Azores: Sightings still going strong

On 27 July we had one of “Nike’s” group north of Pico, in the morning. It was the 2010 calf of Nike, which we saw twice. We did not see any other individuals of the group, although we could hear them clicking. I doubt it will take the Nike group very long to get to the south of Pico where they usually hang out. Finally, this afternoon, Whitehead decided to show herself on the south of Pico! She was hanging out with a few of the Winter Whales, although she was headed west, while the others were headed east, so maybe it was just two groups passing each other. One of the Winter Whales was curious about the boat, circling us three times! Loads of spotted dolphin around and a solo sei whale too! Have you ever seen a whale “footprint”? As the fluke moves, when the whale is close to the surface or when diving, the water gets disturbed and leaves a smooth circle where the whale has just been. And I can’t forget the “bowriding” hammerhead and a small group of devil rays to top things off!

On 28 July we were again back to the north of Faial. The lookout had spotted some sperm whales and spotted dolphin. The mother & calf did a double fluke! The calves only begin to dive at around two years of age, so this one was learning the ropes. These two whales appeared to be the only ones up there, until we were getting ready to leave, since it didn’t look like the whales were going to dive a second time, when out of the blue there was a breach of a sperm whale a mile further out to sea! We then headed closer to the coast where there was a large group of spotted dolphin socialising. A few of the younger animals were leaping occasionally. It is pretty amazing how bendy the spotted dolphin is.

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Too windy on 29 & 30 July, giving me a chance to catch up on some paperwork.

We were back out on 31 July in some challenging conditions. But those conditions can sometimes be good for taking photos, if you catch the right moment! The Whitehead group is still around, although they were a long, long way from Horta today, heading to the eastern end of Pico. I managed to get four of the individuals. I guess since Whitehead herself showed herself the other day, she didn’t feel the need to check in today.

Hard to believe August has arrived already. We were back to the south of Pico again. There are still sei whales around, also a large group of pilot whales and sperm whales too. A tiny bottlenose dolphin calf and a high-flying spotted dolphin was part of what appeared to be a mating group.

On 2 August we got word from the vigia in the north of Faial that sperm whales had been seen up there, so off we went. It turned out to be a group that was seen on 28 May and was first seen in 2009. After a few flukes, including a couple of individuals that hadn’t been seen in May, we headed for some pilot whales. The group was quite spread out in smaller groups of about 20-30 and appeared to be resting. There was a fairly newborn calf in the group, since foetal folds were visible on the flanks. A sei whale was also close by, although was a bit elusive to the boats, moving quite quickly in various directions. We could see the power of the blow emerging from the blowhole. On the way back to the harbour, a small group of spotted dolphin were also seen. They were feeding on some small baitballs close to the surface. It wasn’t clear what they were eating. In the afternoon, we were also back to the north, but the wind had increased, decreasing blow visibility. The lookout did manage to find one individual, but it wasn’t diving. At first glance, it had a white scar on the right side and it looked a bit like Nike’s calf, which had been seen in this area a few days ago. But on a closer look, it wasn’t the same. We also saw what was probably the same sei whale from the morning, doing the same thing and a small group of spotted dolphin.

The weather has turned a bit windy again, so hopefully a bit of time to check out the new sperm whale flukes with the matching program.

You can see all of the 295 July sightings on Seafari App sightings July 2020.

Azores: Cetaceans galore

We had a full day out on the catamaran on 24 July.

The lookout to the north had seen a couple of sei whales, while the lookout to the south had only seen dolphin. By the time we got to the north, the sei whales had disappeared. But there were hundreds of spotted dolphin feeding on horse mackerel along with Cory’s shearwaters. After watching for a while, we carried on a bit further offshore to one of the areas that is usually good for finding sperm whales. Just after hearing some sperm whale clicks on the hydrophone, we came across a loggerhead turtle eating a piece of squid! That squid was probably vomited by a sperm whale, so we knew we were on the right track. When sperm whales eat squid, they do not digest the beaks. After a time, the beaks become uncomfortable and the whale will vomit to get rid off them. By default, anything they have recently eaten will also come up, so we sometimes see chunks of squid or deep sea octopus at the surface when sperm whales have passed by.

At the end of the squid crumb trail we found a group of socialising sperm whales. One individual did four breaches and the juveniles and a calf were lobtailing and throwing their tails around in a social group. Unfortunately, when the whales are socialising, they do not usually show their flukes, since they aren’t diving. I managed to get one fluke of one individual that did make a deep dive at the very start of the encounter and then got the same fluke as she dived in preparation for a breach. It appears that she could be pregnant, looking at the size of her belly visible in one of the breaches. Sperm whales breed all year, since they do not depend on migrating to warm waters to have their calves. I guess if she is around later this year or next year, we may have our answer, if there is a small calf with her. She was accompanied by a calf in the suckling position before she dived the first time. Sperm whale females will suckle another female’s calf, since they live together their whole life, the favour will be repaid sometime in the future.

We also had a group of over 500 spotted dolphin feeding on mackerel along with 1000 or so Cory’s shearwaters. One individual had a lot of barnacles attached around its mouth. I have seen this occasionally on bottlenose dolphin and do not know if they have an impact on the dolphin’s ability to feed; this one certainly did not look skinny. This seems to happen when there is an injury to the jaw and the teeth become exposed for the barnacles to attach to.

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On 25 July we managed to avoid most of the rain showers and followed the lookout’s directions to four feeding sei whales accompanied by spotted dolphin. There is a lot of bait fish around for the sei whales to eat, which is why they are hanging around. Then it was out to the area where the sperm whales were. Out there, we also found another sei whale and striped dolphin too. The sperm whales have been seen before, one in 2015, another last year and the third one on 7 July. I thought I recognised one of the sei whales from the other day, but although the dorsal fins are similar, they are not the same. We also stumbled across a small group of Risso’s dolphin on the way to the whales, but were not able to spend much time with them, since the lookout kept telling us to get a move on!

The weather did not co-operate for a full day on 26 July, but we had a fantastic morning.

We started with a small group of spotted dolphin on the way to sperm whales. We just missed two flukes by 10 minutes, so we had to wait a bit to get our first whale. It turned out to be “2578” one of the “Whitehead” group. We saw another individual, but it fluked in a wave, so no ID on the second individual. It was quite bouncy out where the sperm whales were and they were heading into the waves, so we headed back towards shore where the lookout spotted a sei whale with some dolphin.

It turned into an incredible sighting of three individuals, including a mother & calf. The calf showed a bit of interest in the boat, with the mother patiently waiting for it to go back to her! There was a sighting of a mother & calf sei whale a couple of days ago in São Miguel, about 125 nm away from Horta. I have sent the dorsal fin ID photos of one of the biologists over there to see if these are the same individuals. Most sei whales passing through the Azores are headed towards Labrador, based on some tagging done by the University of the Azores, but there seem to be some individuals that do not make the long trip, instead preferring to find fish further south. At the moment, there is quite a lot of baitfish around here. They were seen feeding on snipe fish a couple days ago and we saw some mackerel bait balls in the north of the island two days ago.

There is a bit of wind arriving later this week, but until it arrives, I will be going out to see what is around. There are a few whale watching tourists around at the moment, which means that the support from Biosphere Expeditions will last a bit longer, if I can hitch rides with them.

Azores: Fantastic weather & sightings

The weather is fantastic, long may it last! There are still daily sightings of sperm whales and on 21 July, I re-sighted three individuals from the “Winter Whales” group. Two of this group were first sighted on 22 May, so they have been around for quite a while. I have started thinking that maybe this group tends to stick around the Azores all year round, since we have had now had sightings of them in spring, summer, autumn and winter, although not always in the same year. I don’t know where the other members of the group were today, but my colleague from Lajes had said they had been seeing the group a week ago.

We also had sightings of a small group of shy bottlenose dolphin, spotted dolphin, a group of elusive Risso’s dolphin and a huge group of travelling common dolphin, almost an unbelievable sight as they came towards and then past the boat. There were some very tiny newborn babies leaping alongside their mothers as they went. One dolphin kept leaping and crashing down onto its right side. Sometimes this behaviour is to try and dislodge a remora, which has attached itself to the dolphin, but in this case, we couldn’t see any.

On the 22 July we had another calm day, although a bit overcast. The lookout directed us first to a group of dolphin feeding alongside a couple of sei whales. One of the sei whales appeared to be skim-feeding on one occasion and also did a couple of lunges. We did see one small bait ball and it is likely they were feeding on horse mackerel. We then moved on to the sperm whales, although were interrupted by another sei whale! And after a few flukes, we headed over to some dolphins, then spotted a blow and first thought was another sei whale, but no, this was a sperm whale that surfaced just behind a group of dolphins! This whale has a very distinctive fluke, with a curlicue left end. This whale, “1702”, was first seen in 1993! It has also been seen in 2011. The other three animals had been seen on 3 & 4 July this year.

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We finally had a change of scenery on 23 July and were able to get to the north of Faial. A lookout that is usually on the south of Faial, changed his spot. It paid off! There were a lot of sperm whales about 3-4 miles offshore, including a brand new baby. This calf had probably been born over the last few days, the tail and dorsal fin were still floppy! We could also see the foetal folds very clearly, another indication of a very young animal. When its mother finally dived, the little calf came over to investigate one of the whale watching boats, unfortunately, not ours! We were quite green with envy as the calf circled the other boat three times. When the mothers dive, the boats are the biggest thing left at the surface and I think that sometimes, the new babies are confused and think we are another whale! The mother of the calf was seen last year, the others have not been seen previously.

There was also a single sei whale that appeared to be resting or travelling slowly to the northwest. We also came across a shy or deep-feeding group of bottlenose dolphin, which were making dives of 3-4 minutes. We also saw a huge pod of striped dolphin, probably at least 750 animals! They appeared to be travelling to the northwest and avoiding the boats, as they usually do.

Azores: Tons of sightings and a road trip

I have been busy once again. The weather has calmed down allowing us to get to sea for a few days now. We have had a couple of extended days out since there are not many whale watching tourists and these days are funded principally by Biosphere Expeditions, covering the cost of the fuel and the lookout. Other days I go out for half a day, with whale watching clients aboard the boat as well.

On  13 July, we knew there were sperm whales, but there was also a surprise waiting for us after the first fluke. False killer whales! This was the second sighting of 2020. The group was very spread out and there were a few calves seen, including a newborn, with very visible foetal folds. These marks are caused by the calf being folded inside the womb, before birth. At one point, we saw them feeding on mahi mahi (dolphin fish). We got some ID photos of the dorsal fins and after a quick look, a few of the individuals have been seen in previous years. This could be the group that was seen further to the east the other day. This species is somewhat resident and individuals have been sighted in multiple years and between islands. I presented a poster on these findings in Barcelona at the World Marine Mammal Conference in December with some help from Biosphere Expeditions for the conference cost.

The sperm whales were the same group we had seen on 11 July, which includes a couple of animals that have previously been seen in São Miguel, 125 nm to the southeast of Faial. We know that some of these groups move around to the different parts of the Azores, while others seem to prefer one area or another.

On the way back to Horta, we came across a travelling group of bottlenose dolphin. Some of them came to the boat, while others just carried on. We could not spend too much time with them, because they were travelling in the wrong direction. Some of the individuals looked like the resident animals that we can see all year round. We identify them by their dorsal fins.

Then we went to have a look at a dead sperm whale that the lookout had seen earlier in the morning. There was no obvious cause of death and it appeared to have been dead for a few weeks/month at least, because all of the skin was white and the cartilage of the flukes was already decomposing, so there was no possibility of an ID photo. The carcass was towed to the harbour and removed so that the skeleton can be preserved.

And then we came across a large group of Risso’s dolphin on the way to the port. It was a mixed group of the “Faial Ladies” and also some unknown males, according to Karin Hartman of the Nova Atlantis Foundation, who has studied this species for 20 years. There have not been many sightings of this species so far this year, so every sighting is important to know who is around. This species is not boat friendly, yet people are allowed to swim with them. This swimming activity has been shown to affect their behaviour and it may be that the dolphins have got tired of sharing their space and move to another area. We have seen pilot whales more often this year, than Risso’s and they are eating the same food, but swimming is not allowed with the pilot whales. Time will tell if the Risso’s have relocated to a quieter area.

On 17 July we saw a group of sperm whales that have only been seen once before in 2015. We managed to get two flukes, before the group started to come together to socialise. This behaviour renews the social bonds between the individuals of the group, since the females will stay with the same group they are born into for their whole life, while the males will leave somewhere between 13-16 years of age.

On 18 July I made a road (& ferry) trip to Pico. There had been some sightings of Northern Bottlenose whales off Lajes, which is a long way from Horta and we usually don’t get that far during regular trips, so I decided to go out with another company, closer to the “hot zone”. My trip was a success and I got to see a group of about ten bottlenose whales as well as sperm whales, sei whales and bottlenose and spotted dolphin during the afternoon.

Three sei whales appeared to be milling around. They did not seem to be feeding or socialising, so maybe they were resting. We did not spend too long with them, because the sea conditions were not great and it was difficult to keep track of where they were going to surface. We also wanted to get to the bottlenose whales!

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The bottlenose whales only appear in July or August and don’t tend to stick around. It is not known why they migrate down to the Azores, from their habitual northern habitats. Maybe it has to do with removing parasites/diatoms from their skin. Orcas in Alaska are thought to make short trips to warmer water for this purpose and it has recently been hypothesised that baleen whales also get this benefit when they are in warmer waters breeding or having young. The group had covered quite a lot of sea from the morning, by the afternoon, they were halfway back to Horta! I got some good photos of the dorsal fins and for a brief moment thought we had a match to 2010, but the nick is not quite the same.

After the bottlenose whales, we went back to the area where the sperm whales were and got two flukes, which I do not recognise, so will have to run them through the matching program.

19 July saw another busy morning with four sei whales, sperm whales, pilot whales, striped and common dolphin! One of the sperm whales had been seen on 7 July as well.

The group of three sei whales of 20 July were different to the sei whales on 18 July and the lookout had seen others in the area as well. So it would seem that there are some sei whales that are appearing in the Azores during the summer and not making migrations further north to traditional feeding areas. There may be enough food for them to stay further south, like Bryde’s whales do. Good ID photos were obtained for all three dorsal fins and will be matched in the future.

The pilot whales were once again resting at the surface, mothers & calves as well as some larger males were in the group. So far 2020 has been quite good for pilot whale sightings, possibly due to a lack of Risso’s dolphin, which usually chase the pilot whales away, since they are competing for food.

On the way back to Horta, we passed by a group of dolphin, which turned into a group of dolphin and a sei whale! It appeared that there was some feeding going on with the whale tracking some of the dolphins’ movements. The dolphin were a mixed group of common and striped, which were more interested in finding food than playing with the boat, although a few did eventually come over.

And finally on 20 July, we again had “Whitehead’s” group, although I still haven’t got a photograph of her! I know she is there somewhere, so maybe tomorrow. This group has been here since 12 June, which isn’t unusual for them, they usually hang around for a while before disappearing. We also had a couple of groups of spotted dolphin, one of which appeared to be focused on mating. There was one incredible leap several metres high and a couple of the dolphin had some interesting markings, which are being investigated as to what might have caused the white patch in the dorsal fin on one and the dark patch behind the eye in another.

The weather is looking good for the next week, so I am sure we will be out on the water as often as possible.

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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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.

Azores: 13 sperm whales

On Monday the lookout said there were more whales than the group of six that has been here for over a week. So off we went to the south again.

The first few whales we encountered appeared to be socialising, but did not show us their flukes and , one even breached out of the water (no photo unfortunately). The next group, however, settled into a nice rhythm of up and fluke. I don’t think we had more than ten minutes without a whale at the surface. I think at one point we had nine individuals up at the same time spread over half a mile.

After sorting out the photos, I could discern 13 different individuals. So far there is only one match going back to 2009, but I still have a few more individuals to check.

The weather is looking good for the coming week, so hopefully the animals will continue to co-operate.

Azores: Risso’s dolphins, sperm & humpback whales

We spent the weekend out on the water.

Sperm whales and only sperm whales on Saturday. Something interesting is going on with the “1019” group. There was another whale seen in the area, which has never been seen with this group before. “3768”, the “newbie” was first seen in 2009 and then again last year, by me. In between, though, it has been seen a few times in Sao Miguel. So I guess only time will tell if another individual is going to join this group. Female sperm whales normally stay with the same group they were born into, while males will eventually leave when they reach their late teens. This group, however, seems to be a bit flexible. For a long time it was only “1019” and “3186”, but then a few years ago “1198”, “2234” and 2402″ joined them.

Sunday out a bit grey, but this lifted as we left the harbour. The lookout had reported sperm whales and Risso’s dolphin! He lost the Risso’s before we got to the area, but as we were passing through, I caught sight of a dorsal fin and we had found them again. This is the first time Risso’s dolphin have been sighted in 2020. We spent a bit of time getting some ID photos and then headed towards the sperm whales, only to be stopped by the lookout. “Stop, I see a shape in the water. There must be a whale close by”. So stop we did and surprise, surprise, a humpback whale appeared! It is a bit late in the year to be seeing a humpback, but not unheard of. They are usually feeding further north  at this time of year. This whale was on a mission, travelling fairly quickly to the northwest, close to the coast of Pico. Unfortunately, it did not show a fluke for the ID photo, but we did get a photo of the dorsal fin, so will have to hope someone recognises it.

Finally it was time to head to the sperm whales. The lookout sent us off São João, quite a way to the east. We put the hydrophone in and found that the whales were behind us! Oh well, it is very unusual for the lookout to get it wrong, but I guess the whales changed their mind on the direction they wanted to go to. So we had to head back the way we came. Along the way, we came across a second group of Risso’s dolphin! So maybe it is like the bus, you wait a long time and then two turn up at once 🙂

We did eventually make it to the sperm whales and they were the same group as we saw yesterday. “3768” was still there, today with a juvenile and we also saw “1198”. We didn’t have enough time to wait for the other individuals, hopefully tomorrow there will be more.

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Azores: sei whales

Thursday morning the lookout had a “small” surprise for us! A couple of sei whales travelling to the west. Unfortunately the wind and the waves made it difficult to get photos. But I did manage to get one of the dorsal fin ID pics.

Sei whales often pass the Azores a little bit later than the other baleen whales and have actually been seen from April – September. The name sei whale comes from “seje” the Norwegian word for pollock or coalfish, which appear off the coast of Norway at the same time as the sei whales.

We didn’t stay too long with the sei whales, because sperm whales were spotted a little bit further out. Off we went and once again, it was “Whitehead’s” group, although no sign of the lady herself.

It was not the easiest working conditions, blows were difficult to spot, so we had a bumpy ride back to the harbour a bit early, after snapping a photo of “2578” again.

Azores: Whitehead & striped dolphins racing

Today is the holiday of São João in the Azores (St John’s). Usually there is a big festival up by the chapel on the way to the caldeira. Not this year.

We had a lovely sunny day, even if there was a bit more breeze than forecast. We headed once again to the south of Pico, since the vigia had spotted a couple of groups of sperm whales there. We started off the lighthouse at São Mateus and arrived just after one whale had fluked, so we had to wait a bit for the next one to surface.

It was worth the wait, because as she dove, I identified her as 2578, who is part of the “Whitehead” group, one of our very well known groups of sperm whales. Unfortunately, she was heading into the wind and waves, so we decided to head towards the other groups further down the coast. But as we were about to leave, another whale surfaced. This time it was “2776”. It looks like she may be pregnant, since her shape was a bit “rounder” than normal. This would make sense, since her last calf was born in 2014 and they have a calf about every six years. Hopefully we will see a calf soon. “Whitehead” herself will have to wait for another day.

On the way to the other group of sperm whales, we came across a group of striped dolphin. They were not very interested in the boats and decided to go off at speed. This behaviour gives us the opportunity to get some amazing photos as they go. We do not chase the animals to get them to do this behaviour. Just before the dolphins, we spotted a loggerhead turtle basking at the surface.

Then it was time for some more sperm whales. There were two groups, one closer to the coast and one further offshore. We stopped by the offshore group and got two flukes before it was time to head for home. This group I do not know off the top of my head, so will have to run them through the matching program.

The weather looks good, so hopefully we will be out a few more times in the next few days. Maybe will even photograph “Whitehead’s” fluke!

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