Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August sightings

As it's the final day of August we at Futurismo have been looking back over our sightings for the month.. see below which species have visited us in the Azores and how often they've been seen. Our most prolific visitor, the migratory Atlantic spotted dolphin, has been seen on 93% of the days we've been at sea this month! It's a species we see a lot of at this time of year, usually large groups with plenty of calves swimming close alongside the adults. Sperm whales have been sighted 60% of the days this month, and fin whales made it onto the list which is unusual for this time of year!

To sum up our sightings this month (percentage of days we sighted each species):

  • Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis): 93%

  • Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus): 60%

  • Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis): 60%

  • Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus): 57%

  • Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus): 30%

  • Pilot whale (Globicephela macrorhyncus): 20%

  • Striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba): 17%

  • Beaked whale (Mesoplodon species): 10%

  • Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus): 7%

Here's to many more..

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sperm whales, pilot whales, Atlantic spotted dolphins and common dolphins on our trips so far today! Seven sperm whales spent a while at the surface together before slipping beneath the surface. Our whalewatching boats saw two calves resurface after a few minutes while the adults remained submerged - it looked like one of the typical female and calf groups we see here on a regular basis.

Sperm whales

The rest of the morning was spent with a group of 9 or 10 pilot whales and a very dynamic pod of common dolphins, while our swimming group spent time with Atlantic spotted dolphins.

Pilot whale

Common dolphin

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Recent sperm whale photos

Watching a friendly female sperm whale from one of our small boats

Watching a large male sperm whale "Mr Liable" from our large catamaran

A curious sperm whale approaching one of our boats
Large male sperm whale "Mr Liable" raising his tail to go on a deep dive

The above photos are of some of the sperm whales that we have been seeing in our waters recently. The sperm whale is the main whale species seen in the Azores, especially during the summer when we can frequently see large family groups. This year in July and August so far we have seen sperm whales on 67% of the days that we have been whale watching. The islands of the Azores are a breeding and feeding ground for these large social animals. This year we have been lucky to have many sperm whales passing São Miguel island, including several mother with their calves and the occasional male such as Mr Liable that occasionally visit the female groups. When we are not watching sperm whales we are most likely with a group of one of the many dolphin species that we can see here. We welcome you to come and find out for yourself why the Azores is considered one of the top whale watching locations in the world!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

All our trips today have been enjoying the sight of thousands of Atlantic spotted dolphins! At one point we could see dolphins to the horizon, a super pod spread out over a huge area. It's great to see the dolphins like this in the summer months, with plenty of young animals in their groups, swimming alongside our boats and showing off with acrobatics.

Two great shearwaters resting on the water

We've also been noticing the large number of great Shearwaters (Puffinus Gravis, above) in the area at the moment. These birds follow a circular migratory route up the Eastern seaboard of South and North America before crossing the Atlantic in August. They can be also be seen quite commonly off the south-western coast of Great Britain and Ireland before heading back down the Eastern littoral of the Atlantic to their breeding sites on islands in the South Atlantic. Here we've been observing them feeding at the surface with spotted and common dolphins, you can see above one bird ducking its head into the water checking for small fish.. Click here for a excerpt from the log of The Odyssey when they encountered great Shearwaters on their voyage and a great explanation of the Mid-Atlantic ridge which we're a part of here in the Azores.

Friday, August 19, 2011

It was an exciting trip for passengers and crew alike this morning as we had our first sighting in nearly four months of a large male sperm whale we call "Mr Liable"! He has been sighted in these waters since 2008 when we first started our photo ID catalogue of the sperm whales we see on our trips, so has possibly been visiting São Miguel for much longer.

We can identify individual sperm whales by their tail flukes and any distinguishing marks on their bodies, which is why we photograph every sperm whale we see lifting its tail as it dives. By comparing these photos with our ID catalogue we can recognise individuals and learn more about their movements. This particular whale for example was last seen May 2nd this year - like many male sperm whales he visits this breeding ground periodically to breed and rarely stays long. The majority of our sightings here are females sperm whales and their young.

Our boats are still out this afternoon so we're looking forward to hearing whether they have another encounter with this large whale (we estimate him to be about 18 metres long!) - plus the other species we observed this morning, Atlantic spotted dolphins.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

More species interaction this morning with a sperm whale calf playing with a group of bottlenose dolphins! The calf was alone with the dolphins for a while before being joined by three adult sperm whales who watched from the sidelines. It wasn't long before an adult female we assume was the calf's mother joined in the fun. The whales were rolling around at the surface while the dolphins swam and jumped alongside them - really interesting to watch the socialising between the species.

Other species viewed on our whalewatching excursions today included Atlantic spotted dolphins and common dolphins, which were the animals our dolphin swimming groups spent their trips with.

Monday, August 15, 2011

7 cetacean species in one day!

Today was another excellent day of whale watching for Futurismo. Throughout the day we have seen 7 cetacean species: sperm whales, pilot whales, beaked whales, Risso's dolphins, bottlense dolphins, Atlantic spotted dolphins and common dolphins.

One of our boats had a particularly special encounter this morning with a group of pilot whales together with 3 beaked whales. Beaked whales are normally very difficult to watch because they spend very little time at the surface and they are very shy. But these beaked whales stayed on the surface for a long time so everybody could see them very well. An added bonus was a very small newborn pilot whale that was also in the group.

Our sperm whale sightings today were also really good. We were lucky to have 2 very large male sperm whales in the area today and the water has been calm all day so we could see them very well. During both our morning and afternoon tours we got to see some great high tails as the sperm whales went on their deep dives. Another great day for us at Futurismo!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

We have just returned from another amazing day of whale watching and dolphin swimming. It's another one of those beautiful hot and calm days in São Miguel, and during the day we have spotted 7 cetacean species in our waters. During the morning we went east of Ponta Delgada where we had encounters with a baleen whale that was thought to be a fin whale (unusual for this time of the year as they usually pass here during spring), sperm whales, bottlenose dophins, Atlantic spotted dolphins, Risso's dolphins and common dolphins. At this time our vigia (onshore lookout) also spotted a group of false killer whales, however these were further to the west so unfortunately we did not catch up with this species that we don't see all too often here.

In the afternoon we had an amazing encounter with 3 sperm whales that were socialising at the surface. We got to see these individuals really well and we noticed that two of the whales had a lot of white marks that we can use to identify these individuals:

In the afternoon we also saw several groups of Atlantic spotted dolphins. Our swimming trip was particularly special this time, as our clients got to experience swimming with a huge group of at least 500 dolphins! This is really a great time to come join us on a tour, especially now that the forecast is looking perfect for at least the next week...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Pilot whale carrying its dead baby

This morning some or our passengers got to see an interesting but very sad thing. As they were watching a group of pilot whales a female was seen carrying its dead baby. These photos show how the mother was carrying the dead baby on its pectoral fin:

It was a very sad moment for our passengers and ofcourse for the mother who had lost the calf but did not seem to want to let it go. This has been witnessed before in the wild with several dolphin species and shows us that these animals are more human than previously thought. Dolphins and whales are very social animals and the bond between a mother and calf is particularly strong. This event shows that dolphins grieve just like humans do. Although it was sad to see it also makes us wonder how much more we can learn from these amazing intelligent animals.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A beautiful day to be out whalewatching today! A friendly group of sperm whales were to be found to the south of the island - we saw 6 individuals in total this morning, some socialising at the surface together which is always really interesting to see.

As the sea was fairly calm and glassy we could follow the whales by the footprints they left behind as they swam towards each other just beneath the surface. A whale 'footprint' is what we call the smooth round patch of water on the surface which is created by the upward motion of a whale's muscular tail as it swims forward. Some whalers used to believe it was the oil left behind by the whale and Inuit peoples call it a window into the whale's world, but today it was just a great way to see where the whales were heading when they weren't breaking the surface.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Rare beaked whales, pilot whales and more!!

We just had another great day of whale watching and dolphin swimming in São Miguel! Today we had encounters with pilot whales, Atlantic spotted dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins and a very rare encounter with beaked whales. It already started off great first thing in the morning when we had just left the marina and we came across a group of common dolphins. In this group we spotted one bottlenose dolphin swimming with the rest of the common dolphins. It is not unusual to see solitary bottlenose dolphins, and they have been known to associate with other species of dolphin as well as humans on some occasions. We did not recognise this individual, but we have yet to look through our dorsal fin catalogue to see if the bottlenose dolphins is one of our "regulars".

Some of the common dolphins seen this morning

Later in the morning we had an excellent encounter with a large group of pilot whales. This was a bonus for the crew as well as our passengers, as it was the first time in a few weeks that we had pilot whales in the area. Conditions were really great for watching the group as they were calmly resting on the surface.

A large group of pilot whales seen in the morning

The highlight for the afternoon was a surprise encounter with at least 6 beaked whales. Beaked whales are very shy and elusive animals, so it is often very difficult, if not impossible, to get close enough to see even one individual. So we considered ourselves very lucky to have this fairly close encounter and to also be able to capture some photos which may help us to identify exactly which species we saw.

Beaked whales (adult and calf) seen this afternoon

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Bottlenose dolphin playing with plastic

This photo taken here last week shows a bottlenose dolphin carrying a piece of plastic on its dorsal fin. Although plastic in the oceans can be very harmful to marine life, in this case it seems that the dolphin was actually playing with the plastic. Dolphins have often been observed carrying and passing around seaweed and other objects almost as if it's a game. To see a video of this behaviour click here.

Such behaviour may be practice for catching food and helps build social bonds in groups. It just goes to show how intelligent these amazing animals are. We feel really lucky here to be able to see this and other interesting behaviour in the wild on a daily basis.

As for our tours today, unfortunately we had to cancel all our trips this morning due to bad visibility caused by low cloud and rain. We are waiting and hoping that conditions will improve so we can get back on the water this afternoon.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

On our reading list today... An analysis of the impact humans are having on the deep sea published on Monday by scientists at the Census of Marine Life (COML) project, the 10-year assessment of the world's oceans completed in 2010. Their conclusions illuminate what we already know: that pollution, exploitation of the oceans' natural resources and climate change are damaging the habitat of the whales and dolphins we see everyday at Futurismo.

The deep sea covers an area of 360 million square kilometres and accounts for 73% of our oceans, which themselves form seven tenths of the planet. This is the world the sperm whale inhabits, a species we see regularly on our whale watching trips - capable of diving down to 3000m these whales have seen much more of the world's oceans than we have! Here in the Azores we have very deep waters very close to shore due to the volcanic origin of the islands, and hydrothermal vents which can support life even without sunlight, so we know the importance of protecting this unique part of the ocean. Our everyday choices can affect the oceans - simple things like ensuring we reduce, reuse and recycle our waste (did you know approximately 6.4 million tonnes of litter is dropped into the oceans per year?) and, if you choose to eat fish, ensuring it comes from sustainable fisheries. On our whale watching and dolphin swimming trips we hope our clients leave feeling motivated to protect our oceans so future generations can also have the priviledge of seeing the abundance of wildlife we see today. Today we've been swimming with and observing bottlenose and Atlantic spotted dolphins - and again showing off their new calves!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Some photos from the last week of July

July has been a great month for whale watching in São Miguel. During this month we have been out to sea every single day and we have had great sightings on all of our tours. During this month we saw sperm whales, fin whales, pilot whales, Risso's dolphins, striped dolphins, Atlantic spotted dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and common dolphins. Here are some photos of just some of these great sightings during the past week:

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