Monday, June 4, 2018

How many blue whales cross the Azores?

This is the question that we all in Futurism Azores Whale Watching ask, and that tourists often ask us. We will try to explain what we know.

It was 20 years ago that we saw our first Blue Whale, at that time we were at sea only a few times during the spring months, for our lookouts these were the hardest Whales to work with, their behavior is more erratic than those of the Sperm whales, who always dazzle us with the time they spend resting at surface.

But we are talking about the greatest living thing that ever existed on our planet, and it happens here in our waters of the Azores, we wanted to see, enjoy, know more about these Ocean Giants. This led us to collaborate with Dr. Richard Sears from MICS (Mingan Island Cetacean Study) research group, the group that had the largest number of blue whales recorded in the West Atlantic Ocean, 451 individuals.

Gradually, year after year, we were identifying these magnificent creatures, we were able to identify each individual because we take pictures of the side of his body, because although they are called Blue Whales, his body is covered with dark gray and light gray spots, which do not change over time, and they are different from individual to individual, similar to our fingerprints.

While in the early years, whenever we identified an individual, this was new to the East Atlantic Catalog, this gradually changed, many people began to contribute to this catalog, from the Azores, Iceland, Spitsbergen, Ireland, Spain, Mauritania and also mainland Portugal and Madeira.

We began slowly to obtain some individuals that we already knew, these appeared again in the Azores and also in these other places, until 2014, the year in which more Blue Whales were identified in the Azores, about 100 different individuals, we obtained the first matching between the different Catalogs of the Atlantic West and East.

We continue our work every year and in this year 2018 the preliminary results are surprising, we have matching rates of around 50%, which means that every time we see two whales we know one of them.

Some 700 Blue Whales have already been identified in the Eastern Zone of the Atlantic, was the Azores contribute with about 560 individuals. We may already know about half of them. If we add 600 of them to the West Atlantic we are talking about 3000 to 5000 Blue Whales in the North Atlantic Ocean, something fantastic but still far from the 200,000 Blue Whales that were hunted by our ancestors.

It´s essential that we continue our photo identification work, to better understand how many Blue Whales cross our seas, but also to understand where they come from, where they are going. We have to go even further, we have to realize how many males are how many females, how many calves are born per year? Only the knowledge allows us to understand this whales and many other species, Knowledge is an important "weapon" to protect them from mistakes of the Past and preserve for the Future. 

Written by Rui Santos

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