Bahamas Dolphins Cruise Report: Week 2, July 6-13, 2013

Sunday, July 7:
After boarding the boat in West End yesterday afternoon and a short cruise last night, our guests awoke this morning on the Little Bahama Bank 15 miles north of Grand Bahama. Following breakfast we started our activities with a visit to the ever-popular Sugar Wreck. Sugar Wreck never fails to please and during our snorkels and scuba dives we saw a multitude of fish and a sleepy hawksbill turtle, the same turtle we swam with here last week! Exploring this wreck always feels like swimming in a giant aquarium and we love it.

When cruising the Bahamas’ banks you never know what you may find while looking for dolphins and this afternoon provided a remarkable example. During our search we sighted a large “bait ball”, a school of small fish which appeared to be a species of grunt. Below them was a large school of much larger, predatory yellow jack that had driven and concentrated the grunts near the surface to feed on them. With an exciting opportunity to experience some of the natural diversity of the area, a group of snorkelers suited up and jumped in only to discover that below all this surface action was a gathering of more than sixteen nurse sharks slowly cruising en-mass! It was an unexpected and thrilling discovery and it just goes to show that surprises can be found every time you enter the water.

The dolphins eluded us for the day but the beautiful waters, great food and fun snorkeling and diving kept everyone in good spirits.

Monday, July 8:
We started today with a snorkel and scuba dive on Hogfish Reef, a healthy patch reef near the edge of the Bahama Bank. The variety of marine life is always fun to see but the highlight on this dive were the 8-10 Caribbean reef sharks that were cruising the reef. It offered a perfect opportunity for some of the more anxious swimmers to appreciate the beauty of the sharks and to realize that any fears they had were unfounded.  It’s always fun to ask someone who is concerned about a shark they see “You saw a shark!? What did it do!?” and to have them reply “Well, it… ummm… swam around!” Usually their concerns disappear shortly after that…

Mid-day we searched for dolphin as we moved north to the White Sand Ridge where we anchored on a small pile of debris left over from an old navigational structure. Even though it is little more than a pile of steel framework, the Lighthouse Wreck is the only structure on a vast plain of pure white sand and it acts as a magnet to large schools of horse-eye jack, mangrove and yellowtail snapper (below), barracuda and stingrays (right).

Later in the day we continued our search as we cruised back south and stopped for a snorkel and scuba dive at a reef named Eldorado. This slightly deeper reef was full of schooling mangrove snapper, barracuda, more Caribbean reef sharks, and even king mackerel and an African pompano, a scarce fish sometimes found on the deeper Bahamian reefs.

The snorkeling and scuba diving has been great fun but our goal is to swim with dolphins. In all our travels today we only saw a couple of bottlenose and not a single spotted dolphin. After considering the situation carefully we decided to relocate overnight from the Little Bahama Bank to North Bimini, on the Great Bahama Bank, where another pod of spotted dolphins resides.

Tuesday, July 9:
After a calm and pleasant overnight crossing we awoke offshore of the island of Bimini. Eager to make the most of the day, we began our search for the local pod of dolphins that live here. It was not long until our patience and persistence was rewarded and our overnight trip justified when we found a pod of at least 22 bottlenose dolphin crater feeding on the expansive sand plains along the edge of the Great Bahama Bank.

The bottlenose dolphin were actively hunting for razorfish. Razorfish are a small species of fish that live near the seafloor in sandy areas and when they are threatened razorfish will plunge themselves 6”-18” into the sand to evade predation. The dolphins are able to cruise the bottom using their powerful echolocation to scan for and pinpoint the fish buried below and then will poke their rostrums into the sand in pursuit. The dolphin almost never miss and when they have caught their prey it leaves a distinct crater-like depression in the sand, giving this specialized feeding behavior the name of “crater feeding”.

This was a fantastic display of crater feeding and we were able to spend nearly five hours in the water watching the feeding and having the curious dolphin enthusiastically interact with the swimmers on the surface when they rose for a breath. With calm, clear, warm waters, shining sun and almost two dozen engaged dolphins, it was a terrific way to make up our dolphin time, and in fact, it was the longest and best bottlenose dolphin encounter any of the Conscious Breath Adventures team had ever experienced.

Wednesday, July 10:
After a pleasant night anchored offshore of Bimini, this morning we spent a couple hours looking for dolphins before stopping for a snorkel and scuba dive at the famous site known as the Bimini Road, also known as the Road to Atlantis. Several New Age philosophies believe that the Bimini area is the location of an unusual energy vortex and is imbued with special metaphysical properties. The Bimini Road is part of this lore as it is an unusual geometric formation of square and rectangular stones (right), a “road” of sorts, with the question being, where did it come from? Could it be evidence of the lost civilization of Atlantis, or even extraterrestrial in nature? We will leave those determinations to better informed scholars, but we just know the Bimini Road is a great place to see corals, fish, turtles, and abundant invertebrate marine life, too!

In the afternoon the energy was high when we again found our quarry, a pod of more than a dozen spotted dolphins. The pod was in a sleep cycle when we first found them but after tracking them for almost an hour, until they showed signs of interest by socializing and bow-riding, this happy bunch of dolphins gave us all a great swim as they swooped, twisted, dove and spun, cavorting and frolicking for another hour. The behavior between dolphins was a thrill to see, particularly between a group of three young dolphin who were obviously playmates (above). The human-dolphin interactions were everything that we could hope for, too, and they left everyone breathless and overjoyed (below). And as if all this wasn’t enough, in the last fifteen minutes of this encounter, the entire pod of twenty-plus bottlenose dolphin from yesterday arrived on the scene, sweeping through like a wave and giving the ultimate sendoff for the day (see photo at bottom of page).

Thursday, July 11:
Today’s weather featured some of the best conditions of our cruises so far, with light winds, calm seas and swimming-pool blue waters in every direction. As with yesterday, our morning search was followed by another snorkel and scuba dive, this time on a reef called Moray Alley where our guests again saw a turtle, barracuda, myriad tropical fish, but alas, no namesake moray eels!

The beautiful conditions carried on to the afternoon when our patience was rewarded with another interaction with about a dozen spotted dolphins. Again the dolphins were socializing heavily, with lots of vocalizations and contact between individuals. A couple of the dolphins were even playing a kind of “patty-cake”, where they would quickly rub their pectoral fins over and under each others, an endearing kind of “hand-jive” that warmed everyone’s already-pounding hearts. It was a wonderful conclusion to an excellent week.

Because we traveled the extra miles to relocate to Bimini earlier this week, Friday was a travel day and everyone was able to rest, share photos and stories, and relax in the hot tub on the way back to Grand Bahama. Two weeks done, one more to go! We can’t wait to see what we will find next!

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