Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sperm whales and dolphins in São Miguel Island

We said goodbye to September with 3 of our resident species. 
A family of sperm whales accompanied us on this last day of September in the morning and in the afternoon. 
In the morning we saw a very nice group of common dolphins and in the afternoon a large group of Risso’s dolphins that were in socialization. 
See you tomorrow October. 😉

Photos by Laura González

Common dolphins

Sperm whale before a long dive

Sperm whale blow

Sperm whale

Photos by Mariana Silva 

Risso's dolphins

Risso's dolphins

Risso's dolphin

The adventurous life of a Cory’s shearwater: migration and reproduction

The Cory's shearwaters that we begin to see more often during March-April on our waters and that delight us with their songs and feeding behavior during ours tours, made a long journey to get here. These seabirds generally fly between 15,000 and 35,000 km on their trans-equatorial voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

Fig 1: Cory's Shearwater Migratory Movements. Reyes-González, J. M., et. al. 2016. Pardela cenicienta atlántica    - Calonectris borealis.

As you can see in Fig. 1, the trajectory they follow annually has the shape of a figure of eight across the Atlantic. 

The yellow line refers to the Scopoli’s shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) which nests in the Balearic Islands, the blue line represents the Cory’s shearwater (C. borealis) of the Canary Islands, and the pink line describes the movements of the Cory’s shearwaters that next in the Azores. 

Once the breeding season is over, they return to the South Atlantic to feed, mainly over the continental shelves of South America, southern Morocco, Western Sahara and southern Africa.

See a video of a Cory's shearwater that nests in the Canaries. 

The breeding season takes place from August to November between the Canary Islands (for hatching and feeding chicks) and Western Sahara (for feeding). At the end of November, this Cory’s shearwater migrates to South Africa to pass the winter feeding on the continental shelves. At the beginning of February, it starts going back to the north, to begin the cycle again.

The scheme below summarises the steps of the annual cycle of the Cory's shearwater:

In February, the Cory's shearwaters start to return to their nesting areas, the eggs are laid from mid-May to early June and the chicks hatch at the end of July. Finally, their feathers grow from the middle of October until the beginning of November.

This species nests in colonies and the nests are located in cavities in the ground, under rocks, in the crevices of cliffs, or on the floor of small caves. The incubation period takes about 54 days and they raise their chicks for around 90 days.

Cory’s shearwaters only lay one egg a year, then they have to make a great effort to raise their offspring. In this species, the male and female take turns incubating the egg and going for food. The demand for food during the breeding season is much more intense, in addition to having to provide food for themselves, they also need to feed their chick.

For this purpose, they carry out a strategy called bimodal (Fig 2): they combine short trips (1-3 days, ≈ 75 km) to feed the young and long trips (5-18 days, up to 1800 km), to look for food for themselves Therefore, the proximity of the colonies to highly productive areas has a great influence on the parents feeding strategies.

Fig 2: Short trips (left) and long trips (right) of Cory’s shearwater in the Azores. Foraging ranges of nesting birds at the western group in yellow (Corvo), of the central group in orange (Graciosa), and of the eastern group in red (Sta. Maria). Magalhães M.C., Hamer K.C., Santos R.S. (2008) Azores: feeding locations, behaviour at sea and implications for food.

Once the breeding season is over, adults start their return to winter areas, leaving the juveniles alone in the nests. Juveniles will have to wait a few days without food until they moult their juvenile feathers. With their new plumage they can venture alone into the open waters.

Article written by Cristina Montoya Bernabeu

-         Camphuysen, C.J. & van der Meer, J. 2001. Pelagic distribution, moult and (sub-) specific status of Cory’s Shearwaters Calonectris [d.] diomedea/borealis wintering off southern Africa. Marine Ornithology 29: 89–96.
-         Genovart M, Thibault J-C, Igual JM, Bauzà-Ribot MdM, Rabouam C, Bretagnolle V (2013) Population Structure and Dispersal Patterns within and between Atlantic and Mediterranean Populations of a Large-Range Pelagic Seabird. PLoS ONE 8(8): e70711.
-         Gómez-Díaz E., González-Solís J., Peinado M.A. 2009. Population structure in a highg pelagic seabird, the Cory’s shearwater Calonectris diomedea: an examination of genetic, morphology and ecology. Marine Ecology Progress Series Vol. 382: 197–209, 2009
-         Munilla I, Genovart M, Paiva VH, Velando A (2016) Colony Foundation in an Oceanic Seabird. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0147222.
-         Reyes-González, J. M., González-Solís, J. (2016). Pardela cenicienta atlántica – Calonectris borealis. En: Enciclopedia Virtual de los Vertebrados Españoles. Salvador, A., Morales, M. B. (Eds.). Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Whale watching in São Miguel and Pico Islands

Today, in São Miguel Island we had a lot of wind and waves, but we all enjoyed the ride out on the ocean to see common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. 

Both species were a delight to see, as they were leaping out of the waves, playing around our boats and coming to check us out. 
We are still seeing a lot of baby dolphins too, even now as the summer season as coming to and end.

Photos by Rafael Martins

Bottlenose dolphins

Bottlenose dolphins

Common dolphins

Common dolphins

Common dolphin jump out of the water

Bottlenose dolphin lobtailing

In Pico Island, it was a windy day too, but we enjoyed the Bottlenose dolphins very active with the waves. We also saw Risso's dolphins jumping and sperm whales tails. One of the sperm whales had a possible malformation on the caudal peduncle as you can prove by the photo below. 

Photos by Rui Santos 

Risso's dolphin jumping

Sperm whale with a possible malformation on the caudal peduncle

Bottlenose dolphin 

Friday, September 28, 2018

A swell day in Pico Island with dolphins

Today we had a swell day in Pico Island, with waves that made us up and down in the boat. Even with days like these the dolphins never let us down! The first group we saw was a bottlenose dolphin one and they were really curious about the boat. After it, we search a bit for sperm whales with our hydrophone, but unfortunately, we did not have any luck. We came back to the shore to see some acrobatic jumps from our friends, the spotted dolphins!

Photos by Rui Santos

Bottlenose dolphins

Spotted dolphin jumping

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Heading east for sperm whales and 3 species of dolphins

Today in Sao Miguel we rode out on a wavy ocean towards the eastern end of the island to see different species. In the morning we started with a nice group of common dolphins that we could see feeding on needlefish. 

Next we went further east where we encountered a big group of Atlantic spotted dolphins leaping out of the waves as they all surfaced in unison. Near this area we also had sperm whales to see, so from our different boats we could all enjoy different sperm whales from the group. We saw at least one baby in the group, maybe the same one that was jumping yesterday, as well as some adults that showed us their tails as they went down to look for food. 

In the afternoon we encountered a really nice group of bottlenose dolphins. They were socialising so we could see a lot of interesting behaviours like high leaps and spinning in the water.

Photos by David Rodrigues

Group of bottlenose dolphins 

Bottlenose dolphin

We had impressive jumps

Our vessel "Mirone"

Sperm whale on sight!

Photo by Mariana Silva

Bottlenose dolphins jumping

Have you ever wonder how wildlife documentaries are done?

The last couple of weeks we have had the opportunity to work here in São Miguel with Mauricio Handler and Timothy J. Dalton, two wildlife photographers and filmmakers from Aquaterrafilms ( Amazing people! Patience to spend long hours out at sea waiting for the right moment, high standards to get the best of any single chance that nature provides, and overall, passion about their job and about the animals! And it is worthwhile. On this trip they have entered sperm whales life deeper than we usually do. 

Sperm whale mother and calf


Sperm whale open mouth teeth

The last couple of weeks, we have had the opportunity to see families of sperm whales socializing, very active, but also sleeping in a vertical position in several occasions. Breaching, lob-tailing, active socialization with mouths open and spy-hopping were observed almost every day. Plenty of very small newborns, some already with the fetal folds, were welcome into the families. Every whale seemed to celebrate the new arrival, breachs and tails all over the place, and even pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins joined the celebration. The gathering of giants to welcome a new member in the family.

Sperm whale belly up open mouth

Sperm whale tail

Photo Sperm whale breaching by Rui Rodrigues

During this time, we also saw Atlantic spotted dolphin, common dolphin and Blainville's beaked whale. Feeding activity, Cory's shearwaters and a lot of great shearwaters, and even dolphin fish sum up to our list. But without any doubt, one of the most impressive sightings we had was a dead whale. It was a pigmy sperm whale, a very rare species here in the Azores (and worldwide indeed!), which has been reported here mostly from stranding records. It was dead from a couple of days ago, not very decomposed and with no visible sign of accident. It remember us the cycle of life... 

Blainville beaked whale

Great shearwater

Young Atlantic spotted dolphin

Pilot whale

Pigmy sperm whale Kogia breviceps

Definitely, being out in the ocean and having the chance to observe nature on its best, makes you realize how immense and powerful it is. People like @Mauricio and @Timothy  are the ones who manage to condensate this hugeness in just a few minutes of footages or even in a couple of photographs; and then tell the rest of the world the story of our oceans. If you want to know more about them and have a look at their work, follow them at @aquaterrafilms and @timothyjdalton. You won't be disappointed!

Photos and article by Laura González

Monday, September 24, 2018

Sperm whale breaching in Sao Miguel and 4 species sighted in Pico Island!

Today in Pico Island, we spent the day nicely with 4 species of cetaceans. We started with sperm whales, the group of females that we know already very well, and in the meantime we passed very quickly near some bottlenose dolphins close to the whales. 

After that we went to see spotted dolphins, they were not interested in our boat, they were very busy feeding. Finally, we had a group of risso's dolphins some females with calves and some of the females were a bit more acrobatic.

Photos by Rui Santos 

Risso's dolphin

Spotted dolphins

Sperm whales

Today was a day of variety. We started the morning with a surprise ... common dolphins right outside of the marina 😀. We went to the east because our lookout had seen a blow. When we got there we had to wait a little bit but we managed to find not one, but two sei whales that were very fast and difficult to follow. 

In the afternoon we decided to go west. We ended up finding a group of 3 sperm whales females and a very small baby. On the catamaran we were not as lucky with the sei whales but in the afternoon we crossed the way of some bottlenose dolphins, which appeared from a dive right in our front. Further to the west far away from the island we found a whole family of sperm whales, at least 8 of them, among them two calves. We observed several tails, but the highlight was definitely one calf behaving like a dolphin, breaching in a special way. All its body out of the water and bending and curving it much so that it entered sometimes head first into the water again. What a show!

Photos by Laura González

"Mirone" boat

Breaching sperm whale

Breaching sperm whale II

Common dolphin

Bottlenose dolphins

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sperm whale tails in São Miguel and surfing dolphins in Pico

On the way to the south...Today the Sperm whales that we saw were on the west coast of São Miguel, are we going to have more sightings of this majestic species here around the south? Who knows, they are wild animals and we can't control them, the only thing that we can do is going to have a look when they are close to shore. Also, we had sightings in the morning of common dolphins feeding with Cory's shearwaters, and our zodiac boat spotted a group of bottlenose dolphins.

Photos by Marina Gardoki

Sperm whale tail

Sperm whale tail

Sperm whale

Sperm whale

Sperm whales


A surfing day in Pico Island. To start our tour we head straight to a group of spotted dolphins. They were super curious about our boat and also on feeding. After this encounter we spent some time with common dolphins, the dolphins were surfing the waves, showing all their skills! To finish our day and with the help of our lookout, we went far away to see the sperm whales. 

Photos by Rui Santos

Juvenil Spotted dolphins

Surfing common dolphins

Sperm whale tail
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