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

Thursday we had four encounters with blue whales, one of them a breathtaking experience. The joke on board the Physeter was, “Now we know what blue whales play with—us!” because our first blue whale of the day circled the boat three times before heading off on a deep dive—directly under us! A couple of fin whales, one humpback, and encounters with common dolphins as the first and last encounters rounded out the day.

Friday the team had another remarkable day. First, the team reported a random sighting of the sun 🙂

Our first cetacean encounter was with two blue whales and a fin feeding together. It was another action-packed day with plenty of whales spotted by the vigias, as well as several random sightings of animals we spotted on our own. “Eyes to the back of the boat” was the motto of the day, and sure enough, many of the cetaceans chose to sneak up behind us today. We spotted an uncooperative humpback, which only fluked once. Luckily our photographer for the day, Simon, caught it right as its tail disappeared into a wave.

Humpback whales are unusual here in the Azores, and while there were reports of a few sightings of humpbacks before team 3, only team 3 actually saw them. Counting today’s last humpback encounter, Lisa was downright giddy that this was our fifth individual seen this season.

Another unusual occurrences war the “norm” for team 3; Lisa had just pointed out a few petrels – a species of bird that is generally not present this time of year – and had commented on how she had never before seen so many. There were around 150 birds and then we saw the reason why; they were feeding on a dead whale.

We estimated that the whale carcass was about 3-4 months old. Indeed, it was far gone (luckily our skipper kept us upwind). The species was unidentifiable, but the enormous amount of floating blubber did not leave any doubt as to what it was. In general the team agreed that it was a privilege to see the dead whale, an honour to bear witness to the cycle of life having also seen young whale calves during our time here. We also were privileged to see several blue whales, pilot fish, and the now-positively identified Wilson’s storm petrels.

A big thank-you to all team 3 members for your hard work. Your efforts catalogued:

Bottlenose dolphins – 0 encounters (much to Martina’s dismay…)

Common Dolphins – 18 encounters totalling 522 animals

Risso’s dolphins – 4 encounter totalling 36 animals

Fin whales – 11 encounters totalling 19 animals

Sei whales – 9 encounters totalling 11 animals

Blue whales – 16 encounters totalling 21 animals

Humpback whales – 5 encounters with 5 individuals

Sperm whales – 22 encounters with 15 identified individuals

and

Loggerhead turtles – 4 encounters with 4 individuals (with 1 tagged)

Saturday was the last day of the expedition and we obviously did our training job well in the Azores because after we said good-bye to team 3, I received a phone call from Martina at the airport…Diana had spotted a fluke! The two confirmed a humpback whale right off the coast of the island. Good work team!

Indeed good work everyone this year! A sincere thanks to all our hard working participants who came out with us this year. Your contributions in effort and time really made a difference in our research here – we simply would not have been out on the sea at this incredible time without you making this expedition happen. Thanks for braving bad weather, choppy seas, seasickness and POPA paperwork.

Overall stats for all three slots combined:

Bottlenose dolphins – 8 encounters totalling 60 animals

Common dolphins – 62 encounters totalling 1429 animals

Risso’s dolphins – 8 encounter totalling 82 animals

Fin whales – 20 encounters totalling 36 animals

Sei whales – 21 encounters totalling 37 animals

Blue whales – 19 encounters totalling 25 animals

Humpback whales – 5 encounters with 5 individuals

Sperm whales – 91 encounters totalling 276 animals

and

Loggerhead turtles – 11 encounters with 11 individuals

Leatherback turtles – 1 encounter with 1 individual

It was great to meet all of you and a privilege for Lisa and I to work alongside you. I hope to see you on another expedition. Can someone give me a water temperature please?

Alisa

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

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