05.03.2019 – Birds, birds and more birds
I always tell our guests that we try to keep a sharp lookout for birds circling an area when looking for cetaceans, a little trick that is especially useful for our crew on choppy days like today. The Stenella set out onto a heaving Atlantic ocean with a fixed heading; Carlos spotted an area full of birds displaying hunting activity.
It was an absolute spectacle; as we arrived several species of birds had already congregated over an area brimming with hunting Short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis). Apart from several Yellow-legged gulls (Larus michahellis), Cory’s shearwater (Calonectris borealis) and Manx shearwaters (Puffinus p. puffinus), we were also able to witness plunge diving behaviour of at least a dozen beautiful Northern Gannets (Morus bassanus). As they dive to catch fish at the surface, the birds fold their wings along their sides and drop like a missile into the ocean. Several shearwaters also pursued the hunting dolphins before landing at the surface and lifting their wings before diving for fish. As they surfaced, the small birds had to carefully dodge the swift maneuveurs of the cetaceans as the dorsal fins sliced through the surface like knives.
This dramatic scene was suddenly interrupted by the dolphins hastily swimming out into the open ocean. We could only follow the animals up to a certain distance because the wind was picking up but this event was just as dramatic as the previous one. The high speed swimming of the commons could fully be appreciated, with the animals leaping high above the waves in synchrony followed closely by a group of equally agile Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba). We related this sudden turn of events to their prey moving offshore but soon realized that it may have been due to the Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops trunctus) approaching the area. These larger delphinids often bully smaller species away from their prey causing them to hastily move offshore. The bosses of all oceanic delphinids here in Madeira leapt alongside the Stenella and soon it was time to head back. We arrived in Calheta a little soaked from the trip but all agreed that it was absolutely worth it!
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
10:00 Bottlenose dolphins, Short-beaked common dolphins, Striped dolphins