02.09.2018 – “Bom domingo”
You know it’s a good Sunday if you kick off your morning with a whale sighting! Our Stenella sped out of the marina today in pursuit of a Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis) our spotter managed to locate out on the Atlantic. These whales are the fourth-largest known balaenopterids, only preceded by the enormous Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), the sleek Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) and the amiable Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). Their common name “Sei whale” originated in Norway. A large abundance of plankton near the coast of Norway used to attract these rorquals along with pollock, a type of codfish commonly known as seiin Norwegian. Since these large animals prefer to travel and forage in waters further off the coast we searched an area 5 nautical miles off Jardim do Mar to find the animal and managed to provide our guests with a short but sweet sighting of these magnificent but particularly shy cetaceans.
Sei whales usually display rather evasive behaviour towards boats and tend to engage in short shallow dives, where they frequently change direction and could resurface anywhere at any given time. You can’t blame them; large scale commercial whaling in the 19th and 20th century lead to an alarming decline in worldwide populations. Today, despite the fact that the species is strictly protected internationally allowing populations to gradually recover, they are still relentlessly killed and exploited in some parts of the world. Over 130 Sei whales were killed in the Pacific last year alone during Japan’s annual controversial research programm.
Despite this, there are some occasions, however, where they get curious and may circle our boats for some time. Today this was not the case but our leave of the whale facilitated a lovely sighting involving Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba), an impressive oceanic dolphin species renowned for its unique group dynamic. In the centre of the pod we were able to spot some tiny calves, displaying the same effortless agility of their older peers as they leapt over the waves.
Our guests aboard our traditional boat enjoyed sightings involving Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) and Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus). These cetacean species are amongst the most efficiently documented and monitored using Photo-ID catalogues amongst researchers in Madeira. Sperm whales can be recognised individually by the contours on their flukes, which they raise before they plunge vertically into the deep, dark ocean. Pilot whales, like all delphinids, can be identified through their dorsal fins and monitoring efforts on this species has shown that certain animals show site fidelity to the waters of the archipelago.
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
13:30 Short-finned pilot whales, Sperm whales
09:00 Sei whale, Striped dolphins