By: Cassie Volker, Research Assistant
I can’t believe I am writing the last blog entry for the 2018 field season, man it flew by! But we couldn’t have had a better way to end the season.
Trip 9 started out with a few quick encounters with some Bimini spotted dolphins. Then we had about a 30 min long bottlenose dolphin crater feeding encounter. The water was murky but in the video below you can hear them razor buzzing as they scan for food and you can see the craters they leave behind as they dig for fish below the sand.
A few days after the crater feeding, we had another encounter with about 24 spotted dolphins. Again the water wasn’t very clear and it was pretty rough. The dolphins, however, seemed to be having a blast surfing the waves and zipping around us.
About half way through the trip, we had some weather that kept us anchored for about a day and a half. The Captain and First Mate are always watching the weather to make sure that our safety is top priority. In this video clip (LINK), Dr. Denise Herzing chats with Brad Ruda and Tyler Hazelwood (Captain & First Mate) about the storm that is coming and keeping us anchored for the day.
While we were anchored, Denise suggested we have a talent show to pass the time. We each came up with something- some more serious than others. Brittini Hill, an intern we had out for multiple trips this summer, was the winner of the talent show. She wrote a song about the trip going along to the “Cups” song melody. But not only did she write her own song but she also played the melody with an actual cup and sang it to us!
With weather and murky seas plaguing us this trip, we were praying for beautiful calm waters for our last day at sea for the season. And boy, did the ocean gods come through! It was around 3 pm in the afternoon and our hopes were starting to dwindle when out of the water came leaping two juvenile spotted dolphins! Everyone rushes to suit up since this is the last encounter of the season. We jump in and its two young spotted males – Jammin and Monkey. At first they seemed disinterested in us, focusing more on each other bonding through pec rubs and just meandering along. (It will be interesting to see if these two males stay buddies and become part of a coalition.) The pec rubbing went on for a good amount of time, allowing for a nice and peaceful encounter. Since they didn’t seemed bothered by our presence in the water, we stayed and swam with them. They were hanging out for such a long time that everyone was able to get in the water, even the Captain and First Mate!
At some point during the encounter, the young spotteds picked up some sargassum and were playing keep away from each other. We decided to see if they would let us join in on the fun. When the spotteds are not doing their own behavior this provides us with a window of opportunity to try and interact with them. This type of play behavior is critical for our CHAT work. When they allow us to participate we follow certain “dolphin sargassum game etiquette”. We never grab it off of the dolphins, we always let them drop it to us before we pick it up. We do this not only because we don’t touch them, but also because we don’t want to frighten or startle them.
During this particular encounter Capt. Brad seemed to be the favorite human player. You can see in the video, he took the sargassum down in the water column, waving it around to get the dolphins’ attention, and then let it go to see if they would pick it up. The dolphins would start buzzing and then rush in to grab it! At the end, Dr. Denise Herzing, Founder and Research Director of The Wild Dolphin Project, is seen playing the game as well. This is by far one of the most unique experiences to have with these wild animals. They are letting you, a human, participate in their game! Both human and dolphin mutually understanding the rules.
Sargassum play went on for some time, but eventually the dolphins had to go and do dolphin things. We all got out of the water with huge smiles on our faces! We may have had a rough start to the trip, but the ending was well worth it.
Thanks for reading our blogs as we made our way through the 2018 season! If you enjoyed what you read and are interested in coming out with us, please look into booking a trip with us for the 2019 season.