Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring time - The best time to see the great whales in the Azores

Today is the first day of spring!

This is the favourite time of the year for many of our biologists here in the Azores, as it is the time of the great whale migration. The three largest animals in the world (the blue whale, fin whale and sei whale) come from the south where they have spent the winter months giving birth and preparing their young calves for the long migration to the north Atlantic ocean. They pass the Azores, mostly during the months of March, April, May and June, and continue further north to their summer feeding grounds around Greenland, Iceland and Norway. The migration past the Azores has already begun, in fact it began earlier than usual this year when last month we saw our first fin whale here in São Miguel. In recent years our sightings of the great whales has increased (in 2013 we had record sightings of fin whales and in 2012 we had record sightings of blue whales off São Miguel island). The Azores is now recognised as one of the best places in the world to encounter blue whales (in 2010 Telegraph Travel highlighted the Azores as a top spot for blue whale watching).

Often when blue whales, fin whales an sei whales (and sometimes also humpback whales and minke whales) pass the Azores they stay for a few days to feed. At this time of the year our waters are full of plankton and krill which the whales feed on. These particular whales are classified as baleen whales, which are whales that have baleen plates instead of teeth hanging from their top jaws. Baleen plates are fibrous and almost look like a large beard inside the mouth. Baleen whales feed by taking large amounts of water and food (such as krill and small schooling fish like herring) into their huge mouths. The water is pushed out through the baleen plates while the food stays trapped inside. 

Sequence of baleen whale feeding stages showing the expansion of the throat pleats


During the past weeks our coastal lookouts and observers out on the ocean have been seeing blows from baleen whales and we have already had our first encounters here in São Miguel. We are looking forward to many encounters with these great whales over the next few months and we welcome you to come and join us!


Blue whale off the south coast of São Miguel island in the Azores

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