Todays rain forecast left our team anticipating a rather grey day but things turned out to be quite the opposite. The partially cloudy sky soon opened up to let in some warm sunshine, lifting the spirits of both our team and our excited guests. Our zodiac left the marina shortly after 10’ o clock and sped west to find a group of dolphins that our spotter had located just 3 nautical miles outside Paul do Mar, at the edge of the underwater plateau framing the Southwestern tip of the island. At first, Carlos assumed they were Short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) but the speed and swim behaviour of the group made them difficult to track. This sounded more like Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruloalba), an evasive species that is more difficult to track and observe.
As we entered the area, Carlos lost sight of the animals and continued searching while we used the time to admire several Portuguese Man O’Wars (Physalis physalis) that were decorating the oceans surface. The colonial cnidarians turn up in large numbers around the island at the beginning of spring and often find themselves washed onto the beaches of the island, often resembling a piece of plastic. This is why we always recommend beach-cleaners take this into account and wear gloves when removing debris from our beaches!
Our captain also approached a drawn in long-line ridden with Black-scabbard fish (A.carbo). The catch must’ve been relatively fresh, since the scabbards still had copper-coloured skin as opposed to the black colour seen on the dead animals in the supermarkets and markets. Scabbards are mesopelagic predators and inhabit the deeper layers of the water, a fragile ecosystem which we still know too little about. I therefore humbly recommend you to vary your fish consumption in Madeira and to enjoy scabbard, locally known as espada, in moderation.
Soon, the call from our spotter came; he had found the dolphins! The area was marked by a large group of Cory’s Shearwater (Calonectris borealis) and as we approached we soon realised that this was a hunting situation involving a massive group of dolphins. The first to approach were common dolphins, confirming Carlos’s first hunch but soon a handful of Striped dolphins joined in and leapt near our boat, flashing their beautiful flank pattern at our guests. Striped dolphins rarely approach but, every so often and particularly in the presence of another species, they get curious.
We soon began our return to the marina, already grateful for this unexpectedly eventful tour before, suddenly, a large shark launched itself out of the water. Daniels assumption was that it may have been a Mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) and our guests were thrilled at this final cherry on a very colourful cake!
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
10:00 Short-beaked common dolphins, Striped dolphins