Bye Bye Bahamas!
We started our last day in the Bahamas with a slightly melancholic packing session. It has been an amazing 10 days and no one was quite ready to leave. Before our departure from Abaco however, we all wanted to squeeze in one more half day on the boats. We had one last breakfast at our guest house, the French toast will be sorely missed upon arrival back home. Julie has vowed to learn how to recreate the delicious breakfast dish by next year. After breakfast we grabbed our last few items and headed off to the boats.
We were treated to immaculate survey conditions and calm seas on our last morning. Group one headed to look for dolphins while group two headed out into deeper water in search of beaked whales. Group one was successful in our search as we encountered three dolphins. What was even more special however, is that we got to witness the animals crater feeding. Crater feeding is a special type of feeding behavior in which the animals position themselves vertically in the water and use their rostrum to dig for fish in the sand. After we had spent some time observing the animals, taking photo-id images, and recording their whistles we received a radio call from the group two who had encountered a group of mystery animals during their search for beaked whales. Group one said farewell to the dolphins and headed out to deeper water to aid in the search for the mystery animals. Unfortunately, due to the animals’ elusive behavior we were unable to locate the group again.
After the search attempt, group two decided to continue their boat day in deeper water looking for other cetaceans. Group one headed back closer to shore to recover a passive acoustic recorder from nearby reef. We recovered the recorder, replaced its batteries, and redeployed it back on the reef where it will stay recording the ambient noise for the next 40-50 days. This was an especially exciting task for me because I will use the data from the recorder for my master’s thesis through the University of St Andrews. Using the recorder data, I plan on evaluating and characterizing the abundance of species on the reef. This project is particularly interesting because there are plans for a marina to be built in the area which would require removal of the reef’s coral heads and transplanting them at a different location. It is important to have baseline data about the biodiversity in the area so that we can see how the impacts the marine environment when it has been built. It will also allow us to study how transplanting the coral heads affects the animals that depend on them. After redeploying the passive acoustic recorder some group members jumped in the water for their last swim before returning to the cold Scottish seas.
Unfortunately, our time on the boats had to come to an end and groups one and two headed back to Diane and Charlotte’s house where we took quick rinses in their outdoor shower, did some last minute data downloads, debated the identity of the mystery group of cetaceans (group two thinks they saw pygmy killer whales but I think the photo looks suspiciously like Nessie), and pack our things into the vans. We said goodbye to Charlotte and Diane, and of course their wonderful dogs Ginger and Harry, and good riddance to the sand flies before setting off for the airport to start making our way back to St Andrews!
After our first flight to Nassau, we said goodbye to Sari and Le’Andra and headed to board our long flight to London. Exhausted from all the excitement over the past 10 days, most everyone slept for a large portion of the flight, occasionally waking up to furiously scratch our many bug bites. Upon arrival back in the UK we had a short layover and then it was off to Edinburgh on our last flight. We were thrilled to see our bags made it safely to Edinburgh with us. We all piled back in the van and had one last car ride together before safely arriving back in St Andrews tanned, tired, and missing the Bahamas already.
I think it’s safe to say that everyone on the trip had an amazing time! Not only did we soak up the Bahamian sun, we learned so much. It was a truly special experience to be able to practice our practical research skills and see the animals we learn about in lecture in person. We will all certainly miss being out on the water as we head back to the library come Tuesday morning. Thank you so much to everyone who made this once in a lifetime trip possible, we are all truly grateful!
Written by India Haber (University of St Andrews)