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

You may have thought we had sunk without a trace, but fear not, we are back after a brief radio silence on the blog front. And what a final few days it has been to conclude the 13th year for Biosphere Expeditions in the Azores.

I am not superstitious, but our third group of volunteers seem to have had luck on their side. After the double blue whales from the first day at sea, they scored humpback whales on day two – our first records of this species for 2016. One of the three humpbacks recorded was first identified in the Azores on March 8th of this year, so it has been hanging around for a while, but just playing hard to find.

Our next day brought another epic encounter with sperm whales, this time south of Faial, and no sooner did one fluke and disappear to the depths, another appeared to the chorus of ‘blow’. The photos identified at least 14 different individuals, including one of Lisa’s favourites; whale number 19. This female was first recorded in 1987 and has now been identified at least 10 times in the Azores over the past 29 years, underlining the great value of long-term data sets in illustrating the importance of the Azores for certain cetacean species.

The afternoon brought more encounters with bottlenose dolphins, who were also observed ‘hassling’ the sperm whales at the surface. The latter responded in there own aromatic way, and inhaling the smell of whale pooh is perhaps something none of us are keen to repeat!

After a day’s break on shore we returned to the seas, and this was just another ‘ordinary’ day, if such a thing exists, of only baleen whales. It does give me the chance to highlight some of our other survey targets, which I have hardly had chance to mention – the seabirds and turtles. And let me not forget our close encounters with sunfish and sharks circling the boat – not every fin we see belongs to a cetacean! All contribute to clarify the ‘health’ of these waters.

Our fifth day brought diversity, and a magnificent seven cetacean species, with multiple encounters with fin and blue whales, social sperm whales that just wouldn’t show their flukes, and a chance discovery of yet another humpback whale. Common, bottlenose and striped dolphins also featured, but attempts to get to a group of false killer whales were thwarted by too many random encounters with baleen whales – yes we got stuck in traffic, whale traffic!

Our last day at sea for 2016 saw us head north out of the harbour, for the first time this year. Sometimes it pays to do something different. Not only did we find more fin whales, and one with a calf that circled the boat, we also observed five different species of dolphins in one day including striped (for a fifth day) and the false killer whales that had evaded us earlier. Personally speaking, it is great to achieve something new and unexpected, and a fine way to end our fieldwork for 2016.

I hoped the variety of sightings would match the diversity of our group, and we weren’t disappointed. I haven’t even had chance to tell you about fluking blue whales, breaching humpbacks and the jumping acrobatics of the striped dolphins. Another time…..

But let me say huge thanks to our hosts at Banana Manor (Jim, Claudia and Tiago), to our skipper (Gyro) and the support team at Norberto Divers, and of course to Lisa for all her scientific input, direction and all-round cetacean knowledge that guides the project. Final thanks of course go to all our hard-working volunteers.

Your collective efforts have enabled a staggering level of data collection. Which will of course be analysed and published in the expedition report. But in summary, we have recorded (at least) 10 different cetacean species, from over 220 encounters, recording in excess of 1500 ‘individuals’. Not bad for a month’s work.

What are you doing next April?

Until next time


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

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