Earlier today I successfully defended my Masters thesis: Vocalizations of Bottlenose dolphins during a role-specialized foraging tactic.
I'm so thankful to everyone who has helped me along the way!
Below is the recording of my presentation for anyone interested in hearing about my findings.
The end of the season is here!
We rounded out the season on Saturday with an amazing last day on the water, seeing some of our personal favorite animals and having 3 driver show off for us with 40+ bouts in just a few hours! Sunday and yesterday were spent doing the last data entry, packing away equipment, and cleaning. To say this season was successful is an understatement; it completely surpassed expectations!
Of our 88 days in the field, we got out on 46 days, which equaled 279 hours on the water! During that time we:
-added more than 90 new dolphins to the catalog of known animals
-had over 330 sightings and conducted 28 follows on driver individuals
-collected more than 65 hours of acoustic data
-identified 8 new drivers
-and documented approximately 330 bouts of driver-barrier foraging!
All of this success would not have been possible without the amazing dedication of this season's team: Jolinde Vlaeyen, Areeba Moiz, Amber Lea Kincaid, Alyssa Carrillo, and Monica Arancibia-Colgain. Full-time team members worked on the boat and in the lab up to 12-hours a day, 7 days a week! Thank you so much to all of them for their hard work! We hope they get some quality rest now that the season is over and we wish them the best in future endeavors!
We also want to thank all of our supporters for following our journey this season! I will shortly be returning to UMass Dartmouth to start analyzing all of the acoustics data collected and look forward to seeing what amazing things we will learn! As for CKDP, Stefanie will be conducting monthly surveys in Cedar Key and Waccasassa to keep tabs on the animals we've seen this summer. I'll keep this blog active for any big announcements in the next year as I finish my master's degree.
Cheers to a great season!
When we're out on the water conducting research, dolphins aren't the only thing we're actively looking for; we also always keep an eye out for trash. Unfortunately, it often isn't hard to find. We have found countless items, mostly bottles, bags, and balloons. In just one day alone, we picked up 8 bottles! We know that the minute it takes for us to stop and pick up plastic is nothing compared to the 100s to 1000s of years it takes for plastic to decompose in the oceans. As the plastics break down, they make their way into the food chain and cause direct harm to the animals we cherish; fish, turtles, manatees, sharks, and dolphins. We'd like to encourage you to also keep a trash bag on-board whenever you're on the water and take the time to pick up trash you see so that it can be recycled instead of harming our local environment.
With some incredible weather recently, we just had an 11-day streak of days out on the water (there are no such things as weekends during the field season!). This has meant lots of time with the animals, plenty of data collected, and a very tired but happy research team! Out of the last 11 days, we saw DB behavior on 8 days and recorded more than 25 hours of audio while seeing over 100 DB bouts! On one record-setting day, we were on the water for 7 hours and got audio for roughly 5 of those hours with DB bouts from 4 different drivers! One of the most exciting developments during this stint on the water was the discovery of several new drivers. Some are animals we have never known before this season, but others are familiar fins that we have never seen drive before. In the photos below, you can see an animal known as SYYR. We first saw SYYR in 2015, but did not see it participate in DB. This year, we found SYYR with a slightly changed fin and he/she is now a driver. These ‘new kids on the block’ are giving us better odds of seeing DB as the season continues and allow us to compare the details of DB behavior between different individuals. For example, some drivers always start a DB bout with big, loud tail-slaps that are thought to startle the fish, while other drivers are never seen using tail-slaps. We are excited to analyze the audio data to see whether there are also individual differences in vocal production during the behavior! For now, we have a few days of high winds expected that are keeping us on land, but provide a good opportunity to catch-up on data processing and sleep!
A lot of our work this summer involves focal follows. This is when researchers find animals of particular interest (DB animals, in our case), and follow them for an extended period of time to watch their behavior. A lot of people assume dolphin research is always fun and we do love our work, but it can also be extremely boring at times! We have done several focal follows this season on driver dolphins for over 4 hours each without a single DB bout! If they’re only in the mood to rest or travel the entire day, that’s all we get to see. Since so few individuals do DB in the first place, this makes seeing the behavior very rare. If we could have multiple eyes on the area at one time, we would be sure to find DB in progress more often… so we’d like to recruit your help! If you specifically see DB (dolphins catching mullet in air; see photos below) from land or on the water around Cedar Key/Waccasassa Bay/Withlacoochee Bay between now and August 20th, please send us a message on Facebook or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know when and where you saw it. A couple pictures or a short video could also be really helpful. This is your chance to participate in citizen science and help us achieve our research goals this summer!
We've had a few big changes in the last few days! Monica left the field to travel back to Scotland, where she graduated from St. Andrews with her graduate degree today. Congrats, Monica, and thank you for all of your help!!!
4Yesterday, we had a great fund-raising event at World of Beer in Gainesville-Tioga. We had a busy few days leading up to the event to prep everything. Our biggest endeavor was making a dolphin fish-toss game by hand. Some of the team dedicated themselves to painting a dolphin board, while others hand-made beanie fish. Who knew that dolphin research required arts and crafts skills?! We also created a dolphin trivia game that was a huge hit with the patrons at the bar! We want to say a HUGE thank you to World of Beer for being great hosts and providing trivia/raffle prizes, and Funky Buddha for also providing prizes for our games! We had a lot of fun telling people about our work at this event and raised over $400 to support the project field-work efforts. Thank you so much to everyone who came out to support us and generously donated to the project!
Every day when we launch from Waccasassa, we travel down the river then have the option once we reach the mouth to travel north towards Cedar Key, or south towards Crystal River. The last few days out have been beautiful, with glassy-calm conditions in the morning, so either direction has been an option. This has meant that finding dolphins is up to our guess-work and luck; we choose the right direction and hit a jackpot some days with lots of dolphin sightings, while we strike out other days and drive for hours without a single sighting. We call the former “dolphin soup” and the latter a “dolphin desert”! The bright-side of less dolphins is that we have the opportunity to appreciate the other residents of the Waccasassa River/Bay. So far, our encounters have included gators, fresh-water turtles, manatees, juvenile sea turtles, sharks, southern stingrays, cownose rays, tarpon, sturgeon, pelicans, and osprey. And we’ve seen plenty of jumping mullet during DB foraging, of course! We’ve even had a cheeky pelican try to steal fish during DB bouts (bottom-right picture)! While we have been excited to meet all the neighbors, here’s hoping we have more jackpot days and have many more sightings and DB bouts in the near future! Stay tuned for more!
Today we had a full day out with beautiful weather... and we saw Driver-Barrier behavior for the first time on the water!!
It was very exciting seeing Prop, an animal also seen driving last year, complete almost 10 bouts of driver behavior in an hour! For one bout, a buddy helped him by performing the role of barrier to make it proper DB. After an hour of video and audio recording, Prop was full and decided to move on, while we came home very satisfied with how the day transpired! You can see Prop with a fish at the end of a driver bout in the picture below. We're excited to get out and see more, but for now, we are all very exhausted from the excitement of today and need to catch some sleep so we can do it all again tomorrow!