Saturday, January 30, 2016

Pod of Bottlenose Dolphins

Hi All,
As we come out of Leeward the water is totally flat. It looks like a mirror. I look down into the crystal clear turquoise water and see fish going about their busy lives darting here and there in the coral. You don't even need to get in the water to see all the activity.
Our plan is to take advantage of the flat sea and go past the reef to hopefully find a cetacean filled adventure! I'm not sure who loves the flat sea more the birds or me. They are swooping down and catching unsuspecting fish. The life of a fish is filled predators from the sky and predators from the depths. A pelican circles above then plummets into the water. I notice three terns circling quite  a way out. The more I look ,the more I think I see something black below them. We head out to investigate.
There is a fairly large pod of bottle-nose dolphins. I slip into the dark blue water and start seeing dolphins. Some take a look at me and others go about their lives without taking much notice. A mother and calf come along and stay just in front of me. The calf  has taken his position under his mom. He is not only getting protection but a slipstream effect making his keeping up a bit easier. You'll notice a lot of touching and caressing.  I get to swim with them for awhile then they fade into the distance because I can't keep their pace.
We travel past Northwest Point but it starts to get choppy and I start thinking the dolphins like smooth water and they were going toward Pine Cay. We turn around and travel way past Pine Cay putting the hydrophone in along the way. Once we were past Parrot Cay, John sees something big right near our boat. It's a whale but a whale on a mission. There is no chance for interaction as he heads rapidly toward North Caicos and I'm sure around the islands toward the Silver banks. This is where the Humpbacks from up North that feed on the Stellwagen Bank migrate to have their calves and mate. The Silver Banks are between the Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos. We put the hydrophone in to see if there might be another whale in the area. I believe the whales can be traveling together but they can communicate over such long distances that they can be miles apart at any given time. We hear some squeaks, groans and sort of yelps. John spots a spout and we find another Humpback. This one is also on the move. By now it's getting late in the day and we have a long ride home. As John starts the motor it makes dreadful noise and stalls. This is your biggest nightmare to be way past the reef and your motor won't start! He tries again. I'm holding my breath wondering if I'll make the plane tomorrow or be out to sea floating around. It sputters but starts. We inch along not daring to punch it for fear it will die. The plan was to take it to the marina to have it serviced while we are going home for a few days. Apparently it needs servicing! We inch along back to Pine Cay where we cross over the reef. WHEW!!! John punches it and it responds. All's well.
North Caicos in the back ground and a big hotel that never made it!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Come Fish With Me

Hi All,
We had a nice day with some much appreciated brilliant sunshine. A few boat captains told us JoJo was swimming by the resorts. We caught up with him outside of Ocean Club. As soon as I got in he did a nice barrel roll then started crater fishing with a vengeance.  He finds these little white fish that hide in the sand. There are lots of them in front of certain resorts along Grace Bay. As you look at the video you will see JoJo has sustained another small cut. It's about an inch long and is located just in front of his right pec. It looks like the same type of cut that is just below his dorsal on the same side. Luckily these cuts will heal quickly. Dolphins have an amazing ability to heal as we witnessed last winter. There are studies being done to determine if we can learn from their healing process.
As we swim along JoJo looks at me and I wonder if he's wondering when I'll learn to crater fish:)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Spy Hop Taxi Service

Hi all,
The weather has finally started to settle down enough where we can go out past the reef. We are heading down the coast passing all the resorts as we look for dorsals. Apparently JoJo didn't want to go out the South Side because he wasn't at leeward waiting! As we turn back from Smith Reef and head towards Club Med, I see a huge splash past the reef. There are still huge waves crashing on the reef so I'm thinking it may have just been that however, the waves aren't hitting that spot. Out we go into the rough blue water. It might be a whale. We don't see any spouts so we drop the hydrophone deep into the dark blue water. First we hear squeaks then deep rumbles. The further out we drift the louder the noises but still no spouts. We continue outside the reef all the way to Pine Cay dropping the hydrophone periodically. At times we seem to get closer to the source but we never see a spout. I can certainly see why in the past before people knew about whales and their "singing", they thought they heard sirens. The sounds they make can be haunting, squeaky, high to really low.
We bounce our way back over the reef to quieter water and head back along Pine Cay. As we are passing Half Moon Beach we hear "Spy Hop" over the radio. John returns the call and is told JoJo is in the area. We see Sail Provo a big sailing catamaran and head over. As we are approaching, JoJo is traveling right toward us. He clearly wants a ride. Off we go past all the resorts to Smith Reef and beyond. Along the way numerous tour boats sidle up with tourists craning their necks to see the famous JoJo. For some reason they always clap wildly, cheer and laugh when he surfaces for air. He really is a legend. He's been doing this for almost 40 years. He wants to head back and we take him back past Half Moon Beach again and almost to the end of Pine Cay where heads off perhaps to fish.
I think he is searching his pod members when he goes up and down the island without stopping or interacting with anyone.
I haven't seen Whizzer since that day the pushy kid followed him with a Go Pro stuck on a stick. I had been swimming along happily with them until this kid leapt out of his boat and swam up aggressively. They all swam away but he did get quite close. That day we were at half Moon Beach and it took until the end of Pine Cay for them to settle so I could get in and swim with them. I have not seen that mother and calf on Grace Bay since that day. I feel she decided she'd best keep her wild son away from all the tourists before he gets hurt. I have no problem with anyone getting in to swim with JoJo he's an old hand and knows who he wants close. However, it's taken me years to get the trust of the mothers and calves and I wish people would use dolphin etiquette if they feel they really want to try. Better yet don't get in with them! I feel dolphin etiquette means you drop in the water ahead of the dolphins if they chose to come to you then by all means swim with them. If however, they avoid you then they don't want to! Swimming aggressively toward them is not showing dolphin etiquette.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

JoJo Looking For friends on the South Side

Hi All,
Just to catch up, the seas have been really rough for quite a few days. Yesterday, we headed off to French Cay with the hopes of seeing a whale. (redid not:( ) On our return we braved Grace Bay where the sea was still rough. JoJo came to our boat right outside of Ocean Club and wanted a ride toward Turtle Cove. We passed Smith Reef and he branched off and disappeared.
Today, we headed out early and he was right at Leeward waiting. He wanted to go out the South Side again! The weather is still really unsettled. He of course was heading right toward a big black cloud bank. After hanging around Bird Rock at the other end of Leeward Channel, he wanted to go due south just like before. We went even farther this time past where Sponge Bob was. He kept branching but didn't find anyone. We finally lost sight of him. I included a video. The
 little speck of brown is the end of Provo! The big black cloud was following us! Watch carefully in the wake and you'll see JoJo branch off. That was when he disappeared.   I did a panorama so you could see how finding JoJo can be a challenge:). The good part was he had brought us to the only sunshine anywhere in the Turks and Caicos Islands!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Barn Owl On North Caicos

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Barn Owl on North Caicos

Hi All,
The weather has taken a turn for the worse not only in the Northeast but here on Provo! Since we went to East Caicos on the most gorgeous day possible, the wind has come up accompanied by rain and occasional thunder and lightening. We somehow managed to go up the Southside to North Caicos without getting rained on. After following the water taxi on a circuitous route into the North Caicos marina, we started heading down the canals looking for wildlife. This marina was built with the hopes that North Caicos would grow into a major tourist spot and attract lots of boats. There are the remnants of street plans and lamp posts just yards from the canals. The palm trees that were planted all along the canals are slowly dying from lack of water. The irrigation systems are defunct.

We watch a great egret gracefully guiding us down the canal. He veers off and heads into the mangroves where we can't follow. As we come to a bridge, the water speeds up and rushes through the narrow opening. I start looking to the side where there are steep cliffs lining one side. Years ago we had seen a Barn Owl in one of the hollowed out areas. I was hoping to perhaps see him again. As we pass a cave I see a pair of eyes! Back in the recesses of the cave is a Barn Owl. He stays right there as we turn our boat around at the end of the canal. We come back closer to the cliff and he flies out. There is an Osprey sitting on the bridge taking in the whole scene.  We decide to anchor and eat lunch. However lunch was cut short by some huge black clouds bearing down on us. John masterfully wound his way back through the seriously shallow water until we got to the channel between Dellis Cay and Parrot Cay. The trick to navigating really shallow water is to go like hell get your boat up on a plane and don't stop no matter what!  Its either that or getting stuck until the tide turns in several hours. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A trip To East Caicos

Hi All,
We have been thinking for a long time about going to East Caicos. It is situated between South Caicos and Middle Caicos. It is an uninhabited island with only donkeys roaming around where there was once a sisal plantation. John and I have traveled by car to the very end of Middle Caicos and thought about using a kayak to paddle to East Caicos. It however seemed to complicated. Early one morning when I do all most thinking, I decided Big Blue was the way to go. They are the best outfitters on the island. They are very eco-minded and that is so important to me. I email Philip one of the two partners and we arrange it. I'm quite excited that Philip will be joining us. He has extensive knowledge about marine life besides being enthusiastic and great fun.
We head out early on "Octopussy" one of their many catamaran motor boats.
The day is drop dead gorgeous and we are all looking for whales. We have taken the route traveling outside the reef all the way around the islands. I have never seen the water so quiet around Middle Caicos. Whenever we have gone by land the ocean has had HUGE unboatable waves. Mudjin Harbor is one of the first land marks as you reach Middle Caicos.

We keep traveling along Middle Caicos until we come to Long Bay where there is deserted beach which seems to go for ever without a soul on it. 
This is the same beach John and I had found by car. We are now approaching Joe's Grant which is a spectacular island that sits in-between Middle and East Caicos. Either there was a look out post or Joe Grant had the most spectacular view one could imagine.
John is standing in the ruins wishing we could move here. Philip tells us the reef outside of Joe Grants Island is spectacular. We head out and have great snorkel. There is massive amounts of coral including Pillar and Elk horn in which large schools of fish, sharks and barracuda are swimming about. 
After climbing out of the water, we feast on sandwiches and brownies before continuing to East Caicos. Our skillful boat Captain Levado anchors right along another spectacular beach. Mike Rosati out great friend, John and I get out to walk the beach and leave Philip and Levado to some snorkeling in the channel between Joe Grant's and East Caicos. As we walk along this spectacular beach with the wind whistling softly through the Casuarina trees, we notice donkey tracks. There isn't anything they would eat along here but they must enjoy the view! 
We head back to the boat to view more of the island. There is an old loading dock where a train used to bring the sisal to ship out. Sisal is used to make rope amongst other things. The island stretches on for a long way then rises up to a high hill which is the highest point in the Turks and Caicos Islands. It is all over grown and there are many hungry mosquitoes hoping we will come inland. I'm beginning to want to head back with hopes of finding a whale or of course dolphins!
We start the long trip back. I'm scanning the water which has gotten a bit bouncy compared to this morning. Just as I start to nod off at the end of North Caicos, Mike and I see dorsal at the same moment. The sun is now pretty low on the horizon but I get in and have a quick swim with a pod of four dolphins one of which is curious about me.  They hang around briefly then resume their trip. Just as I get out, we see a Humpback surfacing right where I was with the dolphins. If only I'd stayed in there longer!
It's too late to properly position ourselves to get out and swim with this whale so we move on. We then see two spouts right together. If only these whales had come by this morning when we were in that magnificent, calm, clear water. However we now know the whales are coming through and hope we can see more later in the week. 
This was a spectacular trip done on a perfect Turks and Caicos day.  I highly recommend it!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Does It get Any Better Than This?

Hi All,
Today the weather is supposed to be perfect. We are planning to go to French Cay then around West Caicos to see if we can find any whales and of course dolphins. We however, never leave without a quick check of Grace Bay to see if JoJo is around.
As we come out Leeward the water is flat and gorgeous. I ask John to head over to a bit of trash I see bobbing along in the water. Just as I'm about to scoop it up, JoJo surfaces right beside us and flips over as he passes under the boat. I leave the trash and we start up but JoJo doesn't get in the wake. By the way JoJo flips over and glides under the boat upside down when he wants a ride, scaring you to death that your motor is going to cut him. No matter how many times he has done this, it still gives me a fright. Although he normally either wants to head up to Pine Cay or down toward Grace Point, today, he wants to go out the South Side. I think he knew we always come out Leeward in the morning and that we would turn around and head out the South Side if he wanted!! He's one smart dolphin!
We go and go way out onto the shallow flat bank called the South Side. We now are traveling past the far end of Provo. The shallow flat water stretches as far as you can see in every direction. JoJo starts branching out then returns to the boat. We figure he's calling to whoever he has planned to meet.
He starts heading purposefully toward a small reef. We see a sparking in the water. The sun is reflecting off another dorsal!! Clearly dolphins don't need cell phones to schedule meetings!
I get in to meet this dolphin. I don't think I know him. He has a notch out of his dorsal just like JoJo's. This will be easy to remember if I meet up with him again. He is a bit shy but takes a look at me. I notice he's going down to nozzle a sponge and JoJo's watching. As I'm traveling beside JoJo I see a little fish that's accompanying JoJo. Then the little fish moves over to me and is swimming along between my arms. How fun, I have a little friend! Now JoJo is following an Eagle ray and I decide to take a side trip and follow the Eagle Ray. I'm now a long way from the boat and as I start back the dolphins follow along. So, does my new friend the little fish who stayed with the whole time. I get in the boat for a camera switch. The battery has died. When I get back in the water, JoJo has gone off but "Sponge Bob" is attacking sponges with a vengeance. He swims down pokes his rostrum into the sponge and swims up with sponge draped sometimes on his pec, sometimes on his fluke or in his mouth! I have gotten all this on the video. Look carefully for the sponge jewelry!
Its now 12:30 and we are still only part way to French Cay. We search and find a lone dolphin who is intent on fishing not in any interaction.  We then travel at speed past the wall toward West Caicos looking for whales. As we move along the wall, I see a dorsal surface pretty far out. We find three shy Pilot Whales, one is a calf. As we are watching them, I keep noticing something leaping out of the water even farther far out. We venture out and find lots of playful leaping. It's the huge pod of Spotted Dolphins! They play with the boat as John spins in circles. Then I get in and they are even friendlier than before. About six of them circle me so close, I was scared I'd run into them. They are everywhere having such fun. I think they are the party dolphins! By this time, the sun's heading down and we are a long way from home. John starts the ride back as I sit grinning thinking of what an amazing day we've had.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Nothing Like A great Roll

Hi All,
This is the 5th day we haven't found JoJo. I usually tell my friends that want to meet him they need 5 days out on our boat to be sure we can find him. Yesterday, we hardly looked and went all over outside the reef trying to find a whale. Instead we found the huge pod of spotted dolphins. Today we are looking in all JoJo's favorite haunts.
As we pass the tour boats coming onto Grace Bay with loads of tourists, they start waving and pointing. We head in the direction they are pointing but still can't find any dolphins. Finally, we spot a dorsal right at Grace Point. Just as he heads toward our boat, one of Kenard's huge catamaran motor boats comes by and JoJo goes over:( They however sped off faster than JoJo likes. We continuing searching thinking he might be around. We still can't find him.  I notice another tour boat stopped and figure he was there. As we pull up a dolphin traffic jam has ensued. After some of the boat jostling calms down, I get in to see if he wants to go for a swim. He takes me out toward the reef away from all the boat traffic then slows down. John pulls up with Spy Hop and drops anchor. JoJo has some long scratches swimming up and down our anchor line, twirling around to reach every part of his body. He then goes into sleep mode where he slowly circles our boat for a long time. He must have had an active night. Perhaps he was fishing or socializing. Dolphins are able to rest 1/2 of their brain while the other 1/2 keeps an eye out for predators and tells him when to breath. Unlike us dolphins are voluntary breathers. They must be awake to decide when to breath where we are involuntary breathers and don't have to think about it. I think that is just amazing and wish we would evolve in such a way that we could work while we napped!! I have gotten a little cold and have climbed in the boat to watch. JoJo starts making bigger and bigger circles still returning to the boat and the anchor line. Eventually he wakes up and is heading off slowly. That's our cue! We pull the anchor and start the JoJo taxi service. He gets in our wake and our first stop is Parrot Cay where he does a little fishing in front of the Parrot Cay Resort. Then he wants a ride back past Pine Cay and all the way to Provo and the front of Beaches. In the mean time, tour boats are coming right along side to give their passengers a look at the famous JoJo. Clapping, cheering and laughter for each time he surfaces to breath. One lady said "Ok, that's it I've seen JoJo now I can go home!!"One lady asked if he was my pet! I had another lady ask if I owned him. Yikes!! In case anyone's wondering he is a wild but sociable dolphin! Finally we get to Beaches and JoJo branches off to do some awesome rolling in the sand. I'm swimming along with him when we come across a wind surfer who has fallen and can't get up. She is having a lesson and the instructor is in a motor boat. He is trying to tell her there is a dolphin swimming beside her. She just couldn't get it. JoJo I swear loves these moments. Eventually I get in and we take JoJo to Leeward where he peels off and we decide after 6 hours of taking him where ever he wants that it was time to go in ourselves!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Big Pod of Playful Spotted Dolphins

Hi All,
We are back on Island. We have been searching around for JoJo but haven't found him for a few days. This morning we have a guest on board Jeremie who would really like to see a whale. He works at Club Med diving with their guests among other things. He just returned from working on a "Live- a -Board" in Egypt, where he saw and swam with lots of dolphins.
After doing a quick JoJo search, we started going thru many of the cuts in the reef to search for whales. It's still a bit early in the season to see them but we know there have been two sightings in the last week. No whales seem to be on Grace Bay so, we head out on the South Side and decide to go to West Caicos. We encounter one lone Bottle-Nose dolphin that seemed much more interested in surfing the fairly substantial waves than coming to our boat. We bounced our way all the around West Caicos, no whales.
We are now heading back, I'm snoozing in the back of the boat having pretty much decided there aren't any whales coming by today. Suddenly John stops the boat waking me out of my pleasant slumber. He has seen dolphins. I leap up to see so many dolphins you couldn't count them maybe 100 or more! I get in and a group lets me swim with them. Then they are off. I get back in the boat. These are Spotted Dolphins. They are smaller than Bottle Nose dolphins, travel in larger pods and apparently don't  come inside the reef. I've only seen them twice before in all the time we've been coming to Turks. They really want to play with our boat. They bow ride, leap and frolic as John whizzes around in circles creating lots of waves with the wake. One really young calf performs the biggest leaps you can imagine - way higher that our boat! Such Zest for life! Jeremie and I get in and swim for an hour with them. Several travel quite slowly allowing me to swim with them. The others are rocketing around, sometimes flashing by to check me out but mostly diving and cavorting. The calves are very interested but don't get very close. Unlike Whizzer who always comes close and wants to play. I don't think the Spotted Dolphins' Moms have given their approval, yet! I hope you enjoy the video. If there was ever a moment you thought captive dolphins were a good idea this will dash it!

Friday, January 1, 2016