Saturday, December 31, 2016

December 2016 sightings statistics

December has been a pretty quiet month for us in terms of whale watching. However we did have several tours out on the ocean and we managed to encounter 6 different cetacean species throughout the month. During two days we had two different large groups of sperm whales passing the island so we hope they stay nearby so we can see them again during January. We also encountered at least 4 or 5 fin whales one day, raising our statistics of fin whale sightings to all months of the year except for January. All our other sightings of the month were of dolphins: 3 of our resident species (common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin and Risso's dolphin) and also some striped dolphins. Now we are gearing up for another month and another year of whale watching off São Miguel Island in the Azores. 

Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) - 83%
Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) - 33%
Striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) - 17%
Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus) - 33%
Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) -17%
Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) - 8%

Thursday, December 22, 2016

An early Christmas surprise...Fin whales!

Today we had a whale watching tour in the afternoon with a nice early Christmas surprise waiting out to the east of the island for us...fin whales! We started with one whale that became very curious towards us and kept approaching our boat, then to our surprise a second one surfaced right on the other side of our boat! The two whales showed themselves very well and they even showed us what they had been feeding on recently - krill, as we could see from their bright orange-coloured poo. Towards the end of this amazing encounter the whales started travelling to the south, joining up with at least two other fin whales so that we got to see 4 or perhaps 5 in total. Before the whales we also saw dolphins on this tour, in fact two different species. First we encountered a small group of common dolphins that came to check us out and play in the waves from our boat, and just after in the same area we had a couple of Risso's dolphins to give us a total of 3 different cetacean species for this tour.

Photos from today:

Common dolphin surfacing

This common dolphin had a distinct dorsal fin that we can recognise in the future

Two Risso's dolphins

Risso's dolphin ID photo (we identify individuals from the natural marks on the dorsal fin)

Fin whale along the east of São Miguel island

Fin whale blow

Fin whale surfacing with Santa Maria island in the background

Two of the fin whales together

Our last look at the fin whale in the beautiful light at the end of a calm winter day

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Sperm whales... everywhere!

What a nice welcoming the winter has given us! Today we spent the whole day in company of a very big family of Sperm whales! In the morning they were relatively closet o the shore but in the afternoon trip we did a very long trip!
The whales were very active in the surface, so we were able to see heads, tails, lob tailing and even a very small breaching of a baby!
The see was calm and animals very active; we also saw many different groups of common dolphins and turtles!

Here you can see some photos of this amazing day:

Here we were able to photograph the end of a small breaching of a baby

 Whales were very calm making the most of such nice and sunny day

We also saw some tails when the whales went for a deep dive

More whales traveling togheter

Adult with a small baby

We also saw a lobtailing behaviour, that is hiting with the tail the surface of the water, a sort of communication

This whale was alone

One of the loggerhead turtles we saw during our trip

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

An afternoon with common dolphins

Today we experienced more mild Azorean winter weather, so we made the most of the beautiful afternoon by spending it out on the ocean. As always, we spent it in good company, with our friendly resident common dolphins. As in our last tours, the common were spread out into small subgroups, probably in search of food. At one point we saw some of the feeding action, together with some yellow-legged gulls which stay in the Azores year-round, just like the common dolphins. 

Photos from today:

A beautiful end to the day

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A summer day in winter

Today it feels just like summer, with blue skies, a very calm sea and even some warmth in the air. It was perfect to be out on a boat this morning, enjoying the ocean, the views of São Miguel Island and ofcourse the Azorean marine life. Out there in the big blue we enjoyed the company of a couple of groups of common dolphins. It was nice to see them gliding through the calm water, often approaching our boat to look back at us. We also came across two loggerhead turtles, another reminder of summer as we often see them at this time when the water is very flat. All the way back to Ponta Delgada we enjoyed the ride bacak with the sun on our faces.

Photos from today:

Common dolphins

One of the loggerhead turtles lifting up its pectoral fin

Loggerhead turtle looking above the water

 Our return back to Ponta Delgada

Friday, December 16, 2016

Wild dolphin behaviour

During this morning's tour we encountered several groups of common dolphins displaying different types of behaviours. Throughout most of the morning the dolphins were feeding actively at the surface, having an extended breakfast it seems. We could see the dolphins working together to herd large schools of garfish and move into position for the hunt. We watched them chasing the fish at top speed, often leaping out into the air after the small fish which tried to escape by leaving the water. The garfish sometimes tried to use our boat for shelter, but there was no escape from the hungry dolphins, and later also yellow-legged gulls which came to join in on the feeding frenzy. As well as this feeding, we also observed a lot of bowriding behaviour, meaning we got to see the dolphins up close and hear their whistles, and we also got to see a bit mating when several dolphin groups joined up. It was a real wild dolphin show today!

Photos from today:


Monday, December 12, 2016

Resident dolphins today

Today we saw Risso's, common and bottlenose dolphins. We are always happy to find all kind of species but seeing Rissos is always cause of joy as we don't see them that often, even thought it is considered as a resident specie of the Açores.

Here some detailed information about our beautiful Risso's:

The Risso’s dolphins (in Portuguese known as Grampo) is the fifth largest of the delphinids and one of the 3 resident species in Azores. Its anterior body is extremely robust, tapering to a relatively narrow tail stock and its dorsal fin is one of the tallest in proportion to body length of any cetacean, exceeded only by that of the adult male killer whale (Orcinus orca). A cetacean that can reach 4 meters long and weight as much as 500kg. They have a morphological characteristic that results in an adaptation to the feed, which consists in a square design of the head that facilitates the catching of squids. They can be found in a wide range of colors, because they are born with a dark color and as they grow older, they gain a whiter color and the body full of scars (Colour patterns change dramatically with age). Older animals can appear completely white on the dorsal surface. This is a widely distributed species, inhabiting deep oceanic and continental slope waters 400- 1,000 m deep from the tropics through the temperate regions in both hemispheres. Sighting records indicate this species occurs roughly between 60°N and 60°S latitudes, where surface water temperature are above 10 °C. Risso's dolphins are pelagic, mostly occurring seaward of the continental slope. They frequent subsurface sea-mounts and escarpments where they are thought to feed on vertically migrant and mesopelagic cephalopods. In the North Atlantic and western Pacific, there appears to be a summer calving peak and a winter calving peak in the eastern Pacific. They are are often seen surfacing slowly, although they can be energetic, sometimes breaching or porpoising, and occasionally bowriding. Normally Risso’s associate in groups tend to be small to moderate in size, from 2-100 individuals, averaging 30 animals, but groups of up to 4,000 have been reported, presumably in response to abundant food resources. Risso's dolphins prey on a mix of neritic, oceanic, and occasionally bottom dwelling cephalopods and they normally feed at day. Risso’s are often seen surfacing slowly, although they can be energetic, sometimes breaching or porpoising, and occasionally bowriding
The most threats of Risso’s are:
·      Direct catch (in Sry Lanka); Incidental catch (southern Caribbean, the Azores, Peru);
·      Culling (Off Japan, Risso's dolphins were killed in the drive fishery (oikomi) in response to competition with commercial fisheries);
·      Pollution (Increasing levels of plastics and other refuse at sea may pose a threat to wild populations: Necropsies of specimens from Japan revealed that they had eaten foreign materials such as plastic bags, soda cans, and pieces of rope, which may have been fatal);
·      Noise pollution (In early 2004 and in 2005, several unusual stranding events including Risso’s dolphins occurred in Taiwan during a period when large-scale naval exercises were conducted in and on nearby waters)

The IUCN lists G. griseus as "Least Concern"
(Text by Rafael Martins)
 Some photos of today's encounter with the Risso's dolphins

Here we can appretiate the round head they have


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