We can’t stress this enough; the word whale encompasses the families of both the toothed whales and the baleen whales. Which means that all dolphins are whales…but not all whales are dolphins. To make things simpler, you can imagine dolphins as “little whales”.
There are, however, a few dolphins whose size and appearance earnt them the word whale into their common name. The smallest of all dolphins who this applies to, is the Pygmy killer whale (Feresa attenuata). This small but rare cetacean usually behaves extremely evasively at sea and is often confused with the closely related Melon-headed whales (Pepanocephala electra) and the False killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens). These elusive cetaceans can be identified at sea through their thick pinkish/white lips and rounded flippers, which are hard features to spot with these fast-moving cetaceans.
The sighting was marvellous and explained why it was virtually impossible to find Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) for our snorkelers since Pygmy orcas often attack and predate on smaller species of dolphin. Our team was able to find a small group of Short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) briskly feeding with tuna during the afternoon tour on the Stenella but the pod disappeared incredibly quickly. In the evening, our team found a large group of Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), a species the Pygmy orcas are less likely to mess with, and a group of Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) that entered the Southwestern waters at the end of the day.
This eventful day out on the ocean showed us how certain species of dolphin can affect the presence of others, another piece of evidence proving how versatile these little whales truly are!
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
10:00 Pygmy killer whales
15:00 Bottlenose dolphins
09:30 Pygmy killer whales
14:00 Short-beaked common dolphins
17:00 Bottlenose dolphins, Striped dolphins