Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) belong to some of Portugal’s most emblematic species. Until 1981 theses magnificent animals were hunted in Madeira, with the enormous oil reservoir in their heads, the spermaceti, being one of the main prizes of such pursuits. In the wild, the spermaceti enhances and modifies the animals powerful biosonar, which serves as a compass, means of communication and weapon. After the end of the whaling era Madeira declared its waters a sanctuary for cetacean species in 1986 and this allowed a gradual recovery of Sperm whale populations.
Today Sperm whales visit the islands waters throughout the year with the majority of sightings consisting of relatively stable groups of females and young animals. We do, however, also have several male animals coming to the islands waters, often even enormous nomadic bulls. These huge cetaceans can be quite timid and difficult to approach, but our team managed a lovely sighting with big animal resting in between dives this morning before we continued our searcher Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) for our snorkelling tour.
More Sperm whale action was in store for the guests on board the afternoon tour but our traditional boat had to venture far offshore for the sighting. It was absolutely worth it; this time our spotter found several animals, a few of them young males, resting at the surface between their deep foraging dives before lifting their fluke and disappearing beneath the Atlantic once more.
Sperm whales are perfect proof of that when we set our minds to actively protecting a species we can obtain wonderful results. In many parts of the Atlantic Sperm whales are still victims of noise pollution, a systematic problem that generally endangers cetaceans. We can take comfort, however, in the fact that here in Madeira the animals can feel safe and that scientists are doing their best to keep it that way.
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
14:30 Atlantic spotted dolphins, Sperm whales
10:00 Sperm whales