Friday, May 31, 2013

Sperm whale, fin whales and many dolphins

Today we had another full day on the ocean. In the morning we encountered a couple of small groups of common dolphins and then continued a bit further off the coastline to try to see a male sperm whale that our vigia (onshore lookout) had spotted. The whale was close to our base in Ponta Delgada and we did not have to wait long for him to return to the surface from one of his long deep feeding dives. The whale was "Mr Liable", our most sighted and therefore most famous sperm whale in São Miguel Island. After our sperm whale encounter we had time to see the common dolphins better before heading back into base and a curious loggerhead turtle.

Video of the loggerhead turtle this morning:

The afternoon started with a mixed pod of striped dolphins and common dolphins (about 70 individuals, including many calves) jumping in front the boat. We enjoyed the group for some minutes as they were bowriding. The next encounter was 1 big fin whale (about 22 meters in length) with some common dolphins nearby. On the way back we saw another fin whale (smaller than the previous one).

Photos from the morning:

Mr Liable

Loggerhead turtle
Loggerhead turtle
Photos from the afternoon:

Common dolphin
Common dolphin leaping in front of one of our boats

Striped dolphins

Fin whale

Fin whale diving

Whale watchers in the afternoon

May 2013 Sighting statistics - 106 fin whale encounters!

This past month has been great for whale watching in São Miguel, Azores. The sea has been calm and settled so we have been able to go to sea every day of May. The first day of the month began with our first blue whale encounter of the year. The rest of the month has been dominated by fin whale encounters, with an occasional appearance of blue whales and sei whales too. The fin whale was the most encountered species. We have seen fin whales on 29 days of the month, and we have recorded encounters with 106 fin whales. Many of these are thought to be re-sightings of the same individuals that are staying around São Miguel for up to a few days to feed along their migration. Over the next weeks we will be examining our fin whale ID photos to confirm the number of different individuals we have encountered.

Another big highlight this month has been a group of orcas (also known as killer whales) that have been visiting us several times during May. This group includes about 10 individuals that have been seen on and off in São Miguel since January this year. We are extremely luck to have seen them so many times, as they are usually very rare to see in the Azores. This is the first report of orcas being re-sighted in the Azores and being seen so many times.

In total during May we have encountered 8 different whale and dolphin species. Below is our sighting graph for this month, showing the sighting frequency (number of days encountered out of all the days we went to sea) for each of the 8 species. 

Species sighting frequencies, ordered from most encountered to least encountered:

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fin whales bowriding, common dolphins and Mr Liable

Today was one more amazing day in the islands of mist. We had 2 tours, one in morning and another the afternoon (with our medium-sized boat and  zodiac respectively). The morning tour started with a sighting of a small group of shy common dolphins. We did not stay long with them as we had whales to see a bit further offshore. As we arrived to the area we could already see the blows of a couple of whales and we soon identified them to be fin whales. After a few minutes we were surprised to realise there were in fact 4 fin whales. They were doing short dives and always surprising us by surfacing in front of our slow moving boat. They seemed to be curious, more like dolphins than whales. A few times we could see them rolling over in the water, perhaps to see us better. Every time we thought they were diving and leaving us they would surprise us again by surfacing right in front of our boat. After some time we left the dolphins and headed inshore again to see the common dolphins better before returning to base. This time the group was larger, with more than 100 individuals. The final surprise of the tour was a few quick glimpses of a striped dolphin that was mixed in with the common dolphins. In the afternoon our whale watchers encountered two groups of common dolphins, our well known male sperm whale called "Mr Liable" (names so because he is reliable because he always returns to this area, he stays up a long time and then almost always shows his beautiful tail). On this tour we also came across a large loggerhead turtle.

Videos from this morning:

Photos from the morning:

Fin whale in the beautiful morning light

4 fin whales surfacing together!

The tip of a fin whale tail. This whale was swimming on its side near us

Common dolphin in a beautiful blue sea with a blue sky - our last encounter for the tour

Photos from the afternoon:

The sperm whale "Mr. Liable" at the surface

Mr. Liable's fluke

Common dolphins

Loggerhead turtle next to our boat

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fin whales in a silver sea

Today our sightings of fin whales and common dolphins continued. In the morning we encountered one fin whale that was doing feeding dives, but often surfacing close to our catamaran "Cetus". On this tour we also encountered some groups of common dolphins scattered around. In the afternoon the sea had calmed down so much that it was like a silver lake. On this tour we encountered three different fin whales, first two travelling together (of which we identified one individual that we had seen here two days ago) and then one lone individual. We also encountered a large group of common dolphins and some striped dolphins at the end of the tour.

Video of fin whales from today HERE

Photos from today:

Fin whales

Fin whale

Our zodiac with a fin whale
(photo: Miranda van der Linde)

Great view of the blowholes of a fin whale

Blow far away

Common dolphins

Common dolphins jumping alongside our catamaran 'Cetus'

Baby common dolphins,
very very young, only a few hours old

Striped dolphins

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Fin whales all around

The fin whales have decided to still keep us company and it gives us great joy. We are very happy to have them around, and today we saw at least 11 individuals in the morning. Some of them were very calm around us and others had something going on, maybe making future whales (sustainable whale watching, right?). We also enjoyed the company of common dolphins, a playful group with lots of curious calves turning and looking at our boats and clients, doing some "human-watching". 
In the afternoon we encountered many fin whales, travelling calmly aswell as a fun group of common dolphins.

Photos from the morning:

Common dolphins leaping towards our boat

Common dolphin jumping next to Cetus (our catamaran) checking us out

Our youngest whale watcher today watching the dolphins bowriding
(cute as a baby dolphin!)
Common dolphin

Enjoying the common dolphins bowriding

Two of the fin whales surfacing together

Whale about to surface

The distinct flat head of a fin whale

Great view of the mouth of the fin whale

Big blow!
Fin whales
Fin whales
To see a video of two of the fin whales from this morning click HERE.

Photos from the afternoon:

Zodiac boat
Fin whale
Fin whale
Common dolphins
Mother and calf fin whales

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