The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) located in Sandy Point, Abaco conducted its annual whale camp in July. During two weeks in July, ten young Bahamians who all share an interest in marine life attended camp at BMMRO. The campers were a mixture of Bahamian students representing public and private schools, colleges, and universities.
Whale camp is an environmental education program geared to raise awareness and appreciation of marine mammals, teach young Bahamians research skills and etiquette, and develop confidence in swimming, team work, leadership, public speaking, and discussion skills. BMMRO Biologist, Felice Knowles, along with two interns, Ann Marie Carroll of Grand Bahama (Senior at the University of West Indies) and Janae Williams of New Providence (Sophomore at the College of The Bahamas) hosted the campers at the research centre. During their visit, campers assisted with data collection, data entry, and dolphin and whale identification. In addition, campers conducted a mock mark-recapture study on hermit crabs.
Vessel surveys were conducted to collect data for the dolphin and whale population studies off the South-Western coast of Abaco. Campers got the opportunity to utilize binoculars and a hydrophone to search visually and acoustically for whales. During these vessel surveys, campers also assisted in data collection of behaviour and the surrounding habitat. In addition to assisting with collecting data for the marine mammal surveys, they collected data of their own on hermit crabs found around the research centre each morning and evening to gain a better understanding of conducting a population study.
During the first week of whale camp, campers observed a large group of sperm whales (Pyseter micrpcephalus) feeding and resting off the South-Western coast of Abaco. With the use of the hydrophone, campers were not only able to observe these whales resting on the surface, but listen to them using echolation clicks as they fed on squid ~3,000m deep. During this wonderful encounter, they observed one of the young males breaching several times. After several days of searching for the bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) with no luck, on their last day of vessel surveys, they were able to observe a mother and calf feeding on their own. During some of these searches, a variety of other marine animals were seen such as nurse sharks, an adult loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), starfish, and lots of other fish species.
On the other hand, the second week of whale camp had a completely different experience. On the day of their arrival, a West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) visited Sandy Point and the campers were able to observe it from the pubic dock. Shortly after, during a search for bottlenose dolphins with no luck, the group went into the Sandy Point Creek for a snorkel, but much to their surprise, ended up rescuing an adult loggerhead turtle which was upside down on the shore with a spear in it. During, the following days, the group observed a large group of bottlenose dolphins feeding on the bank. It has been observed that during the full moon, schools of jacks form and the dolphins take advantage of this and feed as a group. The campers during this week were able to enjoy the phenomenon several times. In addition, they observed social and resting behaviour along with many mothers teaching their calves important skills. However, due to no lack of effort, no whales were observed or heard during these vessel surveys.
The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation would like to thank The Lyford Cay Foundation, the Rotary Club of Abaco, the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation, and Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment Fund for sponsoring the 2016 whale camps. These donations assisted in the development of young Bahamian scientists and conservationists to contribute to a better Bahamas.
To learn more about marine mammals in The Bahamas and report sightings, visit their website www.bahamaswhales.org or Facebook pages “Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation” and “Bahamas Manatee Club.”
Please contact them with any questions, concerns, or marine mammal sightings at email@example.com.