Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Sperm whales, Bottlenose dolphins and curious Risso's dolphins

Today was not an easy day for the lookouts, the visibility was not the best but in the end,  we still got to see 3 species in total.
In the morning we started to see several sperm whales in the same area. Two of them were diving before we arrived so we saw them a bit further away but we kept searching and suddenly one breached and we got to observe it well and to say goodbye it showed its tail.  
 
 

 

The second species was the Risso's dolphin. Strangely they were more or less interested in the boats, which is not so usual for these dolphins. We got to see some babies in the group meaning that the population is healthy.
In the afternoon we had to travel 15 miles out of the coast to find a group of Risso's dolphin alongside with bottlenose dolphins. These interactions between species it's not so usual but having these kinds of sightings is always nice to witness. There were also some babies in the groups as in the morning.






Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Another nice calm day at sea where we saw 6 species in total

Our morning started with some sperm whales. They were foraging so we managed to see many flukes! Then, our lookout spotted another species, one that is not seen very often. We had Sowerby's beaked whales! They were quite surface-active and we managed to see the beak at surface before the rest of the body, which helped us identify the species. After the beaked whales, we saw another sperm whale. 

 



Meanwhile, some of our other boats saw spotted dolphins, and one of them appeared to be almost completely white! Next, we saw some common dolphins that we could see really well, even underwater as the sea was quite flat. Our swimming with dolphins tour had an interesting day today as well! They managed to view some pilot whales! 




In the afternoon we started off with sperm whales again, and this time we managed to see a really small calf (baby sperm whale). After that we decided to leave the calf alone with the mom and not disturb them, so we continued to see some other sperm whales. At some point, we saw one sperm whale wiggling and turning, as if she was bothered by something. We even saw the mouth open at the surface. 







Quite soon after that, we saw a Risso's dolphin surface right next to the whale! It seemed like there was an interaction between the two species, almost as if the Risso's dolphin was teasing the sperm whale. So we ended up in a group of Risso's dolphins, and a really large one! Their pod must have had at least 70 individuals, they were quite spread out and seemed like they were socializing amongst each other. What a great morning and afternoon, we almost did not want to go back home!


 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Perfect day with five different species of cetaceans

The day started with a very good welcoming of a very well known sperm whale. The name of this sperm whale is Tonga and she was doing some tail slapping as we approached her. After some moments we realised there was a second one under Tonga and they were quite curious with our zodiac boat and approached us a little bit more than usual.
We also saw some more sperm whales that were in the same area and in the end we've got to see 5 sperm whale tails!

 
 


Then we continued our tour and found a small pod of Risso's dolphins. They were always keeping a distance, like a typical Risso's behaviour, but in the end, it was a good sighting.


In the afternoon common dolphins started the trip, it was a small pod but in the beginning, they were quite playful. Sperm whales were the second species! They were with us some minutes at the surface and in the end, they showed us their magnificent flukes! 



After just a few seconds Altlantic spotted dolphins showed up in the same area. They were very interested in the boats always surfing the waves and giving us a very good moment with them.  One of our boats was also able to see a pod of striped dolphins.


 




Rescuing marine mammals

Every year there are hundreds and thousands of whales and dolphins that appear stranded in beaches and coasts around the world, but why?

A stranded animal is an animal in a helpless position, unable to return itself to its natural environment.
(image from bbc.co.uk)

It is not easy to determine the exact reason, but certainly in some cases it is evident that they are injured due to ship strikes, entanglement with fishing gear, traumas like attacks from predators (sharks, orcas) or sometimes they are just too sick to swim. It is also known they can get lost or confused because the increased noise in the oceans produced by human activity (shipping noise, military sonars, seismic surveys) affects their communication and echolocation.  Some studies have demonstrated that they also get the decompression sickness (Fernández et al., 2005; Norina et al., 2017; Hooker et al., 2012), like divers when they surface too quickly. This may happen when they are scared and go up to the surface really fast trying to escape from loud noises. There are other factors that also are involved like pollutants, low food stocks, water temperature,… However, even if we don't know what is the exact reason, there is no doubt that if we see an animal stranded, we immediately feel like we should act and try to help it. 
But what to do if we encounter a stranded dolphin or a whale? 
Well, first we need to be aware that we both (human and animal) are in a risky situation. When a cetacean strands on a beach, regardless sickness or injured, we have to consider that they carry diseases that are transferable to us, so our protection comes first, also we have to be aware that an unpredictable movement of the tail or their body can harm us really bad and not to forget that dolphins have teeth!
For the animal, of course, time counts: the sooner we act the greater is its chance of survival. Their bodies are designed to swim or float in the water and when they are on land the weight of their body causes injuries in their vital organs. Also, their blowhole may be blocked by sand or water impeding them to breathe and they can get sunburn and dehydrated easily.
So, what to do? Every stranding event is completely different. We may have just one animal or we may have hundreds, dead and alive, and then what to do or where to start becomes a difficult question to answer. But there are some simple actions we all can do:
1) First we need to call for help. Call the local authorities and inform about the event, your location, description of the animal(s), weather conditions (the more details you give the better). In some countries, they have a stranding network, here in Azores you can contact  the Rede de Arrojamentos Cetáceos dos Açores (RACA) they will contact the competent authorities and should be ready to act in these events. 
2) Approach to the animal calmly and quiet to reduce more stress and make sure it is breathing. The blowhole should be uncovered and facing upwards, it will open and close within a certain frequency varying from few seconds or up to 20 minutes for big whales. It is important to avoid the animal’s breathe, it can transmit us diseases since it is a common site for bacteria and virus.
3) Cover the animal with towels, t-shirts or what you have in hand, even seaweed works. The most important thing is to keep it wet and protected from the sun. Just remember to not cover the blowhole!



Do not try to drag the animal back to the water, or it will cause serious injuries. The volunteer help is always needed but try to keep the less people as possible around the animal while waiting for the experts help.

These easy steps may make the difference to save a stranded whale or dolphin!

Article by Alexandra Gärtner


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Fernández, A.; Edwards, J.F ; Rodríguez, F.; Espinosa de los Monteros, A.; Herráez, P.; Castro, P.; Jaber, J.R.; Martín V. & Arbelo, M. 2005. Gas and Fat Embolic Syndrome Involving a Mass Stranding of Beaked Whales (Family Ziphiidae) Exposed to Anthropogenic Sonar Signals. Sage Journals Volume 42(4) : 446-457.  https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1354/vp.42-4-446

Norina, L.; Norsharina A.; Nurnadiah A.H.; Sarol, K.; Nurliyana, M.T.; Fahmi, A.; Noordin, M.M.; Nor-Yasmin, A.R.; Hassan, M.D.; Kamaruddin, I.; Munir, M.N.; Syed Abdullah, S.A.K. & Tamimi, M.A.A. 2017. First report of decompression sickness (DCS) in a sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis) stranded in southern peninsular Malaysia. Malaysian Journal of Veterinary Research. 8(1): 57-64. 
http://www.dvs.gov.my/dvs/resources/user_15/MJVR%20Volume%208%20No.1%202017/MJVR-V8N1-p57-64.pdf

Hooker, S.K.; Fahlman, A.; Moore, M.J.; Aguilar de Soto, N.; Bernaldo de Quirós, Y.; Brubakk, A.O.; Costa, D.P.; Costidis, A.M.; Dennison, S.; Falke, K.J.; Fernandez, A.; Ferrigno, M.; Fitz-Clarke, J.R.; Garner, M.M.; Houser, D.S.; Jepson, P.D.; Ketten, D.R.; Kvandsheim, P.H.; Madsen, P.T.; Pollock, N.W.; Rotstein, D.S.; Rowles, T.K.; Simmons, S.E.; Van Bonn, W.; Weathersby, P.K.; Weise, M.J.; Williams, T.M. & Tyack, P.L. 2012. Deadly diving? Physiological and behavioural managment of decompression stress in diving mammals. The Royal Society Journal. 279: 1041-1050.  
http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/assets/pdfs/vetsci-stranding/scientific-contributions/2012/hooker-2012-decompression.pdf

RACA. Rede Arrojamentos de Cetáceos dos Açores. http://www.azores.gov.pt/Gra/SRMCT-MAR/conteudos/projectos/2011/Setembro/Rede+de+Arrojamentos+de+Cet%C3%A1ceos+dos+A%C3%A7ores.htm?lang=pt&area=ct

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Playful dolphins and fast sperm whales on a humid summer day!


What a humid summer day! The air felt heavy, full of water and it was a pleasure to navigate and feel the breeze of the ocean. 

Two of our resident species made our morning even more enjoyable. We found a big and playful group of common dolphins soon after leaving the Marina of Ponta Delgada. We could recognize different behaviours such as bowriding, socializing and jumping with different purposes. 









We kept on traveling to the southwest, a different species was waiting for us.
Some sperm whales had been sighted from our lookouts but it was quite hard for us to get to see them. They were diving when we were approaching or they were appearing far from us. Many times whale watching requires patience and today, after a long wait ours was rewarded. We found seven majestic sperm whales, swimming fast, unstoppable. After some minutes they dived all at the same time and we could appreciate their beautiful and unique tails.






In the afternoon the zodiac boat was able to see sperm whales, unfortunately, our catamaran couldn't see them. 




On other hand, our catamaran spotted a group of our "tourists" from the sea, the Atlantic spotteddolphins. The group was behaving really good and interacting sometimes with our boat going close and doing bowriding. 





We trough to look for something else they are wild animals and so we cannot control where they will be! It's nature, indeed!






Saturday, July 27, 2019

Amazing sighting with several Sowerby's beaked whales including calves!


Today we had a typical Azorean day!

We had wind, then fog, then sun and very, very hot. In the Azores we have this atypical time when we sometimes have the 4 seasons in one day, so don't forget the raincoat and the swimsuit!

Today we went straight to a sperm whale family and we saw at least 5 different individuals and 4 wonderful tails!














When we were coming back we had a surprise ... lots of Risso's dolphins. We could see two very small and very dark babies. Did you know that these animals are born dark and fade with age? The older the whiter they are, as is the case with our hair!





Our swim boats have spotted yet another of our resident species ... the common dolphins!!


In the afternoon we had to travels 20 miles from Ponta Delgada to find some animals. The first species were a small group of common dolphins always surfing our Catamaran waves. 

Then, we left them to find a very unusual species, Sowerby beaked whales!! A very special sighting since they normally are very elusive and besides, there were baby beaked whales also.









Onboard, we had the opportunity to explain which are the Sowerby's beaked whales on our catalog! Amazing sighting with several individuals including calves!







The sperm whales were hard to find because it was a single male and the visibility was not the best, so we used our special weapon called hydrophone. With this instrument, we were able to hear the clicks of a sperm whale and give us the direction we needed to find it. Some minutes after we stopped hearing clicks he surfaced! Rolled around for a little bit showing the tail in the end as he went for the deep blue, hunting and continuing his daily life.







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