Azores: good weather & sightings

We have been out on the water several days in a row, since the weather has been fantastic. The sightings have also been extremely good.

There have been sightings of sperm whales every day. The “Whitehead” group is still around (they were first sighted on 24 June) and the male sperm whale that we saw on 2 July hanging out with them, has been seen again on 11 July, with a different group of females. It is a bit unusual for the big males to hang around so long, because they are usually looking for females, going from area to area. But I guess because there have been several different groups of sperm whale females passing through, he can just stay put and let the females come to him! And once again, you can see the size difference between the fluke of the male and the fluke of the female as they dive together. One morning, we saw three different groups of female sperm whales spread out from the south of Pico to the south of Faial.

One day, we had a sperm whale make four tail throws, with poo! This is basically an upside down breach. The whale makes a quick dive and we were expecting a breach, where the whale jumps out of the water, but got the tail end instead. When they breach or tail throw, they often defecate, possibly due to muscle contraction involved in the activity. Breaches, lobtails or tail throws are usually signs that the group is going to socialise. They can also be done to slough skin or parasites, as well as communication.

Some of the fluke matching shows a couple of individuals that were seen in São Miguel in 2015, as well as a couple from a different group that were sighted last year. A couple of the groups have not been previously identified. There was a bachelor group of four males seen on one day (when males leave the family group, they hang out in groups of young males for a few years, before becoming more solitary); none of them had been seen before. One of the bachelors decided to have a look at the boat, with a headout, before resuming his course and diving. Sperm whales see down and out to the side, so when they lift their head, they are looking along the surface. I don’t know what caused the white scarring on its head.

With such calm conditions, we have also seen Sowerby’s beaked whales a few times. These whales are usually shy of boats and difficult to spot. They are deep divers eating squid. Another squid-eater has also been seen, i.e. more pilot whales just hanging about, with a bit of socialising from some of the juveniles.

Groups of dolphin have also been seen: spotted, striped and common, all with small calves present. The striped dolphin, surprised us one day by bowriding! This species in the Azores tends to keep its distance and only rarely comes towards boats. Spotted dolphin have been making some incredible aerial displays, which are fantastic to watch, but quite difficult to photograph. These aerial displays can be social or a way to herd fish and if they enter the water cleanly, they can be diving deeper.

One group of spotted dolphin had a melanistic individual, meaning darker than usual. More often, we see leucistic, lighter than usual, sometimes blotchy, cetaceans, but occasionally the darker versions appear as well. These are genetic variations.

We are expecting some wind from the east this week, so will have to hope it doesn’t get too choppy to get out to sea.

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