From mid-September to mid-December, Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (www.bahamaswhales.org) staff, Charlotte Dunn and Diane Claridge, conducted vessel surveys to search for marine mammals off southwest Abaco Island in the northern Bahamas. During this time one Bahamian intern, Luanettee’ Colebroke, who was hired during the summer, assisted with surveys until her departure late September. Jack Lucas, an undergraduate student from the University of Plymouth in UK also participated as an intern during this time.
Four vessel surveys were conducted, covering 130 nautical miles along the coastal areas of SW Abaco Island, primarily in the pelagic waters of Northwest Providence Channel. There were three different species sighted: sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus, 3 sightings), dwarf sperm whales (Kogia sima, 3 sightings) and Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris, 2 sightings). During the sperm whale encounters, we collected four fecal samples (for analyses of stress and reproductive hormones) and one sloughed skin sample (for genetic analysis).
During the last half of September, BMMRO had two encounters with Cuvier’s beaked whales. This species occurs year-round in the Bahamas, and although sightings are common in some parts of the archipelago, they are not regularly found off SWAbaco. So we were surprised to find two different groups over multiple days. This is the species that has stranded most often worldwide as a result of navy sonar exercises, so learning about their lives has become one of our priorities. They are found in small groups, often comprising a single adult male and one or two females with their young. Males have only two teeth, located at the very tip of the rostrum and these are used as tusks to fight other adult males for access to females.