When talking about cetaceans I always have to think of a specific quote from Isaac Newton; What we know is a drop, what we don’t know an ocean. Basically there’s many things we don’t know about whales & dolphins and their intricate social lives but what we do know is already incredibly mind-blowing. I had a lovely group of guests on board our zodiac this morning who were all enthusiastic to hear all about these charismatic creatures. We met a total of 3 different species during our tour, all with their own special charm and incredible characteristics.
It’s safe to say that Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are the most well-known of all the toothed whales. Most of what we learnt from dolphins came from experiments involving Bottlenose dolphins in captivity who, due to their incredible ability to adapt to given situations, tend to survive a little longer in enclosures than most other species. Out in the wild, the Bottlenose rule the waters they venture through; swimming over 100km a day in loosely-structured social circles and even actively seeking out interactions with other species. Bottlenose dolphins also feed on an enormous variety of prey from schooling fish at the surface like Atlantic mackerel (Scromber scombrus) up to deep-sea creatures such as squid. Being the opportunists that they are, Bottlenose dolphins often try to steal catch such as the Black Scabbard Fish (Aphanopus carbo) from fisherman and we caught them doing so red-handed this morning! Whether this behaviour results from desperation for prey in an overexploited ocean or whether the dolphins are just making use of a convenient opportunity is written in the stars, but both are possible reasons.
Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) belong to the more frequently sighted species during the summer months and are by far the animals that engage in the most interactions with boats here in Madeira. The spotted dolphins often dart towards us during an encounter, although the small, curious group we encountered today approached us quite discreetly as we entered the sightings area. The fact that spotted are so easy to observe in the wild has made them an extremely important species for scientists studying the language and social lives of dolphins.
Sightings with Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) belong to some of the most sought after sightings by guests on our tours and our encounters with these gentle giants are never short of impressive. The group of female Sperm whales we met this morning were busy hunting and were scattered individually across the waters off the coast of Calheta. It is assumed that Sperm whales hunt individually in the deep but recording the actual events during their foraging dives in the abyss is beyond challenging and remains an exciting mystery…
What a wonderful morning with such lovely guests and these incredible creatures, who continue to challenge and humble us with their incredible lives!
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
10:00 Atlantic spotted dolphins, Bottlenose dolphins, Sperm whales