out on the bench of the boat. Sarah, Chelsea and I talked to Alton about how he lives full time on Blackbird Cay and has so for 12 years.

Finally the weather was getting worse so we picked up the pace to get back to The Oceanic Society. As we swiftly wove through the mangroves, to the right I saw a splash that looked like a cannonball splash. I kept watching the area, initially thinking the was just a school of fish. Alton saw the splash as well and we turned into a small area sheltered by the mangroves. As we got closer we all saw dorsal fins submerge from the water. Cooper and Josephine popped up along with the rest of us, grabbing our equipment and cameras. Abbie and I were both on the narrow bow of the boat searching intently. All of a sudden, we counted 9 dorsal fins almost simultaneously break the water a couple feet from the boat. I was truly in heaven! The dolphins were interested in the boat. Abbie and I were angered by out failing technology. With my legs off the edge of the coasting boat, I looked down and saw 4 dolphins bow riding, my anger had disappeared. All the others were surrounding the boat as close as 5 feet. The video camera continued to fail so Josephine held my camera off the edge of the boat which actually filmed the dolphins under water.

Our time was cut short because of the worsening weather; we were in quite a small boat. Each time Alton would urge us to get going, more dolphins would porpoise with perfect synchronization or roll around in the water with their fluke visible above the surface. Finally we had to leave the playful pod. Although we could only survey for 11 minutes, it seemed much longer because there was so much activity and excitement within those minutes. It is hard to explain, but the feeling I got watching and being so close to these wild dolphins was indescribable. I get excited again just thinking about how their graceful bodies moved with such ease in such a close proximity to us. The more I see, the more I want to see, and learn about dolphins. Alton put the pedal to the metal booked it back. To get The Oceanic Society we have to steer the boat parallel to the reef, which happened to be exactly where the wind was coming from. As a result, the boat went through huge waves and everyone got completely soaked. We laughed hysterically until we reach the dock and ran back to our beach cabins.

After, we met in the palapa for lunch which was pasta with a meat or veggie sauce, garlic bread and fruit. Delicious! Eric gave us a lecture about dolphin communication at 1:30 and let us listen to the recordings of the dolphin whistles and click trains. He also showed us the footage from the underwater camera briefly. By 3 we met the dive boat at the back dock. The weather had died down and we all geared up to scuba dive while the boat drove to our new diving spot. One by one we did a backwards roll into the water and descended from there. This dive was similar to the previous two days we dove. There were schools of fish everywhere and the coral looked like it could be featured in National Geographic. We found a small Golden Tailed Eel, Spiny Lobster and many, many, many small colorful fish everywhere. I never seem to get tired of observing all the small fish I see, and I always seem to find several new species I had never seen before. I have developed a greater appreciation for all the life in the coral reefs, especially now that I feel more comfortable with diving and continue to improve my neutral buoyancy skills! It was all there before, however now I can take the time to watch more closely and look more deeply for all the animals hiding in every nook and cranny.

Near the end a few of us tried to blow bubble rings, some successfully, others not quite so. It is interesting not being able to talk underwater to the people I talk with all day. It reminded me of Eric’s lecture including a communication barrier with dolphins. Anyway, we all played games while waiting at our safety stop and I could tell people were laughing by the huge amount of bubbles that would suddenly come out of their regulators. At the surface the waves were so big and so much fun that some of us didn’t want to get back in the boat. The boat was jammin’ some tunes as we returned back to The Oceanic Society. From there we all hung out in the palapa working on presentations until dinner. Dinner was rice, beef with a gravy to die for, and vegetables. Dessert was cheese cake that we all raved about. After dinner we all raced for the best couch seats and watched The Cove that was projected onto a sheet hanging on the wall. I’m telling you, it's a fine home movie theater. We had a discussion about the eye opening and sad truth about what happens to dolphins in Japan. After a long day, we all went back to out beach cabins to hang out and get some rest for our last day on Blackbird Cay.

Hello to all at home!!

-Mia

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