Our summer began with Whale Camps for young Bahamians. Campers enjoyed multiple encounters with dolphins in the wild and had hands on learning of different techniques used in marine mammal research. Thanks to Lyford Cay Grants for supporting this important educational outreach program.
We continued our work monitoring the impacts of hurricane Dorian on a declining local dolphin population, retrieving and redeploying acoustic hydrophones in the Sea of Abaco. We would like to thank the Devereux Ocean Foundation and Global Giving for their continued support of this project. With funding from the Bahamas Protected Areas Fund (BPAF), we followed up our stakeholder surveys of residents and visitors to Abaco with a workshop with key stakeholders, government representatives and Bahamian NGOs to produce a draft Recovery Plan. The goal is to suggest recommendations to prioritise proposed conservation actions by cost, efficacy, and feasibility (given the current economic recovery). The Recovery Plan will be presented to the Department of Marine Resources to advance protection of this local population as well as provide a template for future recovery plans.
As more research permits were finally issued, we were able to conduct two leading edge research projects with colleagues. Firstly we relocated to the Cape Eleuthera Institute in south Eleuthera with colleagues from NOAA. We collected water samples in close proximity to beaked whales in hopes of detecting enough DNA from the cells sloughed from their skin and faeces to determine the genetic relatedness and stock identification of whale populations in The Bahamas. The project was extremely successful, finding our target whale species, Gervais beaked whale, within two hours on the water on our first day.
Back in south Abaco, we conducted a two week project on Blainville's beaked whales with colleagues from Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at NEAq. We used non-invasive hormone sampling to help us better understand biological processes of conservation concern such as reproduction and stress responses. This meant using a retractable window cleaning pole with a very light petri dish on the end that could be held above a whales' blow hole to collect their blow.
Finally, this week BMMRO are co-authors on a new beaked whale paper about what drives genetic structure and diversity in the deepest diving whales, enjoy.
Top left two campers enjoying seeing dolphins in the wild; top right using a handheld hydrophone to listen for whales; bottom left matching dolphin photos to BMMRO's catalogue and bottom right a great group!
Swapping out the memory card and batteries of one of our recorders in the Sea of Abaco, and a dolphin photographed nearby one of the recorders. These recorders are monitoring dolphin presence and boat noise.
Dr Kim Parsons, NOAA geneticist, collecting water samples for eDNA behind Gervais beaked whales off south Eleuthera. Bottom left, an adult male with erupted teeth / tusks and battle scars on display, and bottom right a mother-calf pair, notice the beautiful tiger-striping characteristic of this species.