Fieldwork invariably offers variety and the unexpected.
We started our first full day at sea with a hint from our lookouts that we could probably expect to see bottlenose dolphins. The strange-looking dolphins that we soon encountered were in fact false killer whales – not a whale, but another dolphin species that is less common than the bottlenose dolphins in the Azores, so a great find.
False killers were quickly followed by a false alarm, as two dark objects with ‘long fins’ were spotted on the sea surface, silhouetted in the glare of the sun. As we approached we quickly realised that the two kayakers wouldn’t add much value to our data set!
With our error forgotten, we were quickly surrounded by some 30+ individual false killer whales, spread over several hundred meters, and close to the coast of Pico island.
After an hour-long encounter, we decided to head further south. But our ‘hunt’ for our first true whale sighting was interrupted by several brief encounters with Risso’s dolphins.
And then…..nothing and more nothing. The weather and sea conditions were almost perfect, but the cetaceans were ominously absent, as we sailed on and the hours ticked by, the whale sighting count stayed firmly at zero. We continued to sail south, towards a 500 m deep sea mount, and with the hydrophone deployed, we finally located a sperm whale.
And then our luck truly changed, with the sighting of a solitary fin whale – the second-largest species of whale.
Fieldwork can often also be frustrating, but it will also often reward persistence and patience!