Thursday, February 18, 2010

Common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales

Today the weather was surprisingly sunny and, allowing us to really enjoy even our sightings of  common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales!

Montanha do Fogo (Fogo mountain) seen by sea. As usual, covered with clouds!!

The common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) is the most common species of Odontoceti (cetaceans with teeth) in the Azores. They can be seen year-round and therefore are designated as a resident species.
They dive up to 300 m and for a duration of up to 4 minutes. The species is characterised by a cross pattern on their sides,which goes from a yellow region to a light grey region further back. Their maximum length is about 2.6 m and they can weigh up to 130 kg.

Common dolphins

Common dolphins live in groups which can reach up to hundreds of individuals, especially during the summer. As for the boats, they are very fond of playing and jumping near them and can put on quite a show! Maybe you can come next time and see it yourself!!

Here you can see how well defined is the pale yellow pattern on the side is

Our second species sighted were the bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). You may recognise these from the flipper movies. Bottlenose dolphins are very social and often very friendly towards the boats. The males can reach up to 4. 5 m in length and 600 kg in weight. When they show off, jumping curiously around the boat, it can be quite overwhelming!

Bottlenose dolphin

We stayed with the group of bottlenose dolphins for a while and then our lookout told us he had seen some bigger bottlenose dolphins a few miles further.

Saying bye bye to the bottlenose dolphins!!

And then we were moving again!!

Surprisingly, the big dolphins we out to be pilot whales. At least 15 of them!! And what a thrill!!! They can be sighted in the Azores through the entire year, butt in the period between April and October we see them more frequently, and often in bigger groups!

Pilot whale

Pilot whales are grouped into two different species; short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) and long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas). Both species can be seen in the Azores, although the short-finned is more common to see here. Despite the name, pilot whales are actually dolphins. They can reach up to 7 m in length and weigh up to 4 tonnes. One of their most remarkable characteristics is the wide dorsal fin that varies in shape depending on how old the whale is and whether it's male or female.

Notice the wide dorsal fin!

Pilot whales are very social animals that live in pods of up to 60 individuals and are known for having a well defined social structure. Pilot whales are also frequently seen together with other species such as bottlenose dolphins and Risso's dolphins.

Pilot whale - notice how the head is round and it has no beak like some other species of big dolphins (the killer whale is one of them).

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The first whale of the year is a sperm whale called "Mr Liable"

Today was one of those days that we did not expect to see whales...but we did!! The trip was kind of pumpy and long but we ended up having great encounters with of common dolphins and sperm whales. Our vigia had spotted the whales to the southeast of the island, and although initially it seemed to far for us we were able to get there on time and enjoy several minutes with a big male sperm whale. The whale turned out to be one we call "Mr Liable" because he is very reliable in showing up here on a regular basis, staying on the surface for a long time and almost always showing a beautiful high tail (as he did today).

The first indiciation of a sperm whale, its small dorsal fin which is more like a hump

We were about 8 nautical miles from the shore, at 37º34'52,6''N and 25º17'17,5''W.
The blow it's one of the easiest ways to spot a whale at sea
Before we arrived, the lookout told us that the sperm whale had been diving between 45 to 60 minutes each time it went down, so we were lucky to get there in time during one of his surface intervals.
A better view of the dorsal region of the sperm shale which has the characteristic wavy pattern
Just before a deep dive the Sperm whale shows the fluke and can stay underwater for a period of up to 2 hours

The typical image that everyone wants to have on their cameras from a whale watching trip!! This is what we always want you to experience when we go out to see sperm whales.
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