Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)

Well, we had two shore days back to back thanks to high winds all around the islands.

Tuesday night Ricardo Fernandes, a masters student at the University of the Azores and one of our placement students from 2012, came and gave us a presentation on Bryde’s whales, which are the subject of his master’s thesis.

When Biosphere Expeditions talks about capacity-building, this is one of the many ways we do it. Biosphere regularly offers ‘placements’ to local students/people. They become a fully-fledged part of the team and learn right alongside our citizen scientists on expedition. For volunteers it’s a great way to meet locals, and for the locals it’s a meaningful learning experience and cultural exchange. Ricardo is using many of scientist Lisa’s identification photos taken over the more than 20 years she’s been working in the Azores.

Wednesday was a ‘dolphin day’ due to windy weather preventing us straying too far from the channel between Pico & Faial. Luckily we encountered a large feeding group of common dolphin about five minutes after we left the dock!

It wasn’t too windy on the 24th and the lookouts said they had whales and out we went. We found a couple of fin whales with a sei whale trying to blend in! Luckily the photos proved that there was a sneaky sei whale amongst fins. After those encounters we then went down the south of Pico and found some sperm whales. It as most likely a group of young males with two larger animals. In all we identified five different individuals. Lisa came back to the dock with a big smile on her face.

Yesterday we had more wind from the southwest, which meant we were going to search on the north side of Pico where we would have some shelter. The lookout that is normally on the south coast went to the north to spot for us. We put the hydrophone out and had a few listens before the lookout called to say he had found some baleen whales.

We followed his directions and found three feeding sei whales milling about. Two came quite close to the boat as they milled around giving us great ID shots. One even had a hole in its fin! This one was named “Punk Rocker” for the “piercing mark”. Then off we went with the hydrophone deployed again looking for sperm whales.

We heard them eventually, but they proved elusive & we never did see them, much to Lisa’s frustration. However, the day was not done yet, as Catherine had some eagle eyes on the way back and spotted a blow. The skipper thought it was going to be the same sei whales as before, but it was verified from the photographs to be a different one! So in all, we identified four sei whales.

Kudos to Team 2 for bundling up in their Buffs and their waterproofs and braving the wind and large waves. We appreciate your flexibility and team spirit in spite of the challenging weather.

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Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago

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