The conditions were perfect as we set out to sea aboard our traditional boat this morning and our crew was ready to provide our guests with spectacular sightings at the surface of this vast, generous ocean. Despite the great conditions, there wasn’t a sign of life at the silvery surface apart from a few scattered groups of tired Cory’s shearwaters (Calonectris borealis) who seemed as if they would’ve been just as grateful for a cetacean sighting as our team and guests would’ve been. After a long trip and a short hopeful moment of finding a lonely Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) near the coast of Ribeira Brava, we were forced to return to the marina without a sighting.
Our spotter continued to scan the ocean as the afternoon closed in and finally located a group of around 8 Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus). The animals had just gathered after their foraging dives in the deep and were blissfully enjoying each others company at the surface. The Sperm whales weren’t the only social marine creatures at the surface; a group of Cory’s had finally scored a meal and were collectively tearing at a dead squid carcass. One Cory however wasn’t willing to battle with his peers over the carcass and instead snipped at another colourful but dangerous treat at the surface; a small piece of plastic. Marine birds, particularly Tubenose species such as Shearwaters, Petrels or Albatrosses, are especially susceptible to ingesting plastic and meeting their demise as a result, making them the sad ambassadors for the awful consequences of plastic pollution.
The plastic tide, however, reaches far further than marine birds. The group of Sperm whales were also seen chewing at a plastic white bag at the surface, which was later collected by another whale-watching boat in the sightings area. The good deed may have done this group of Sperm whales a big favour, but the encounter was also a sad reminder of how dangerous plastic is for marine creatures. The Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) that leapt around our boat later on seemed to be plastic-free but are potential victims of the pollutant nonetheless and occasionally injure themselves on drifting long-lines.
If we consider the damage we do to our oceans, we can definitely appreciate the fact that we can still enjoy such sightings with these incredible creatures. The encounters should however also motivate us to live more sustainably in future so that we can continue to enjoy the company of these incredible creatures.
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
10:00 No cetacean sighting
15:00 Atlantic spotted dolphins, Sperm whales