18.01.2020 – The cheeky and the sneaky
The conditions were surprisingly summery today as we set off on our Stenella. Our spotter soon found a compact group of Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). The careful approach of our captain bore fruit; many of the animals carefully approached our zodiac to ride the waves at our bow, granting our guests a generous glance at these curious dolphins through the crystal clear surface waters. We moved on to a large but dispersed group of my personal favourites, the Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis). I had already mentioned the charisma of these cheeky little dolphins to our younger guests who were delighted at meeting so many of them and having the opportunity of watching them energetically dart out of the water as we accelerated. Our spotter suddenly saw an enormous spout not far from the sightings area of the dolphins and, naturally, we sped right to where it had been spotted. Baleen whales can be awfully timid and sneaky so even if our spotter locates one of these gentle giants, its not always easy to enjoin actual sighting with them. As we discovered a basking Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), the whale’s dorsal fin briefly breached the surface before disappearing again, as if it understood that we were distracted from our search. So sneaky…
The afternoon tour was dominated by our two Stenella species who are closely related but extremely different. The Atlantic spotted dolphins displayed their usual curious and dynamic behaviour while the notoriously shy Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) surprised us with some leaps and bow-riding near our zodiac. After enjoying these lovely sightings, we also had the pleasure of having our Portuguese Man O’War (Physalis physalis) premiere for the decade. These highly venomous drifters enter Madeira’s waters at this time of the year and feed on small fish at the surface, that make the fatal mistake of using the siphonophore as a shelter from other predators. The Man O’War then stings the animal, before devouring it slowly while its prey is still alive but unable to move. Quite a brutal way to go and the remains of the Man O’War’s last meal, some fish scales and bones, were still visible near the animal’s deadly tentacles. Another sneaky predator to wrap up a great day at sea!
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
10:00 Atlantic spotted dolphins, Bottlenose dolphins, Loggerhead turtle
15:00 Atlantic spotted dolphins, Striped dolphins, Portuguese Man O’War