Azores: Sperm, sei, pilot whales & spotted dolphin

Sei whales stole the morning on 6 August. We had to wait a bit for confirmation that there were whales and we headed towards an area where sperm whales had been seen. But in between the time we left the harbour and arrived to the area, a few sei whales had moved in! We saw four in total, a group of three that split into two plus one, and another single. One of the sei whales had a hole in its dorsal fin, which will make it a little easier to identify when matching fin photos.

The sperm whales were playing hard to get, with the calm conditions making the blows all but invisible. “Blow” shouted the skipper of one of the boats, only for us to see a fluke rise in the distance where the last blow had been seen! The first and last blows are usually the most powerful and visible in the sequence.

So we headed offshore to see some dolphins, but only about two minutes into watching a group of spotted dolphin, the lookout directed us further out to sea. We missed one whale, but he said there was another and we managed to see Whitehead show her tail. After that we decided to start making our way back to the harbour. On the way, we were waylaid by a group of spotted dolphin, then a small group of bottlenose dolphin and lastly a large group of milling pilot whales. There were loads of small babies in the group, swimming next to their mothers.

After lunch, we had a bit more luck with the sperm whales, although we did have to wait a bit, since we arrived just after one of them had dived and since they can spend up to 55 minutes on a dive, we were lucky to only have to wait for about 40 minutes! We got two different flukes from the Whitehead group and then started to make our way back, trying to find some dolphin. We didn’t find any dolphin, but we did find a group of beaked whales that were not too shy and so we managed to watch them for about five minutes before they disappeared into the waves. Since the wind was getting up, we made our way slowly back to Horta.

On 8 August, I was out in the afternoon, in the north of Faial. The same group is still hanging out there! We saw one fluke and then found a socialising group of three that turned into four. There were some heads poking out of the water and one side fluke, when a whale is swimming on its side. After a few shallow dives from the group, another whale appeared on the surface. This one also shallow-dived and we thought they were going to join together and socialise, but in the end they all fluked! Two individually and another two fluked together! Altogether, I got six flukes from the group in the end. We didn’t see any dolphins, but did come across a juvenile hammerhead shark and a devil ray. While picking up some plastic trash, one of the guides got stung by a strand of Portuguese Man O’ War tentacle hanging onto the box. Not a very nice thing to experience. She could feel the effect all the way up her arm and into her jaw and chest. As soon as we arrived back to the harbour, she put some vinegar onto the sting, which is supposed to help a bit, but as a precaution, we also went to the hospital to get her checked out. Portuguse Man O’ War have one of the most poisonous stings of the jellyfish and although not usually deadly, it can cause quite a bit of discomfort and pain.

On 10 August there were some scattered rain showers around, which dampened things on the boat. The sea was flat calm for a while, making it difficult to spot any blows. But the Whitehead group was found in the end and I even got a fluke of Whitehead herself. While we were waiting for another whale, we headed out to some spotted dolphin and a sei whale turned up too! Then the showers came, so we decided to watch the dolphin a bit longer and then head for Horta, where the sun was shining. Just before we got to the Faial/Pico channel, we came across a group of fast moving spotted dolphin. The sunshine and the backdrop of the islands made for some nice photographs of the leaping dolphin! They were heading away from home, so after 10 minutes we turned back for home ourselves.

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