During the first two weeks of August, Bahamian students from throughout The Bahamas travelled to Sandy Point, Abaco to work with the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization (BMMRO) and take part in their Summer Whale Camp. BMMRO received sponsorship to support the students for a week at a time.
The participating students were: Karissa Maycock, Noah Hanna, Devynne Charlton, Nate Gabe Hudson, Pachancia Knowles, Kerwin Mullings, Jurique Russell and AJ McIntosh. While living at the BMMRO research center they had the opportunity to experience dolphins and whales in their natural habitat and gain hands-on experience in the field of marine mammal science.
BMMRO is a non-profit organization based in Sandy Point, Abaco. Since 1991 they have been documenting the distribution and abundance of marine mammals throughout The Bahamas by conducting boat based surveys and using a well-known technique called photo-identification. The main goal of the project is to contribute to the conservation of marine mammals by learning more about habitat use and social behaviour and sharing this information with other scientists and interested parties. Whale Camp was created in the hopes that young Bahamians will develop a better understanding and appreciation for the Bahamian marine environment.
These students were exposed to all aspects of marine mammal science, such as scientific data collection, acoustic monitoring of a local population of Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and photo-identification. By photographing the pattern of natural nicks and scars on each animal’s dorsal fin or tail flukes, we are able to keep track of individuals, —gaining an understanding of their social structure, habitat use and population status. Countless hours were spent on the boat water searching for marine mammals. Once we found a group of dolphins or a sperm whale; data on their group composition, age class and habitat use along with photos were collected. This data would then be entered and a photo catalogue would be used to identify the individuals seen.
Some of the species encountered during Whale Camp included Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis), Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), Dwarf sperm whales (Kogia sima), Pygmy sperm whales (Kogia breviceps), and Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus). For most of the campers, this was their first time seeing a whale or dolphin in the wild.
Jurique Russell from Cat Island recalled, “My experience at the whale camp was fantastic. Just looking at the whales and the dolphins was a dream come true. I really enjoyed listening to the different sounds of marine mammals, which they called acoustics. After acoustics we did photo identification of the mammals. We identified some by their nicks and scars on their dorsal fin. What I have enjoyed most was going to town and interviewing local fishermen on what they knew about marine mammals to put in our presentation. The outcome was great; we were surprised on how much information they had on these marine mammals. But overall whale camp was the most fun I had in a while. And I have learnt so much from this experience.”
BMMRO would like to thank their interns for their assistance with Whale Camp, Annabelle Cartwright from of Nassau and Donavan Sankey Jr. from Jamaica. To our sponsors, Young Marine Explorers, Friends of the Environment, Disney Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives and Rotary of Abaco.