Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Curious dolphins and shy beaked whales

It was a hazy start to the morning, but the sea was calm and flat as we left Ponta Delgada. Our first encounter, only minutes into the trip, was with a group of common dolphins. This group was small and spaced out over a large area, but nonetheless a pleasure to watch. As our boat moved on in search of other cetaceans we spotted a loggerhead turtle in front of us, however it dove underwater as we approached it. We cruised along the mirror-like water until we came across a pod of bottlenose dolphins. They were very curious and came close to the boat. Whilst snapping some ID photos we noticed that this was the same pod of dolphins that we saw yesterday, and we know this by recognising the same dorsal fins and patterns on different individuals in the pod. We observed these dolphins for a while then continued to travel east towards the town of Ponta Garça. After travelling on the open ocean for a long while without seeing anything except the gorgeous view of the São Miguel coastline we decided to turn back but travel closer to the coast. To our delight we spotted beaked whales in front of us rising gently above the water to breathe. This is an incredibly rare sight to see in the Azores as beaked whales are very shy, elusive creatures and only spend about 8% of their time on the surface of the ocean and for that reason are not usually spotted. We sailed slowly towards them so not to scare them, and managed to see their dorsal fins rise twice above the surface until they dove back down underneath the shimmering water. Although we did not get close, we could see their brown colour very well which indicates they may have been Blainville's beaked whales. We knew we would not sight these whales again for a long time because they can dive to at least 2000 m underwater and will stay there for at least 85 minutes.

We took a detour around Vila Franca Island on our return to the marina, enjoying the rocky landscape of this volcanic crater and nature reserve. On the island we spotted yellow-legged gulls, rock pigeons, red crabs and, soaring above, the endemic Azorean Buzzard, which nests on the island. Another pod of common dolphins were spotted as we drew closer to Ponta Delgada, these ones were a lot more curious about the boat; swimming underneath it and bowriding. There were also one or two calves in the group keeping close to their mothers. Seeing dolphin calves at this time of year is not too common as they normally give birth in the summer when the sea is warmer. All-in-all, a lovely day was had on the sea with three different cetacean species sighted and plenty of other wildlife to appease the eyes as well.

 Common dolphin underwater - together with a colony of salps

ID photo showing marks in the dorsal fins that we use to identify bottlenose dolphins

Beaked whale - a rare sighting

Common dolphins - mother and calf

Common dolphin off the coast of Vila Franca do Campo

Common dolphins off Vila Franca Islet

Vila Franca Islet

 Observing Vila Franca Islet

Yellow-legged gull
Azorean Buzzard


Carol Kelly said...

What a lovely blog and photos

Futurismo biologists said...

Thank you Carol. We enjoy our work - photographing the cetaceans and writing this blog for our viewers.

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