Azores: Whales, at last!

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

After our initial success at sea, we have been restricted to another day on shore due to the weather. But this presented us with an opportunity to work through some data, and begin to learn and look at the photo identification of our different target species.

Having observed an estimated group of 30 bottlenose dolphins the day before, Katharina and Corinna were able to work through several photos and assign identifications to every individual in the group. The final data total from the photos was 24 individuals and no doubt some weren’t photographed. So a pretty good estimate by the team at the time of the encounter!

The next day saw us back at sea. This started like other days. Firstly an encounter with some 70 common dolphins, soon followed by a group of bottlenose dolphins, including some of the individuals we encountered only two days ago. The difference was the size of the pod. Now numbering some 150 individuals spread over several hundred metres. Those images will take some sorting….

Then we heard that word, which until now, had been missing from this year’s expedition: ‘blow!’. Our skipper (Jairo), had spotted what he thought was a sperm whale exhaling with a spray of water. Different whale species have different blows and can be identified by them.

But it had been so long since he had seen one, he was doubting his own eyes. We had faith. And sure enough, we closed in on our very first whale of this year’s expedition and it was indeed a sperm whale.

Seemingly like the weather, our luck had changed as the team identified multiple blows in different directions. The challenge then was to follow and photograph the fluke of each individual. No easy task, as our nominated photographer for the day, Silke, can attest.

But our day was not done. Jairo had been busy on the radio talking to a very excited lookout on the north side of Pico. Humpback whales had been spotted, and we made haste. In less than 20 metres of water depth and no more than 300 metres from the coast, we encountered three humpbacks. These were duly observed and photographed.

Our day ended with an excellent talk by Rebecca Boys on how photo ID day can feed into population modelling of sperm whales, which will ultimately inform appropriate management and conservation of this species. And as for the humpbacks, well, by the next day (our rest day), one had already been matched to another sighting off Norway – result!

So our first whales, our first match of 2018 and clear illustration of the usefulness of the data. Let’s hope our change of luck continues….



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