Azores: second day with dolphins and a turtle

We managed to get out to sea again yesterday (Sunday). Our “regular” vigia on the South of Pico was hard at work for us. Unfortunately, he could only spot one group of dolphins. We headed in that direction, but they managed to elude us. On the way we glimpsed a loggerhead turtle eating a Portuguese man o’ war.

Loggerhead turtle eating a Portuguese man o’ war (c) Whale Watch Azores

When there were no other animals seen down that way, we decided to try our luck to the South of Faial.

It took a while, but we finally got a good sighting of common dolphin! Not that they stuck around very long. They seemed to have better things to do than bowride on our boat, except for one group that stayed for about 30 seconds! There were several small groups spread out around the South of Faial. The largest group we saw had maybe 25. Not a lot of calves seen yet, but a couple of juveniles. Hopefully next time, the dolphins might be a bit more interested in us.

The lookout, who also does some fishing, told us that there hasn’t been much krill seen so far this year, which could explain the lack of the big baleen whales. We remain hopeful and will try again. If you want to, you can track our movements by following our sailing yacht “Linda” online.

Our research vessel “Linda”

Thank you again to Biosphere Expeditions and its supporters for the funding!

Azores: first day out at sea, no welcome committee

The first day out at sea was not quite like I imagined! There were no whales or dolphins swarming the boat saying “Where have you been?” We only had one vigia (lookout), a woman doing a PhD for the University, on Monte da Guia. She was looking to the South of Faial and South of the Pico/Faial channel.

We set off around 09:15 in a 10.5 m sailboat called Muito Linda (Very Pretty). There were no sightings from the single vigia looking out. We set sails and headed to the South of Pico where I was expecting to find some shelter from the breeze that hadn’t subsided overnight. We had just crossed the channel, when Irma, the vigia, called to say there were sperm whales about 5 nautical miles (just over 9 km) from our current position. That 5 turned into about 7 by the time we got to the area. We saw one blow, but it disappeared almost as soon as we had seen it. Without a hydrophone to hear the clicks from the whales and the sun now working against the vigia, we could not find the group of sperm whales, although we crisscrossed the area for an hour trying. We started to head back to shore and along the way a single common dolphin crossed our bow, speeding off to the southeast. It didn’t stop to say hello and we couldn’t keep track of it with the white tops on some of the waves.

But it was an extremely good feeling to be back out on the water looking again. The next trip, I should be able to have a directional hydrophone to use, should sperm whales be sighted.

Stay tuned. I will try again.

Azores: first diary entry 2020

This year everything is different. I’m Lisa Steiner and this is the first diary entry for the Azores 2020 (mini) expedition.

Lisa Steiner on the right

I have been the scientist on this expedition for the last sixteen (!) years and normally the expedition leader would write this, but this year everyhing is different.

The coronavirus has stopped the world in its tracks. It’s also made citizen scientist participation in the expedition impossible, so starting tomorrow, I will have a mini expedition with myself, a local skipper and his boat only. Thank you for Biosphere Expeditions, and by extension to all you citizen scientist out there, who are now probably in lockdown at home, for making this possible through your funding!

It’s not been easy to get this mini expedition going. First, Horta harbour is closed to any activity except fishing, so I needed to see if an exemption could be granted for research trips. After clarifying some details, such as I am in fact resident on the island (so no quarantine required), the restriction was lifted as scientific research was deemed professional work, which it is. Then I had to find a suitable private boat (tourist boats are banned from going out). So I called another friend that has a sailing boat and he said OK! Then I had to get a permit for the boat and now we are finally good to go!

So from tomorrow the challenge will be to find  whales. I have contacted a couple of the lookouts to see if they will spot whales for me, since I won’t have a hydrophone to find sperm whales on my own. If things go well tomorrow, I will try to adapt the small directional hydrophone used on the whale watching RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boat) to use on my friend’s yacht.

Watch this space and wish me luck. Hopefully things will go well tomorrow.