13.11.2019 – False pilots
After a sighting of False killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) was reported in the Southwestern waters on Tuesday evening, our team was more than eager to encounter some of these rare visitors out on the Atlantic today. As I was briefing my guests for the tour aboard our zodiac this afternoon, our spotter called urging us to pick up the pace which made our crew anticipate a nice sighting. While our sightings on the ocean were very nice they also were slightly misleading due to a mixture of unusual behaviour, varying appearances and what our team was initially anticipating.
The large and dispersed group of unusually small Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) that both our boats encountered 4 nautical miles off the coast near our marina seemed rather distraught and showed no will to approach our vessels. While evasive behaviour can be observed with all species, the animals seemed to be fleeing from something which prompted us to assume that False orcas or similar blackfish dolphins must’ve been around. Larger delphinids often attack or even kill their smaller taxonomic cousins…and False orcas are notorious culprits in this category. So when our crew saw a black round head erupt out of the water near the Bottlenose dolphins we assumed that the large delphinids charging eastward were False orcas.
But we were wrong. The large, robust, jet-black bodies darting towards Funchal belonged to a scattered group of Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus). The animals were displaying a behaviour that we rarely observe and is more typical of the fearless False orcas. Usually pilot whales use their time at the surface to rest and socialise, in a behaviour referred to as logging. While these cetaceans are in fact extremely strong and fast swimmers, earning them the nickname “cheetahs of the ocean”, we rarely bear witness to this trait at the surface. This may also explain why the Bottlenose dolphins, with whom they usually have harmonious interactions, were so nervous today.
My little mixup did not stop our guests from enjoying this spectacular sighting! How often can you witness individuals belonging to the second largest dolphin species lunging our of the water like they did today? We returned to the marina with smiles on our faces and an understanding that things are not always as they seem.
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
14:30 Bottlenose dolphins, Short-finned pilot whales
15:00 Bottlenose dolphins, Short-finned pilot whales