The last day of January had a special feel to it. The air around the ocean was misty making the horizon practically invisible and it almost seemed like the vast Atlantic Ocean was merging with the sky. The eternal stretch of the sky is closely matched by the depths of the waters stretching away from the island towards the open ocean. Madeira’s underwater topology is a reflection of the island’s landscape and consists of steep plains and plateaus, accommodating an incredible diversity of marine life particularly macro-fauna like cetaceans.
Of all the 27 confirmed species that occur here in Madeira, the two best documented and most frequently sighted species are the Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and the Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus). Through a combination of photo-identification and genetic material from the field, biologists studying these animals are getting closer to understanding the social dynamics of their communities around Madeira. Interestingly enough, there are areas along the south coast where these species have been encountered most frequently; our company already regards them as hotspots.
The Bottlenose dolphins tend to socialise and travel discreetly through the waters outside Madalena do Mar and near Tabua, a village close to Ribeira Brava further east. Today we also in fact met two different groups of Bottlenose swimming through exactly these areas. When these adaptive and gregarious cetaceans hunt for squid, they are thought to seek the company and expertise of the deep-diving pilot whales around the island. However, in order to meet their intelligent friends the Bottlenose must venture far offshore to waters with a depth of at least 1000m. This is designated pilot whale territory; we usually meet these impressive masters of the deep around 3-4 nautical miles away from the coast. Pilot whales are also encountered very frequently in the waters further east close to Funchal, which is where we found them today. The group was calmly swimming through the glassy Atlantic gliding beneath the surface near our zodiac.
What a fantastic day; it simply never gets boring with these magnificent creatures!
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
15:00 Bottlenose dolphins, Short-finned pilot whales, Loggerhead turtle