Monday the sun smiled on us as we went in search of the baleen whales that our vigia (lookout) had spotted, and we were rewarded with three fin whales; a mother, its calf and another individual. Seeing them glide through the water, skins glistening in the sunlight, you could see how the ancient fishermen would liken them to massive sea serpents. After they left, we found a pod of rather uncooperative female sperm whales who refused to show their flukes. Eventually we got a few good ID pictures, and I can’t say it was a hardship to hang out and wait for them to behave properly.
Later in the day we encountered a loggerhead turtle, which we caught and tagged. We also saw a blue shark, a swordfish, a school of jumping tuna, a pod of bottlenose dolphins, and a rare random sighting of sperm whale! (Usually the vigias tell us where they are or we listen for them—we rarely stumble upon them during our transect work.) All in a day’s work!
Tuesday we had a fantastic last day on the ocean with three more fin whales to add to our data collection. The water was perfectly calm with a spectacular cloudscape above us. Eventually we tore ourselves away from the fin whales and found a loggerhead turtle en route to a pod of sperm whales. After we tagged and safely returned it to the water, we encountered our second pod of Risso’s dolphins.
Our sperm whales, at times eight abreast, were a group of females with calves, apparently too busy socialising to show us their flukes! We didn’t get too many ID pictures of that lot. On our return to the harbour we saw common dolphins, and another turtle too small to tag, so we let him drift.
Back in the harbour, Alison, our resident artist, started our traditional Biosphere Expeditions mural on the harbour wall, and we each signed our names in the blow of her painted sperm whale. Frances and Song embellished it with Chinese calligraphy, the symbol meaning “whale”. While we laid the base of the design, it’s up to teams two and three to finish the masterpiece.
The expedition ended this morning, and I just want to say a big thank-you to Group 1 for a job well done. Thanks to your contribution, we were able to encounter the following in a time of year when otherwise no research would be done:
Common Dolphins – 29 encounters totalling 432 animals
Bottlenose Dolphins – 5 encounters totalling 40 animals
Striped Dolphins – 1 encounter with 80 individuals
Risso’s Dolphins – 3 encounters totalling 36 animals
Fin Whales – 5 encounters totalling 11 animals
Blue Whales – 1 encounter with 1 individual
Sperm Whales – 59 encounters totalling 131 animals
We documented 31 different individual sperm whales (many were seen more than once), and made 9 definite matches to previous sightings. We have a possible 2 more matches that Lisa will have to do further research on.
You did an excellent job of collecting data, Team 1. Safe travels home. Team 2? We’re looking forward to your arrival!
Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago