Thursday, April 4, 2013

Orcas return to São Miguel, Azores

This morning we went out whale watching on our catamaran "Cetus" and had an incredible tour. Shortly after leaving the marina our vigia (onshore lookout) notified us that he had spotted orcas (also known as killer whales) not too far from the shore. After a lot of searching we almost had to give up, but then one of our passengers spotted the distinctive tall black dorsal fin of the orca.
Our first view was of a juvenile coming straight towards our boat. Everybody was surprised to look over the side and see the young orca appear from nowhere and swim right beside our boat, going underneath and then emerging at the back of the boat. The young orca stayed close behind our boat, playing around the bubbles and waves coming off our boat. After a while we saw there was a larger male there too, and he also came right up to our boat and stayed close to us so that we all got to see the two individuals very well. After a quick look at the ID-photos that our biologists took we could recognise the male as the same individual that we saw on January 8th this year (click HERE to see our blog post of this previous encounter). By comparing photos taken during both encounters we can see that it is the same individual because he has a distinctive large nick taken out of the top of his dorsal fin (see photos below). Recently Futurismo has been seeing more orcas in São Miguel and we have now built our São Miguel orca catalogue up to 15 individuals.
To add to the excitement  the sea was full of activity this morning. Just when we tried to leave the orcas they began slapping their pectoral fins and tail on the water. We all got to see the show very well near our boat. At the same time our vigia spotted a humpback whale breaching (leaping out of the water) close to Ponta Delgada. One of our skippers also saw the breaching from land as he was driving past the area. Our catamaran went to the area but unfortunately we missed the humpback. Nevertheless, everybody was delighted with our fantastic orca experience!

A perfect match with our January male 
(Photo from January to the left, and from today on the right)

Tailslapping (the male)

The juvenile approaching Cetus 

The juvenile passing by close to Cetus

Big blow from the male

Head on, and you can see the two whie eye patches

The big male passing close to Cetus

The male on his back slapping his fluke and pectoral fins

Pec-fin slapping by the male

The male followed by the juvenile

Our happy orca-watchers today!

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