Finding cetaceans out on the vast, deep blue Atlantic is always challenge and our team loves challenges! This is especially true for our talented spotter, Carlos, who is a central and decisive figure when it comes to observations out on the ocean.
One of the most challenging tours for our team is the Snorkelling tour in the morning since we target two very specific species of dolphins. during this trip; the Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) and the short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis). Finding either one of these two species is the priority and, despite the large abundance of spotted dolphins during the summer months here in Madeira, this isn’t always easy. Often we only manage to find small groups of animals that aren’t necessarily in the mood for an interaction or are engaged in a behaviour where they should not be disturbed. So if Carlos finds several groups of spotted dolphins, he must also determine which one is best suited for snorkeling. Moreover the spotted dolphins possess a very similar group dynamic to their more timid taxonomic cousins, the Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba), making them difficult to distinguish from afar.
This brings us to our next challenge; the challenge of approaching shy animals. Obviously it’s always. good to know beforehand what species we are about to encounter to adapt our approach to their expected reaction. Determining the species is also quite a remarkable piece of work by our spotter and placing the boat in the right area to approach a particularly shy group of cetaceans, such as the Striped dolphins, is demanding work for both spotter and skipper. Striped dolphins usually approach the islands waters in compact nursery groups that contain calves the size of bowling pins, making these animals particularly cautious with boats. When the Striped avoid our boats they also do so in an agile, swift manner, darting off at speeds of up to 30km/h. Spotter and skipper try to keep up to allow an observation from a distance since we don’t want to stress the animals any further and getting that balance right requires a significant amount of experience which, thankfully, our team has.
Very often, weather conditions may not make things easy for our hard-working vigia and, on other days, a lack of animals roaming the Southwestern waters often makes our search for cetaceans similar to trying to find a needle in a haystack. We had one of those haystack days today; brilliant conditions on what felt like an empty ocean. Again, strategic thinking on the part of our team is important here; which area is worth our search? How can we cover as much area as possible? Sometimes we get lucky and other times we return without a sighting which was unfortunately the case on our afternoon trips today.
It was a day full of challenges but we are thankful for each and every one of them. It is a pleasure for all members of our team to face the odds and try and plant a smile on the faces of our guests. Every challenge we overcome makes us feel wiser and shows what great teamwork can achieve!
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
09:00 Striped dolphins
13:30 No cetacean sighting, Loggerhead turtle
09:00 Atlantic spotted dolphins (snorkeling), Striped dolphins
12:00 No cetacean sighting, Loggerhead turtle