Azores: first humpback and more

Wednesday started out very grey and overcast. It was not looking very promising to go to sea, but still we headed out towards a small bank to the south of Faial and just as we arrived and deployed the hydrophone, the first blow was spotted! As we got closer, it was apparent that it was a baleen whale, since the blow was going straight up in the air. The next time the whale surfaced, the white flippers were seen through the water. “Humpback”, I shouted! The first humpback I have seen in 2020.

At this time of year, they should be on their way back north to the feeding grounds. This whale may have been coming from the Cape Verde islands or the Caribbean, likely on its way to Norway or Iceland. I notified the Azores university of the sighting, since they had been waiting for something to be seen before they left the harbour and we continued to track the whale. Unfortunately, it did not show its fluke, but I did manage to get dorsal fin photos and just have to hope that it is distinctive enough to find a match. When the university boat arrived, we left and headed to the West of Faial.

Before we had left in the morning, I was planning to head to the west if the lookouts hadn’t seen anything. I know that the “Winter Whales” usually hang around for a couple of weeks. The unknown factor, was if they had already been hanging around for a while when we saw them the other day or had just arrived. We will never know the answer to that question, but as we approached the Condor Bank, we picked up some sperm whale clicks on the hydrophone. About an hour later we spotted the first blow. As the whale fluked, my hunch proved correct. We had found the “Winter Whales” again! The first two whales we saw were the same two we had seen the other day, but we did manage to get a third fluke that was different. Given the hazy spotting conditions, we were lucky to see each whale twice. The juvenile that we saw a few days ago with one of the females was not seen on this occasion, indicating that it is getting to an age when it starts to forage for itself, only occasionally returning to suckle from its mother.

As it turned out, one of the Winter Whales was 2448, first seen in 2003. The one with the two small nicks on the left end (see photos) is 3483, first seen in 2007.


And the one with the small scallop on the right near the notch is 2808, first seen in 2004.


About five minutes after we started to head for home, I spotted some dolphin splashes . This turned into the first sighting of bottlenose dolphin, one of our resident species. Unfortunately, they were not going to escort us towards Horta, but were on their way to the west, so after about five minutes, we both continued on our separate ways.

Hopefully I can get out again soon, because towards the weekend it looks like a bit of wind before a couple more sea days next week.

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