Friday, April 29, 2011

Sei whales feeding in São Miguel

Yesterday afternoon in São Miguel we were very lucky to see 2 sei whales feeding. Normally when we see baleen whales, like sei whales, in the Azores they are just passing through on their migration, so it was really special to see them feeding here. Sei whales are baleen whales, so they filter small food out of the water using baleen plates in the roof of their mouth. In this case we saw them feeding on swarms of krill at the surface. There were large patches of water that were red from the krill, and it was here that we saw the whales lunging up from the depth and swimming on their sides to take in huge mouthfulls of krill and water. Several times we could see into their huge mouths and we were able to see their baleen plates which they use to trap the krill and their throat pleats which allows their mouth to expand to take in the huge mouthfulls. Here are some photos from the tour:

Open mouth of a sei whale feeding. On the left you can see the top jaw with the baleen plates

Swimming on its side to skim feed along the surface

Here you can see the throat pleats expanded as the whale is feeding

These are the krill (small shrimp-like animals) that the sei whales were feeding on

Krill swarm alongside our boat giving the water a red colour

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Our first pilot whales for the year!

This afternoon we saw pilot whales off the coast of São Miguel for the first time this year. It has been a good day in general. In the afternoon we also had encounters with bottlenose dolphins and common dolphins, and a few of us also saw some striped dolphins among the common dolphins. Our dolphin swimming was also very sucessful this afternoon. The crew came back speaking of a very nice swim with our resident common dolphins. The morning was also very good, as our whale watchers had a very nice encounter with "Mr Liable", a large male sperm whale that frequently visits this area and could be identified from his tail which he raised nice and high during our encounter with him. Here are some photos from this afternoon:

Pilot whales

Common dolphins

Swimming with wild dolphins and our recent sperm whale sightings

Summer is slowly coming upon us in the Azores. We are having more days of good weather and calm seas, and the water is starting to warm up. This is the time of the year that we start having swimming with dolphins and more encounters with sperm whales.

Yesterday morning we had an excellent tour swimming with our resident bottlenose dolphins. The dolphins were not shy at all, in fact they were very curious towards our swimmers. At one point we could count about 30 dolphins all swimming with us. Several times we had the dolphins circling around us and coming up from the deep to have a good look at us. There´s nothing like being face to face with a large wild dolphin, it was an absolutely exhilirating experience!

As well as our many other recent sightings (common dolphins, striped dolphins and a blue whale yesterday!) we have been seeing sperm whales the past 4 days in a row off São Miguel island. We have seen many types of behaviour, including animals diving to show their huge tails, mothers and calves travelling together, and yesterday we saw a lot of socialising and a very curious female that came up to our boat and kept rolling onto her back so we could see her white belly and full body length through the water. Here are some photos from our sperm whale encounters of the past two days:

One of the sperm whales seen on the morning of the 25th:

Sperm whales seen during the 26th of April:Curious female sperm whale rolling upside down just beneath the surface

Sperm whale calf in the foreground, tail of the mother in the background

Sunday, April 24, 2011

More sperm whales, a fin whale, risso´s dolphins and common dolphins

Today turned out to be another great whale watching day here in São Miguel. Although the sun didn´t make much of an appearance, we were thankfull to have a perfectly calm sea and great sightings during the day. In the morning we saw a few risso´s dolphins, followed by common dolphins and sperm whales. It was a great sighting of the sperm whales; we saw 2 large individuals breathing on surface of the very calm water. After a few minutes they went down on a deep dive; both of them raising their tails high into the air.

Some of our passengers very excited by the common dolphins swimming around their boat

One of the sperm whales we saw diving during our morning tour

Our afternoon tour started off with an encounter with a small group of common dolphins. After that our onshore lookout guided us to an area where he had seen a whale. Not long after we arrived to the area we were surprised by a large fin whale which unexpectedly surfaced close to one of our small boats. We are very happy to have made it a very memorable easter for today´s passengers.

Large fin whale surfacing close to one of our boats

The fin whale

Sperm whales, minke whale, dolphins and more

The past two days in São Miguel have been great for our whale watching tours. We have been very busy over this easter period taking out many people to see the whales and dolphins that have been around. The sea has been very calm, so it has been perfect to also see many other species such as sharks, turtles, and even tuna. Yesterday we saw 5 cetacean species during 3 tours: sperm whales, a minke whale, common dolphins, Risso´s dolphins and striped dolphins. Later we will provide an update from our tour this afternoon. For now, here are some photos from our tours this morning.

Large male sperm whale seen yesterday morning

Mother and calf sperm whales seen yesterday morning

Very small minke whale seen yesterday morning

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Humpback whales again in São Miguel

This morning we were lucky in São Miguel to have our third humpback whale encounter of the season. The two adult humpback whales were travelling together among a social group of common dolphins. The whales were spending a fair bit of time diving and re-surfacing in unpredictable places, but after a bit of patientce, and following the dolphins we were able to have a good look at these amazing whales. Just before we were about to leave the area one of the whales brought up its magnificent tail, giving us a perfect end to our tour.

In the afternoon we returned to the same area where our watchman had been seeing the whales passing, but unfortunately this time we did not encounter the whales. Nevertheless, there were still plenty of common dolphins around, that made up for it by putting on a great display of jumps and wave surfing.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Blue whale, sei whale, common dolphins and a leatherback turtle

Leatherback turtle

The above photo was taken by one of our passengers, Sari Wallin, that she has kindly shared with us. It is a photo of the head of the leatherback turtle we saw during our tour this morning. We do not often see leatherback turtles here, so we were all very excited and most of us (including myself) missed the photo opportunity. We actually managed to get quite close to the turtle as it was lying on the surface among a pod of common dolphins. We got to see its huge shell which was over a metre long, then it lifted up its head and went down on a dive.

Common dolphin Common dolphin
Blue whale
Blue whale

Throughout the day we also had encounters with a blue whale and several sei whales that were passing very close to the coastline. by the early afternoon the huge blue whale had approached the coast to just outside of Ponta Delgada, only a few minutes travel out of the marina. We also had a couple of groups of common dolphins around, which included several very small calves and some very acrobatic individuals. We were able to see the dolphins clearly as they were diving deep under our boat. We were lucky to have another one of those perfect days of crystal clear water here in the Azores.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Photos from this morning´s tour:

Striped dolphin

Striped dolphin mother and calf pair

Common dolphin mother and calf pair

During the morning tour today we had some great sightings of 2 dolphin species: common dolphins and striped dolphins. There were several common dolphin groups to the west of the islands, and one of them was travelling together with the striped dolphins. In these groups we were able to see several very small calves, including the smallest striped dolphin calves I have ever seen.

Photos from this afternoon´s tour:

Bottlenose dolphin repeatedly jumping off the coast of Relva

Common dolphins swimming alongside our boat and looking up at our passengers

Young sperm whale sighted this afternoon off the coast of Mosteiros

Our afternoon tour started off with an excellent sighting of at least 60 bottlenose dolphins. We got to see several acrobatic jumps before we continued along to coast to view a pod of sperm whales that our shore-based vigia (lookout man) had spotted to the west of the island. The sperm whales were just surfacing for short periods, but we were still able to see several females and their calves, some which were very small. In between our sperm whale sightings we also saw a small loggerhead turtle and a group of common dolphins which were curiously swimming alongside our boats and checking out our passengers through the clear calm water.

Blue whales, fin whales, sperm whales and Risso´s dolphins all in one day!!!

And then it happened. A grand slam, all in one tour. It started of modestly with two Risso's dolphins diving inbetween three small fishing boats, obviously enjoying what otherwise would have been the fishermens catch. Then the vigia guided us out to a sperm whale, but it dived just before we reached the area. However, we were lucky that after 45min he came up again, a fair-sized male taking his time breathing before turning his big fluke and disapearing down into the deep. After this we headed south to meet up with three or four fin whales. They were lunging up towards the surface seemingly feeding together with blue whale. What can I say, this time you should really have been there!

3 photos of one of the fin whales we saw during our afternoon tour yesterday

One of the blue whales we saw during our afternoon tour yesterday

Our afternoon tour was just as great. We did not see the sperm whales nor Risso´s dolphins again, but we still had fin whales and blue whales out there, and we managed to see them very well. First we went to the fin whales. There were 4 of them passing by the coast, and we got to see 2 of them very well, travelling together not very far out of Ponta Delgada. The 2 blue whales that we saw next were passing even closer to the coastline. So close that you could easily have seen their huge vertical blows if you were standing onshore. Definitely an unforgetable experience!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

3 dolphin species in one tour

Yesterday we had another perfect calm, clear and warm day here in São Miguel. It made for another great trip on the water. We ended up having some amazing sighthings of 3 dolphin species: bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins and striped dolphins. The water was perfectly clear so we had excellent visibility of the dolphins swimming around and under our boat. The bottlenose dolphins were particularly spectacular to see close to shore. There were at least 60 individuals in this group, including several very young calves. Our onshore vigias (lookout men) also spotted whales, although they did not want to make an appearance for us today not matter how long we waited for them to surface. Nontheless, our dolphin encounters were absolutely magical and made our tour worthwhile!

Common dolphins leaping alongside our boat

Bottlenose dolphin jumping clear of the water

Beautiful calm day off São Miguel island

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Today was another great day for whale watching. The sea was calm and the air is warming up now that summer is approaching. During our morning tour we saw a small group of bottlenose dolphins and 4 sei whales off the western side of the island. In the afternoon we saw a group of about 50 common dolphins to the east. The water was very clear and we were lucky to see a lot of jumping, tail slapping and socialising from the dolphins. We also saw several very small young dolphins swimming close around our boat. Today we also had some more bonus encounters with several bird species that we do not see every day, including a Manx shearwater and a storm petrel, as well as a large shark which was unfortunately dead. It´s all in a day of whale watching; we just never know what to expect. Here are some photos of the common dolphins we saw this afternoon:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Many more sei whales sighted this morning

It seems like it´s turning out to be the year, or at least the month, of the sei whales. This morning we saw them yet again. They are passing close to shore off São Miguel island and this is the perfect time of year to see them! During the morning we saw 2 different groups. The first group was made up of at least 5 individuals, and the second of at least 3. We were the only boat out there; not bad at all having 8 whales to ourselves!

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