Our Stenella set out onto the Atlantic twice today on two very different tours. In the morning we were met with dreamy conditions; the sun was out, there was practically no wind and the crystal clear, flat ocean revealed some of its incredible treasures.Our zodiac sped far out to meet a dispersed group of Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) about 4 nautical miles off the coastline. While some of the females seemed more preoccupied with hunting and used their time at the surface to breathe deeply and relax between their dives, others were tending to the little clumsy calves at the surface.
In contrast to oceanic dolphins like the Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) we met on both our tours today, pilot whale pods are matriarchal in nature primarily consisting of females, juveniles and calves. Here, all females join forces in the care and education of the young animals in the pod, a complex collaboration that continues to baffle scientists. When Pilot whales dive to hunt, some females remain at the surface with the young and exchange shifts with the diving females to feed once it’s their turn. The fuel of these tightly-knit circles of deep-divers is their emotional sophistication and the constant nurture of their relationships to one another.
Bottlenose dolphins base their company on choices, very much like humans do, and establish equally complex friendships with other animals that may even last a lifetime. These friendships may already be formed with other younger animals when the dolphins are still calves since the first years of their lives are still spent in nursery groups. Here, the females also help one another in raising the young but the mother is primarily responsible for her little calf.
Today’s sightings are proof of how important Madeira is as a nursery area for young cetaceans particularly for those visiting the island frequently. Towards the end of the afternoon trip our guests got a taste of what these groups of animals are subject to in terms of boat contact. The dispersed group of Bottlenose dolphins we had spotted was surrounded by at least five boats all waiting enter the sightings area. While this is regulated whale-watching, it clearly takes a toll on the social life of these wonderful creatures and only prompts us to be more careful during our own observations. So we kept the sighting short and left the area and enjoyed an adventurous cruise back to Calheta along the coastline.
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
10:00 Bottlenose dolphins, Short-finned pilot whales
15:00 Bottlenose dolphins