Saturday, April 19, 2014

A surprise from blue whales, fin whales and a appearance of our resident sperm whales

We had tours both in the morning and afternoon today. Shortly after leaving the marina in Ponta Delgada one of our marine biologists spotted a large blow from a 'mystery whale' we saw the blow several more times and traveled faster to investigate the area. To our delight the blow was that of a blue whale - the largest animal in the world! We watched the whale surface several times admiring the sheer size and grace that this animal possesses, until it was time to move on and leave the area. The blue whale is a migratory species arriving in the waters of the Azores during the months of March to early June. They are traveling from warmer waters in the south where they have spent the winter reproducing and giving birth. These warm waters offer very little nutrition so this forces the whales to migrate north to the colder waters around Norway, Greenland and Iceland.

Continuing the tour our lookout spotted a group of sperm whales, the only resident species of whale in the Azores. We mainly observe females and their calves here. These whales live in large family groups of about 11 individuals. Male sperm whales are more solitary, they migrate from the colder waters in around Norway and Svalbard, only arriving in the Azores in the summer to mate with females. Males are much larger than females, reaching a maximum length of 20 meters. The sperm whales we watched today were displaying a very common behavior called 'logging'. Between dives sperm whales have to replenish the oxygen stored in their muscles and blood by returning to the surface for more oxygen. The whales remain at the surface of the water, resembling logs, and once they have enough oxygen in their blood and muscles they can dive down to great depths to catch deep water squid.

We had blows everywhere, indicating that there were many whales in the area. The afternoon continued in much the same way. Our lookout spotted the blows of several fin whales and blue whales in a relatively small area. During the afternoon tour we encountered a fin whale and a blue whale. During both tours we also enjoyed the company of some common dolphins. It was truly a very exciting day at sea!

Photos from today:

Blue whale (from the morning)

Two sperm whales

Common dolphin

Fin whale (from the afternoon)

Fin whale (from the afternoon)

Blue whale (from the afternoon)

Blue whale (from the afternoon)

Our fin whales encounters continue

Today in both the morning and afternoon we enjoyed more encounters with fin whales in São Miguel, Azores. Starting in the morning we had two fin whales surfacing beautifully near our boats. Their behaviour was very calm as we have been observing in recent days. We recognised one of the two fin whales from previous encounters on the 14th and 15th of April this year. So, this particular whale has been around São Miguel for at least 4 days, probably feeding along its migration to the cold waters of the North Atlantic. The way we recognise different individuals is by the natural marks they have on their bodies, around the dorsal fin region. The whale we re-identified today has a very distinct dorsal fin with the tip cut. On many occasions we have re-sighted fin whales around São Miguel within one season, but not yet in different years. Each season we build up our photographic catalogue in the hope of learning more about the fin whales (and also blue whales and sei whales) that pass the Azores each year during the spring.

Dolphins did not make a huge appearance during this morning's tour. Only those aboard our catamaran were lucky to have an encounter with a small group of common dolphins. This time of the year the main focus is on the large whales!

Photos from the morning:

Two fin whales surfacing together

The white side of the fin whale

Fin whale

The same fin whale encountered on the 15th of April (above) and today (below)

Watching common dolphins from our catamaran

Common dolphin

Great skua - a rare visitor to the Azores

Photos from the afternoon:

Fin whale white jaw on the right

Fin whale from the left side 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

7 days of fin whales (and a few blues)

On a cold and rainy morning in São Miguel, Azores we enjoyed the presence of fin whales once again. We have now sighted the second largest animal on the planet everyday since last Thursday. Viewing was slightly more difficult today, with the combination of wind and rain, however this did not draw our eyes away from the sea, braving the cold with raincoats and waterproof trousers we were focused on watching this whale cruise through the waves. The whale was diving frequently, indicating feeding behaviour, this is common with the migrating whales arriving in the spring they spend the winter months in warmer waters in the southern oceans mainly giving birth and reproducing. These warm waters are nutrient poor so this forces the whales to travel and find richer feeding grounds in the North of the Atlantic. Once the whales reach the Azores they are very hungry and spend up to several weeks gorging on small fish like mackerel and crustaceans like krill. We also spotted an elusive group of bottlenose dolphins a few miles away from Ponta Delgada.

In the afternoon we started with a fast swimming fin whale, but we ended up with two calm and curious blue whales right next to our boats. Today was one of those days when it is easy to understand why the blue whale got its name; we could clearly see the light blue color through the water and track it for the next surfacing. We ended our tour with a group of common dolphins right outside our marina with lots of new born babies. Another great day at sea!

Photos from the morning:

Photos from the afternoon of the blue whales:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A day among the largest animals in the world

The tour in the morning started raining a little but the horizon was telling us that a great day was waiting for us. The clouds quickly left and a beautiful sunny day welcomed us, first with an encounter with three impressive fin whales, two of them adults and one juvenile. They were really calm, surfacing slowly, so we could enjoy them for a while.

When we still were fascinated by the presence of the second largest animal in the world, our lookout told us that he was seeing something bigger... we went to the place that the lookout told us and we found the largest animal in the world, the blue whale! We were lucky to see it surfacing several times and it even showed us a part of its fluke!

To finish this fantastic tour, the icing on the cake was the encounter with a large group of common dolphins, probably the same group that a few hours before was swimming with one of our boats, leaving a great memory to our happy clients.

In the afternoon we were just as lucky with the two largest animals (blue whale and fin whale respectively). The highlight aboard our catamaran Cetus was a breathtaking encounter with 3 fin whales that were very calm at the surface so that we could observe them very well. We also encountered common dolphins during the afternoon, completing another successful tour on this beautiful blue day.

Video of two fin whales surfacing - filmed from our catamaran in the afternoon

Photos from today:

The fluke of the Blue whale in the afternoon

Blue whale - Baleia azul

Fin whale - Baleia comum

Fin whale surfacing 

Fin whale with São Miguel island in the background

Fin whale blow

Fin whale showing a large part of its body length

Common dolphin

 Cory´s shearwater - Cagarro

 Maite & Veríssimo

 Great Skua - Moleiro grande

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Enjoying the company of the baleen whales and dolphins

One more day, we have all enjoyed the company of baleen whales and dolphins not far from Ponta Delgada. This morning our first encounter was with a small group of common dolphins right outside the marina, but they were not interested on us so we decided to leave them and try to see some of the whales the vigia had already spotted. Not too far we saw a fin whale surfacing. We had some good sightings of the animal, even though it was hard to follow and difficult to predict where it would surface again. We heard on the radio that our catamaran Cetus was in an area with a huge fin whale, which we confirmed when we saw the high blow. We could also watch another fin whale swimming in the area, but smaller than the other two. In total we have seen three different fin whales! Our next encounter was with a big pod of common dolphins, which was much more quiet than the first group seen at the beginning of the trip. Right after, we tried to see another species of dolphin so we drove towards the shore where we could enjoy the company of a group of bottlenose dolphins, with many babies swimming close to their mothers. 

In the afternoon we started with bottlenose dolphins just outside the marina, no more then a minute of travel from our base! Later we continued in rain and we encountered a nice group of common dolphins. After the rain cleared our vigia spotted a larger group of bottlenose dolphins that we accompanied for a while. We recognised some familiar dolphin friends; Submarine and Egípcio. Our vigia then spotted whales, and as we were heading towards the area we found two fin whales (and a loggerhead turtle). Another typical Azorean day on the sea with animals everywhere, often surprising us.

Photos from the morning:

Fin whale blow

Fin whale 

Common dolphin

One of our boats close to Rocha da Relva with dolphins

Photos from the afternoon:

Bottlenose dolphins

Bottlenose dolphin

Bottlenose dolphins very close to the entrance of Ponta Delgada marina

One of our zodiacs with a baby bottlenose dolphin

Fin whale head surfacing

Fin whale 

Baby loggerhead turtle

Heading home after another great day on the water

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cetaceans everywhere close to Ponta Delgada

Today was one of those days in which we had lots of animals around us. We started with two majestic fin whales during our morning tour. Today whale watching didn't take a lot of waiting, very soon after we arrived to the area of the whales they began surfacing close to our boat. An adult and a juvenile. After the whales we went to see common dolphins, but the group that we found had newborn babies and they were a bit shy towards the boats. The babies curiously looked at our boat and we got a quick look at them, and then we decided to leave them alone with their calves. next the ocean gave a little surprise; a small loggerhead turtle. It was on the surface together with a large bit of plastic, that we picked up. We didn't have to go far to find another group of dolphins, but this time it was bottlenose dolphins. They also had babies but were not shy at all, bowriding, jumping and playing around. We also saw them working for the future and some males displaying their strength and agility. After this show we started heading back toward Ponta Delgada, but only two minutes away from the marina we encountered another group of common dolphins, a group of curious adults. 

In the afternoon our first encounter started just 3 minutes into the tour. Just around the corner from our bast in Ponta Delgada marina we encountered a group of bottlenose dolphins. They were very playful and we had the pleasure of seeing a tiny newborn calf. Just a bit further out, but still very close to base, we encountered 3 fin whales. They were different individuals to those from the morning, but they were just as calm and amazing to watch. Within this area we also encountered a loggerhead turtle (again different from the morning) and a beautiful mauve stinger (jellyfish) floating on the surface. After the whales we enjoyed some time with a group of common dolphins near the airport. Through the day the weather was great and it was nice to share another great day on the ocean with the springtime baleen whales.

Photos from the morning:

Fin whale

Fin whale

Fin whale

Turtle and plastic

Our skipper picking up the plastic and further away you can see the turtle

Bottlenose dolphin bowriding

Mother and calf

Calf playing around our boat

Photos from the afternoon:

Bottlenose dolphin just outside of Ponta Delgada marina

Fin whale not far from Ponta Delgada

Fin whale close to Ponta Delgada

 Our boat Alfredo Baleeiro waiting for the fin whales

Two fin whales surfacing

Two fin whales before diving

Loggerhead turtle

Preparing to swim with common dolphins

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