Hello and welcome from HQ to the first Azores diary entry. We’re packing up and getting ready for you. Our Azores expedition has been running for many years, so most things are in Horta and the expedition packed up looks very small. Crucial bits include a couple of cameras and laptops (which are with our scientist in Horta year-round) for gathering and entering data, as well as some snazzy Swarovski binoculars (new this year and being shipped soon) for spotting whale blows and the animals themselves – that is if you don’t get seasick looking through them 😉
Staff with you will be Alisa and Lisa as per you dossier. You will also have Vera Menges on the first slot. Vera will soon start as our resident biologist in Namibia and before she goes to Africa will spend a week or so with you on the Azores to see what the jobs of expedition leader and expedition scientist entail.
Alisa will soon send you a video diary entry from the USA, where she is getting ready, and here is a video of Lisa and our research
See you soon in Horta!
Slot 3 participants proved to be a terrific team in the last two days. Despite the rough seas and strong winds on the Atlantic, and an ever-bouncing Physeter, we recorded data and captured ID pictures on several loggerhead turtles, fin and blue whales. It was quite gratifying to see team members helping each other, particularly when Friday’s photographer Olga began bounding around the front deck and Yvonne helped by holding her in place on the railing during the animal encounters.
Thursday we were treated to two schools of striped dolphins North of Faial, and numerous sperm whale sightings. Again we were treated to calves suckling on the female whales. Friday brought us two large blue whales swimming together, and then the unusual (yet not unheard of) experience of a fin whale and blue whale swimming together. And to complete the blue whale experience for slot 3, we were able to make quality ID pictures on a blue whale swimming with an adolescent, most likely a calf from last year.
Sightings for team 3: sperm whale – 27 encounters, 55 animals | minke whale – 1 encounters, 1 animal | blue whale – 4 encounters, 6 animals | fin whale – 1 encounter, 1 animal | common dolphin – 10 encounters, 158 animals | bottlenose dolphin – 1 encounters, 4 animals | Risso’s dolphin – 5 encounters, 25 animals | striped dolphins – 2 encounters, 55 animals.
Thanks to all the team members who made this research possible by donating their time, energy and money. Thanks to you all, we were able to make several sperm whale matches to whales seen here in the Azores in previous years. Slot one identified a whale also seen here in 2010. In slot 2 we matched two: one to a whale seen in 2004 and another in 2010. Slot 3 matched whales to 2005, 2007 and 2008.
We also were able to match two blue whales – Slot 1 matched a whale to 2006 and slot 2 matched one to 2010. We don’t have any information as yet on the blue whale matches from slot 3 because the registrar is currently out of the lab.
Lisa also sent off the Rissos dolphins photos, and from slot 3 the mother and calf from the North are recognised animals. And another group of 4 known animals and had been seen further down the coast of Pico the day before.
Thanks as well to Lisa and our skipper Nuno for helping us take part in this important research. They are some of the best cetaceans spotters in the North Atlantic and their expertise led us to seeing more animals than anyone else in the harbour – including other research vessels!
Thank you and I hope to see you again on expedition.
The weather remains challenging as is the visibility and wind, and the team members have had to remain flexible. We had an unusual – and sad – sighting on Sunday when we saw a dead common dolphin. It was missing its tail, and we assume it got caught in a fishing net even though the tuna fisherman here in the Azores use hooks and not nets. Monday was the best day on the water for this slot so far – we saw Risso’s dolphins breaching, a giant sun fish, a loggerhead turtle, and a group of fourteen sperm whales with calves!
Team three has arrived, and with them has come the stormy weather. The seas are too choppy to go out, so today was a slide show and data entry day at base camp. We did do the on-board briefing and familiarized ourselves with the boat and the equipment, and now we wait for the wind to die down.
PS: I forgot to publish the slot 1 sightings, so here they are: sperm whale 12 encounters – 21 animals – 6 calves | common dolphin 22 enc – 603 animals | bottlenose dolphin 1 enc – 2 animals | false killer whale 1 enc – 4 animals | sei whale 6 enc – 20 animals | fin whale 15 enc – 17 animals | blue whale 2 enc – 2 animals.
Slot two has completed their last “turtle time”, and yes, we finally spotted a turtle within the designated turtle time thanks to Sylvia. Lisa bought us a round of drinks and Nigel bought us a round of desserts and it was quite sweet, on all accounts. Just as we finished that celebration, yesterday we finally caught and tagged a loggerhead turtle, so we are quite happy with the turtle sightings this slot.
The second team had a week of terrific weather (Beaufort=1-2, wind=1-2) and once again we had a great variety of animal sightings and made quite a few matches to animals Lisa has previously matched up here in the Azores.
Thank you team 2 – roll on team 3!
Sightings for team 2: sperm whale – 28 encounters, 51 animals, 7 calves | minke whale – 3 encounters, 3 animals | sei whale – 1 encounter, 3 animals | blue whale – 2 encounters, 2 animals | fin whale – 5 encounters, 6 animals | common dolphin – 21 encounters, 800 animals | bottlenose dolphin – 4 encounters, 238 animals | Risso’s dolphin – 5 encounters, 31 animals | striped dolphins – 2 encounters, 230 animals.
Our second group of volunteers has brought very nice weather and some incredible luck for us in our sightings. We continue to have the excellent problem of data coming in so quickly that at times it is difficult to keep up with recording them. A new species for us was sighted on Tuesday when we saw a minke whale. We also had the opportunity to see eleven sperm whales swimming abreast on the surface. Tuesday we also had eight random sightings, which kept Cornelia and Sylvia quite busy on the POPA paperwork.
After a well-deserved shore day on Wednesday, we continued to be lucky in our animal sightings on Thursday and saw striped dolphins swimming in their carousel fashion and a leatherback turtle. We also saw sperm whales exhibiting unusual behavior by sticking their noses out of the water to take a look at neighboring whale watching boats. Both days we sighted the strange and wonderful sun fish. Also on Thursday, several of us on the Physeter had the remarkable good fortune to see a sperm whale breach. We’ll see if we can top that in our last two days.
Our research team for slot two has arrived, and we are coming together nicely as a research team after our first (half) day at sea. We all got a chance to practice our spotting skills with a fin whale with the unusual habit of diving for more than twenty minutes at a time. We also spent some time with the largest grouping of common dolphins to date, a group of 200+.
Our first group is over, and most of the team has gone home. Our last day on the water showed us both the highs and the lows of being on a research team. In the morning we were lucky in our sightings – sperm whales with newborns, more fin whales, and a species not often seen here: false killer whales. We then spent the entire afternoon without any sightings, following transect after transect listening for, and not finding, a last sperm whale.
We did manage to take a group picture, and Axel designed and painted our 2012 Biosphere Expeditions mural on the wharf.
Thank you very much group 1! I’m looking forward to the group 2’s arrival on Saturday.
Today the joke on board the Physeter was “common fin whales” because we usually see a lot of common dolphins, and today every whale we saw was a fin whale! It was also a key day for dolphins – a lone common dolphin bow riding a large fin whale kept letting us know the location of the whale, even when the large male changed direction. Then, just outside the harbour we spotted a new species for this slot, the bottlenose dolphin. Congratulations to Axel, today’s photographer, for setting a new record for the number of photographs taken (1000+!)