Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thursday | Whale and Dolphin Watching Azores

Today it has been a great day for us in Futurismo, after such a long time with bad weather conditions, today finally we saw the sun!
In the morning we saw some nice groups of common dolphins feeding mainly. In the afternoon we went to the same area but instead of common dolphins we found some nice and active bottlenose dolphins! The highlight of the day was the sperm whales we found in the end of the tour. Enjoy!

Photos by David Rodrigues

Whale Watching Tour

Common dolphin

Whale Watching Tour - Vila Franca islet 

Bottlenose dolphin

Whale Watching Tour - Vila Franca islet 

Common dolphins

Bottlenose dolphins

Common dolphin

Sperm whale

Sperm whale

Sperm whale

Monday, March 12, 2018

Monday | Whale and dolphin watching

This morning the sea was full of life and our highlight encounter was with a large group of false killer whales together with bottlenose dolphins (did you know the two species can mate to create a hybrid called a wholphin?). It was our first encounter with false killer whales this year so we felt really lucky, especially since it's a species that we don't see regularly. We also encountered a big group of common dolphins and a lot of Cory's shearwaters everywhere. Finally, to top it off we encountered a loggerhead turtle in the area of the common dolphins. What a morning!

Photos by marine biologist: Miranda van der Linde

Common Dolphin

Common Dolphin

Common Dolphins

Cory shearwater

False Killer Whale

False Killer Whale

False Killer Whales

False Killer Whale

False Killer Whales

False Killer Whale socializing

False Killer Whales

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Cory’s shearwater, a different matter over the sea

During winter time, even though we have great whale watching tours and encounters we can’t forget a very good friend of us, the Cory’s shearwater or the ‘cagarro’ as we call them in Portuguese. This beautiful marine birds start accompanying our tours since middle spring to middle autumn, their fly is very special as they enjoy to touch with their wings the surface of the ocean and they lead us very often to different species of dolphins (mainly common and also a summer time species the spotted dolphin).

Let’s now learn a bit more about this very special species: who they are, which their main characteristics are, how their migration routes are and what the threats they face nowadays.

We have compiled some information about this birds, as we think they deserve a bit of attention, even though they are not cetacean this is a very attached species to our whale watching tours.

Who are these Cory’s shearwaters?

The Cory’s (Calonectris borealis) is a large shearwater in the seabird family Procellariidae. Named Cory’s in English because of the American ornithologist Charles B. Cory.

It is a very symbolic migratory seabird of the Azores, as it covers the world’s largest breeding population of the species (Fig 1). They live in the open ocean, ranging from neritic zones (areas with water less than 200 meters deep) to continental shelves, and only come ashore during the breeding season.

Fig1: Cory’s shearwater abundance. Graphic by Victor Martin

Their open ocean habitat covers warm waters of that are connected with high productive ecosystems[1], such as ocean fronts[2], deep-water springs and continental shelves[3]. This creates a food source for many marine animals, like the Cory’s shearwater. 

This species has a complex system of sounds. The sounds are only produced during the breeding season, in their breeding colonies. Males only produce high-pitched tones while the females produce more deep tones.  This sounds have a very particular tone that can be heard specially at night time close to the cliffs were they nest.

Foto by Mariana Silva
The genus name Calonectris comes from the classical Greek words kalos, meaning "Good" and nectris meaning "swimmer". And, as might be expected, the Cory’s shearwater is a great swimmer! The species has webbed feet as well as long and straight wings that are adapted to allow the birds to use the updrafts of wind on the waves to “shear” over the water’s surface (hence the name “shearwater”).

But, not only the wings are perfectly adapted to an oceanic lifestyle, the species is also adapted to drink seawater due to the existence of highly developed nasal tubes. They have desalination glands that extract and dispose of the salt. This is reason why this birds can spend months in the ocean without coming back to land. They also have an unusually strong sense of smell. This is very handy, since they can find their food over large ocean surfaces and also relocate their colonies.

Cory’s shearwaters and common or spotted dolphins or even other species like tunas are very often seen around the Azores, and also on our whale watching tours, all feeding together in a ‘feeding area’ were the dolphins surround the school of fish forcing them to ‘make’ a ball and other species including Cory’s profit of this feast diving directly into the ball of fish.

The diet of Cory’sshearwaters in the Azores has been studied and found to be very diverse. Several species of octopus, squid, fish and crustaceans have been found in their stomach contents. The birds are able to catch these prey by diving up to 15 meters deep using their wings as flippers!

When they are not feeding this birds rest on the surface of the ocean, creating big island of birds that are just ‘floating', it is something very beautiful just to observe them taking off using the water as a runway with their legs !!

Albert Cama
This marine bird has a “Mediterranean cousin”, the Scopoli’s shearwater (Calonectris diomedea).

For a long time researchers thought that the Cory’s shearwater (Calonectris diomedea borealis) was a subspecies from Scopoli’s (Calonectris diomedea). But now, they are considered by researchers as two different species.

Although their appearance is very similar, they still have important differences that result in them being distinguished as a separate species:
The most important difference is their different and very marked breeding distribution:

   Scopoli’s shearwater à Mediterranean distribution: Algeria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain (excluding the Canary Islands), Tunisia and Turkey.
    Cory’s shearwater à Atlantic distribution: Portugal (including the Azores, Madeira and Berlengas) and the Canary Islands. 

Fig 2: Geographical breading area of Scorpoli’s and Cory’s shearwater. 

Also their size is quite different: the Cory’s shearwater has a bigger body-mass than the Scopoli’s shearwater, with the different being about 46 percent.

Genetics are a very important parameter to indicate if the species are different or not: figure 3 shows the two different populations based on genomic differences. The Scopoli's shearwater is shown with a blue colour throughout the Mediterranean Sea and the Cory's shearwater is shown by a red colour in the Atlantic Ocean.

Fig 3. Population genetic structure of Cory’s shearwater. Munilla I. et. al. (2016)

However, genetic material gets mixed between both species if one individual travels from one population to another (e.g. from Baleares Islands to Azores Islands). This event is called gene flow, but in this case the gene flow is low, allowing us to think that there is not a big hibridation between the two species.

There is another characteristic that the researchers use to differentiate the two different species, the bird song. Even though they use their special song for the same purposes: simple vocalization for calls and complex for mating, the sound between the two species is different, being the one of the Cory’s with three syllables and the Scopoli’s using two:

Don’t miss theirs incredible singing! Can you notice the difference?

Written by: Cristina Montoya

[1] A system with connected elements formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with their environment
[2] Land that borders the oceans
[3] Edge of a continent that lies under water

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Thursday | Dolphin Watching Azores

This morning we had a break in the bad weather and we were able to go out on the sea with two of our zodiac boats. We had some really nice encounters, first with a group of Risso'sdolphins that were socialising and often passing close to our boats. Next we tried to find a baleen whale that our lookout had spotted, but even though we didn't manage to find it we did encounter two groups of common dolphins. The first group was feeding and we could actually see the ball of fish that they were feeding on at the surface. The second group was very playful and came really close to our boats to check us out. Between our dolphin encounters we also did our part to help clean up the oceans by removing several pieces of plastic that we came across in the water.

Risso's dolphins

Common dolphins

Zodiac boat

Risso's dolphins

Zodiac boats

Common dolphins

The ball fish

Risso's dolphin

Removing several pieces of plastic 

February 2018 Sighting and statistics

In February we already encountered 5 different whale and dolphin species in São Miguel Island.

Our statistics from February show that the most encountered species was our resident:

One more whale species was encountered (sperm whales (18%)) as well as other dolphin species (striped dolphin (6%).

This month we also saw our first Corys shearwater and Portuguese Man-o-War.

Now we are looking forward to seeing what the month of March will bring us.

By: Mariana Silva

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saturday | Dolphin Watching Azores

Despite the patches of rain this morning, our lookouts still managed to find us two different groups of common dolphins. After the rain cleared we got to see the dolphins really well as they came to swim around our boat.
The second group was probably feeding because they were accompanied by quite a few gulls. Our lookout on land also saw some whale blows, but even though we spent some time searching the area we didn't manage to see the whales this time. Luckily the common dolphins were there to brighten up our morning.

Common dolphin

Common dolphin

Common dolphin

Common dolphins

Friday, February 23, 2018

Friday | Whale and Dolphin Watching Azores

This morning we were lucky to have a large group of sperm whales a short trip away from Ponta Delgada. It was nice to see our resident whales again, after a period of seeing only fin whales recently. There were many sperm whales hanging out at the surface together, probably about 15 in total. For a moment they even became curious and turned towards us to check us out. After the whales we enjoyed some nice encounters with another one of our resident species - a group of at least 100 common dolphins. They were playing in the waves around our boats, even when we left they swam with us an lept alongside us for quite some time.  
Photos by Miranda van der Linde

Common dolphin

Group of sperm whales

Common dolphin

Sperm whale

Sperm whale

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A person is very small (but can do something)

Futurismo often hosts students from various countries, allowing them to gain experience with us by helping out during our tours and completing work required for their university degree. 

During the period of October to December 2017 DeniseVerstraeten joined us from Van Hall Larenstein, University of Applied Sciencesin the Netherlands. She was interested in learning about the people that joined our whale watching trips. Therefore, Denise completed a small project to gain a greater understanding of the customer experience of the trip by the help of a brief inquiry. 

Different questions were asked, such as:
  1. Did you feel any emotions by seeing the animals? 
  2. What was the highlight of the tour for you? 
  3. What key message did you take away after today’s tour?

But, of course, firstly she wanted to know why our clients went whale watching in the first place! The majority were very curious to know more about whales and dolphins, or went on a trip out of passion for these animals.

To get a little bit more insight into their motivations, she asked our clients:
  • Why they booked a tour with Futurismo. 

 - The majority responded with ‘recommendations’ or ‘reputation’.

So the tourists became more curious? Great! More than 95% of our clients reported that they experienced feelings or emotions towards whales and/or dolphins when they encountered them with Futurismo! To make it a bit more specific, 97% of their emotions were positive, however a small group felt some mixed emotions like ‘sadness’ or ‘fear. 

Why? During our trips Futurismo’s biologists explain a lot about conservation and threats to marine life. This may have had an effect on our clients’ emotions, which makes sense right? To give you an idea of the different emotions, a figure is made which is shown below.

The highlight of the tour were very different for each one of our customers, but that did not make them less interesting! 

A few that really popped out were: ‘The animals in their own environment’, ‘The information of the guide’, and ‘Awareness’.
Awareness was a highlight that also came back in the key message of our customers… Most key messages were related on conservation! (more than 50%) The majority of the people filled in a conservation-related key message like ‘Marine mammals should not be captured’ and ‘a person is very small (but can do something)’.

We were very pleased to hear our clients had a joyful experience and remembered the trip for being a contributor to the protection of these magnificent animals! 

Therefore, let’s work together and save our whales!

By: Denise Verstraeten

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