Of all the species one can expect to find here in Madeira, there are three which are currently being studied more intensively by local scientific institutions and we happened to meet all three during our tours on this fine day. The species in question are the Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), the Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) and the Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus). Unlike many of the other 25 confirmed species of marine mammals passing through the islands waters, these cetaceans can be encountered all year round. However, it is important to note that Madeira is merely one of the many temporary habitats for animals roaming the North Eastern Atlantic Ocean.
The trips today were my first after attending the final MARCET meeting in the Canaries, an international network of scientists and whale-watching countries including participants and stakeholders from the Azores, Madeira, the Canaries, Cape Verde and Senegal. The aim of this multidisciplinary project is in essence the efficient exchange of knowledge and monitoring of cetacean populations around the region. This will lead to a better understanding of how cetaceans move around these areas and how they use them as a habitat, which is vital knowledge when promoting their conservation and minimising human pressure.
Each of the species encountered today occur around all the archipelagos which highlights the importance of these areas for the animals. The Bottlenose dolphin communities move opportunistically and in fluid formations around Macaronesia, with resident groups present in coastal waters of both Madeira and the Canaries. The Short-finned pilot whale groups tend to prefer deeper waters and show a significant relationship to the Canaries and Madeira as a habitat. Some tagged resident groups of these jet-black deep-divers have given further insight into their migration patterns amongst the islands. The relationship of Bottlenose dolphins and Short-finned pilot whales to the islands also makes them ideal ecological indicators for the health of marine ecosystems in Macaronesia.
Sperm whales are still an enigma for local scientists with the largest amount of collected data in the Azores, where they are encountered very frequently. Their wide movements in Macaronesia will soon be better understood through the collaborative effort of the Whale Tales project; another parallel network project where genetic and photo material of different individuals are studied.
In a nutshell knowledge is everything and there is still so much to learn. Understanding the culture and movement of these animals is a key process in ensuring their protection, so Lobosonda is proud to not only share wonderful sightings with the animals with our guests as we did today but is also happy to provide all the support we can so that we learn more about these inspiring creatures.
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
10:00 Bottlenose dolphins, Short-finned pilot whales
14:30 Bottlenose dolphins, Short-finned pilot whales, Sperm whales
10:00 Bottlenose dolphins, Short-finned pilot whales, Sperm whales
15:00 Bottlenose dolphins, Short-finned pilot whales, Sperm whales