Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)

If you are someone who likes to glance over the headlines in the morning, then ours could read ‘Danish duo deliver double dose of dolphins’ or ‘Sperm whale goes back to the future’.

Soon after leaving the harbour on Monday, Julie spotted the first dorsal fins, from one of the resident populations of bottlenose dolphins. Soon we were surrounded by the rest of the pod; some 30 individuals. And we rapidly tried to capture dorsal fin images to enable identification of different individuals. Working with dolphins is always a good way to start a Monday morning.

Our second sharp-eyed Dane, then sighted a few Risso’s dolphins (well spotted Camila). And so the fin photography continued.

With the wind now coming from the north, we headed to the south of Pico, both for shelter and to follow up on a report of a male sperm whale. Finally tracking him down, he continued to travel east at some speed and refused to show his fluke.

Sometimes you just have to know when to give up, so we headed east back to Faial, and as the seas grew, we eventually tracked down two fin whales before calling it a day. The increasing winds and worsening sea state meant Tuesday was a shore day – a welcome break for all.

Wednesday saw us back on the water, starting the data collection proceedings again with Risso’s dolphins. After a slow morning along the south coast of Faial, we eventually located a pair of fin whales – thanks to some local social networking (a previous Biosphere Expeditions skipper [Nuno] was out fishing, and called us with the sighting). The day was rounded off with another large single male sperm whale and a different (and smaller) pod of bottlenose dolphins, before we completed the circumnavigation of Faial.

This may sound like two ‘ordinary’ days at sea, but as with any headline or story, the devil is in the detail.

Reviewing the images of the bottlenose dolphins from Monday, Lisa had spotted one carrying what we believe to be a dead calf, probably stillborn. This is a known phenomenon (but very rarely observed) in several species of dolphins and whales, whereby the mother (and other pod members) keep the dead calf with them (and often at the surface) for many hours or days. Whilst scientists may be hesitant to use words such as ‘mourning’ or ‘grieving’ in describing animal behavior, it is hard not to interpret the actions of these sentient creatures through our own emotions.

And the single male sperm whale we sighted on Wednesday was matched to a previous sighting of the same individual back in 2009. Whilst there was a seven year gap in sightings, he was recorded on exactly the same day (20tApril) in both instances, with the records within 30 minutes of each other! The GPS data also revealed the sightings were almost exactly in the same area. And in both cases, this same sperm whale was recorded by a Biosphere Expeditions group!

These two separate, unrelated and relatively brief encounters give a simple and powerful illustration of the importance of fieldwork. We’ve all learnt something that we didn’t know three days ago. You can’t always say that by just reading the headlines!


Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago

One Reply to “Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)”

  1. Hi There! Great days for you and nice, new experiences! Happy to see you again on the board. I have checked the weather all the day and have seen the wind is strong so was not sure if you are able to go out at all. Keep going with the nice and enjoyable expedition. Best wishes, Zs

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