Azores: matches & amazing sightings

First some match information and what what it means

In 2009, the match from the other day, “3724”, was seen with quite a few well-known animals “2044”, “2067” and “2726”, which have usually been seen in the spring or autumn. We just weren’t lucky enough to see them. This group doesn’t usually hang around for very long, so I am not sure if we will get a chance to see the rest of the group. But good to know anyway! “2044” has been seen on several Biosphere Expeditions.

ID photographs confirm that female sperm whales spend their whole lives together; it is the juvenile males that leave the group. Some of the animals observed in previous years have been seen together for 29 years. Usually when one animal from a group has been seen before, the rest of the animals in the group have also been seen. Sometimes, like this sighting, it is not possible to identify all the animals of a group on a given day, but repeated sightings of the same group over time give us more chances to catalogue all of the individuals from that group. Sperm whales live for around 60-70 years, so some of these animals re-sighted in the Azores have been recorded for almost half of their lives.

Also, the humpback whale we saw the other day has been matched to the Cape Verde Islands via the dorsal fin! Pedrin from Bios.cv made the match. This whale was first seen in the Cape Verde Islands by Simon Berrow of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group in 2003, then by Bios.cv in 2015 & 2016 and finally by Beatrice Jann in 2018! Most of the sightings in Cape Verde were in Sal Rei Bay, Boa Vista (thanks Fred Wenzel). This is the first time it has been photographed in the Azores, maybe next time it will show us the fluke too!

Since 2004, the expedition has contributed 22 ID photos to the catalogue, which produced one match to the Cape Verde Islands in 2010 plus this new match and one to Norway in 2018 (unpublished data). The Cape Verde matches made by the expedition, as well as data collected outside the expedition and by Fred Wenzel and colleagues, suggest that most of the humpbacks that are seen in the Azores are part of the endangered Cape Verde population, rather than the Caribbean population, which was taken off the endangered list in 2016. Matching movements and populations is important, because little is known about the movements of the eastern Atlantic humpback whales and as an endangered population, it is good to monitor its status in order to take action as soon as possible if a decline is noticed.

And then for some amazing sightings over the past few days

We have had some spectacular weather the last few days and the whales and dolphins have not disappointed us. Eight different species have been recorded!

We have had sightings of sperm whales, including a big male hanging out with a couple of well known ladies from the “Whitehead” group. Males do not stay with the groups of females, they spend more time in the north, where there is more food to support their bigger body size.

We have also seen a very relaxed group of pilot whales, just resting at the surface, going slowly past the boat. And a group of curious false killer whales, which came over to investigate the boat. Both of these species appear infrequently, but we know from photo ID that some of the pilot whales have been seen in Madeira and some individual false killer whales have been identified over multiple years and also seen in Terceira & São Miguel. The false killer whales may be resident, just spending more time out around the banks. At least one of the false killer whales has been seen in a previous year in Terceira. More matching is taking place, so I should have some more info soon. The pilot whales are the short fin species and they spend more time in warmer waters, so in the winter, they probably move further south towards Madeira and maybe even the Canaries.

We have also seen sei whales a couple of times. The first time was a single individual travelling to the west, making one blow at the surface and then diving, returning to the surface around 3 minutes later. The second time, two individuals were travelling slowly through a glassy sea. Sei whales that have been tagged previously in the Azores by the university have almost all headed towards Labrador, where they spend the summer feeding, before returning to the south to breed.

We have also had a couple of sighting of striped and common dolphin, the striped dolphin making some spectacular leaps as they go away from the boat. In other parts of the world, they will bowride, but here in the Azores they usually avoid the boats. Often common and striped dolphin swim in mixed schools. The larger size school makes it easier to find food and also stay safe from any predators.

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Spotted dolphin have also made another appearance, although on this occasion, they were more interested in travelling to the southeast, than playing with the boat. There were many calves in the group.

With the calm seas, it is also easier to spot beaked whales. There is not a lot known about any of the beaked whales, because they are very deep divers and usually avoid boats. The groups that we have seen have been mother-calf pairs. The larger group stayed up for a few minutes allowing us to get a better than average look at these reclusive animals. One of the females had an overbite. Judging by the fact that she had a calf and appeared in good condition, I do not think this was affecting her feeding ability.

Also easier to spot with calm conditions are the loggerhead turtles as they bask at the surface. You can see two fish swimming over the turtle, possibly black sea bream. The fish eat the algae that grows on the turtle’s shell and also get a bit of protection by hiding their silhouette from any predators lurking below.

With some more good weather coming this week, what will we see next?

You can see our sightings on the Seafari App May & June 2020 on Google My Maps.

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