Azores: Singing humpback

After the excitement of the orca encounter on our first day in the field, we were brought back down to earth the very next day… by the weather! High winds and worse sea states meant data processing was the only productive option.

So the team spent the morning with sorting and /or matching image files to enable identification and matching of several species, including sei and sperm whales; Risso’s dolphins and of course the orcas. Many of the orcas could not be matched with other individuals recently seen around the central island  group of the Azores, suggesting there are more out there to be found.

After an afternoon break, we were back out to sea the next day in slightly calmer seas. This began with common dolphin sightings, and four encounters later this was the only species we had seen all day, whilst navigating a loop south of Pico and Faial.

Eager for a change of fortunes, we set sail again on Wednesday. Luck was not entirely on our side. The dolphins appeared to be avoiding us, so we deployed the hydrophone to ‘listen in’ on dolphins and sperm whales but with no joy. But what we did hear – surprised all on board, including a scientist, Lisa – a singing humpback! Whilst the males are known to sing, often when in search of females, Lisa has never heard this behaviour in 30 years of working in the Azores. Another first for Biosphere Expeditions in the Azores. Fieldwork is about sights and sounds.

After several hours of searching, and with 110 km covered, we could not locate the humpback and finally had to give up on our singing cetacean. You don’t always get the result you want, but if your survey ends with ‘presence’ or ‘absence’, your data is zeros rather than ones, it is still a result.

Let’s see whether our humpback was just in rehearsal mode today, and we will get the full performance tomorrow…

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