Madeira happens to be an important habitat for one of the most charismatic cetaceans around, the Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus). These gorgeous and gentle cetaceans form matrilineal societies, where females remain with their birth pods their entire lives and are responsible for passing the unique culture of the group down several generations. Males are much larger and leave their birth pods once they’ve hit maturity to form bachelor pods with other males, only returning to female pods to mate. The large, dispersed group we encountered today consisted of females, a few large bulls and several little calves all scattered across the waters in front of Madalena do Mar. The tight family bonds amongst the pilot whales were instantly visible in the second group, as the animals carefully drifted by our boat and socialised at the surface.
These strong bonds largely facilitate the protection of the group and their culture but may also lead to the demise of the entire herd, rather than just the death of a few animals. Pilot whales never abandon one another, even in the face of certain death. This may lead to mass strandings, particularly of Long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas), like the most recent one in Tasmania on Monday where over 380 animals met their sad end. The unbreakable bonds between the pod members also means hunting them is easy; whalers in Taiji, Japan or in the Faroe Islands only need to trap a few animals to lure in their entire pods. This sad exploitation of the close relationships between these animals should only motivate us even more to ensuring their protection.
Lobosonda makes donations to Ric O Barry’s Dolphin Project, who are the largest NGO set on stopping the brutal massacres of cetaceans and set on keeping them in the wild. To follow their work and support their cause check out https://www.dolphinproject.com/.
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
10:00 Short-finned pilot whales