At this moment three quarters of “The Spinnerettes” are in Kona, Hawai’i assisting with fieldwork as a part of the Spinner Dolphin Acoustics and Population Parameters Research (SAPPHIRE) Project. The project started in the summer of 2010 to study the spinner dolphins using a suite of techniques including photo-identification, focal follows and behavioral sampling, acoustics and theodolite tracking. It was set to wrap up before the 1st of the year but the State of Hawai’i closed one of our study bays, Kealakekua Bay to all non-coast guard approved vessels and we were called on to assist with the fieldwork to continue data collection during the closure.
Demi Fox, Liza Hoos and I arrived on the evening of March 11th and today was our first day of fieldwork. We took yesterday to plan out a week of our fieldwork and to get ourselves acclimated to the Island, to see Kealakekua Bay and to get some Kona coffee and breakfast at the Coffee Shack. We woke up to spinner dolphins off our lanai and ended the day with humpback whales and a beautiful sunset.
Today, Demi, Stacia, a volunteer that has been with the project since the start, Brett, our fearless boat captain Bob and I set off on our first day of focal follows. When we set off on focal follows we find a group of spinner dolphins and start photo-identification. We take pictures of the dolphins to figure out “who is there.” We can use pictures we have taken in the past to match the fins to previously captured fins. We found a group farther up North and we started our focal follow. We were the only people with this group of dolphins, just us on our boat. Our plan was a little derailed when a group of 3 humpbacks showed up (two adults and a calf) but we got a 2 hour follow in on the group recording their aerial behaviors and other information about the group of dolphins. We continued to have amazing views of dolphins and humpbacks interacting together. We all found ourselves screaming when three adult humpbacks surfaced together off our port side. And “HOLY HUMPBACK”!” was born.
We moved south to try to find another group of dolphins and we sure did find some. Our estimate was actually about 200 dolphins. The group was the biggest I had ever seen and we could see dolphins everywhere surfing the waves as they rolled in. At this point however, we were not the only people with the dolphins. There were two boats, one exhibiting the clearest example of leapfrogging I have ever seen. This is a process where swim-with boats get up in front of a group of dolphins, drop their snorkelers in the water, let the dolphins pass, pick them up and repeat. We stuck with the group taking pictures of them in hopes we would have some identifiable individuals.
We ended the day with data entry and a Mai Tai and another beautiful sunset complete with the green flash!