Cetaceans are known to form close relationships and stick together, looking out for each other in difficult times and rescuing one another from dangerous situations. While oceanic dolphins like the Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) often put their social lives on full display during an encounter at sea, this applies to no other dolphin as much as it does to the magnificent pilot whale.
Short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) pods are largely matriarchal in nature, with females collectively investing in the education and care of the younger generations within the group. The animals nurture incredibly close bonds to one another, boasting relationships that even us emotionally sophisticated humans are incapable of empathising with. The solidarity between the animals is so strong, that they even put their own lives at stake when their loved ones are in peril, often leading to mass strandings like the most recent one in New Zealand, where over 200 pilot whales perished. Even in the face of the brutal massacres in the Faroe Islands, the pilot whales remain with their butchered family members, even if it means handing over their own fate to the whalers.
Today was filled with lovely sightings of both spotted dolphins and pilot whales but it ended with a sobering and sad scene with the latter. A pilot whale was seen drifting alongside a white, floating carcass, which we later established was a calf. When approached, the animal would grab the carcass and dive, only to float alongside it a few 100m away again. Like orcas, pilot whales have displayed “grief” like behaviour on a number of occasions, even here in Madeira, which is once again evidence of their emotional intelligence.
We don’t hide these sightings from our guests because they embody a reality we must confront them with. Cetaceans are intelligent, emotional animals that display behaviour that is not to different from our own and we hope that this nudges our guests to do a little bit more to protect them.
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
14:30 Atlantic spotted dolphins, Short-finned pilot whales
10:00 Atlantic spotted dolphins, Short-finned pilot whales
15:00 Atlantic spotted dolphins, Short-finned pilot whales