Friday, November 14, 2014

Guadeloupe Sperm Whale Mission: A day of rough toothed dolphins

Friday, November 14th

Well, if you spend enough days on (or under) the ocean, you are pretty much guaranteed to see something really bizarre.  Today was one of those days.  On the list of things I thought I would see today, I never would have put a brown bat flying four miles offshore, skimming over the waves and sometimes coming wing to fin with flying fish way down on the list!  But, that is what we saw at about 830 this morning, in full daylight.  The confused bat swung by the boat and then kept heading out to sea.

Unfortunately, bats were more common today than sperm whales.  After seeing at least 20 individuals spread between multiple groups yesterday, I liked our chances.  And the cameras were optimized and ready to go! Maybe we need to get Mehdi to wear his lucky shirt again tomorrow.

On the good side, we had a couple of amazing encounters with rough-toothed dolphins.  It was a new species for me!  There were between 30-50 individuals in each group we saw and they were a lot of fun to watch.  I had always wanted to see rough-toothed dolphins because they tend to be found in smaller groups than a lot of the offshore dolphins and are reported to be very social.  Today’s encounter did not disappoint.  Almost all of the dolphins spent time in very close proximity to at least one other individual, their pectoral fins often touching.  Pairs, trios, or even groups of six made perfectly synchronous surfacings and some dolphins “pet” each other with their pectoral fins…a

Rough toothed dolphins
dolphin massage!  A lot of the behaviors looked very much like what I saw when I studied Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia.  The encounters didn’t last that long because we were looking for sperm whales, but they were memorable.  They brought the total species count for the week to at least five (it could be six but the possible beaked whale sighting a couple days ago was too fleeting to be sure it wasn’t a white cap as the wind blew up).

Tomorrow is my last day on Guadeloupe and I am hoping that I can get a camera out there before I run to my flight.  If I don’t Jeremy, Mehdi, and the SPAW-RAC team carry on for more than a week and Kirk Gastrich is coming down from FIU to take my place!

Before I sign off – to answer one question from the blog yesterday…How do we put a camera on a sperm whale?

The camera is attached to a suction cup that will hold onto the whale for hours or days.  But, the cup has a dissolving link and a computerized release so it will come off when we want it to.  For our first deployment it will be a few hours to make sure it is all going well.   The camera is mounted on the end of a long pole.

Once we find whales, I hold the pole on the front of the boat, while the driver slowly maneuvers us next to the whale without startling it.  Then, I reach out and gently press the cup onto the whale and the camera falls off the pole.  Sounds easy.  It really isn’t J 

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