Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) belong to Madeira’s most emblematic species. These peaceful cetaceans can be encountered in the island’s water all year round and, amongst then many pods visiting Madeira, local scientists have even identified a few resident pods.
Pilot whales are usually encountered resting with their fellow pod members at the surface, a behaviour frequently referred to as logging. These deep-diving cetaceans definitely need their rest after their metabolically expensive sprint dives to forage for prey. They also use their time at the surface to socialise which in turn serves to strengthen the family’s bond. Unlike oceanic dolphins like the Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), all members of the pod are responsible for raising and nursing the calves to the point that even infertile females produce milk for their family members progeny to suckle.
Just like the pilot whales share this responsibility to care for their calves, us whale-watching companies share a responsibility in caring for them. A recent publication shows that about 10% of encountered pilot whales by whale-watching boats were identified as island-associated individuals, belonging to pods that frequently visit the archipelagos waters. This high exposure rate could have consequences for the populations of these formidable predators in Madeira’s waters, so it’s up to the crew at sea and our spotters to keep our impact at a minimum during an observation.
The wind picked up in the afternoon and the peaceful pilot whales had moved on to Funchal and were thus far out of range for our traditional boat, which returned to the marina without a sighting.
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
10:00 Short-finned pilot whales
15:00 No sighting