What a delightful morning! Both our boats were lead 4 nautical miles off the coast of Madalena do Mar to meet a dispersed pod of Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis). These group consisted of smaller subgroups containing animals of different age-groups; from adult animals with well-developed spot patterns up to cheeky pale grey juvenile animals destined to earn their own individual markings once they hit maturity. Amongst the calm group of adult spotted dolphin was the tiniest, most adorable little calf that was no larger than a bowling pin and energetically appeared and disappeared at the surface the Atlantic. I had never seen such a tiny spotted dolphin calf before…and little did we know that the Atlantic had more delightfully rare sightings in store for us that morning.
The glassy waters allowed our spotter to locate two Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) basking alongside one another at the surface, providing a temporary shelter to a small group of Pilotfish (Naucrates ductur). While it’s not rare to meet a turtle sunbathing here in Madeira, especially in the summer, we usually encounter them by chance and rarely see two individuals doing this together. Marine turtles are known to be solitary nomads in our ocean and already cover hundreds of miles by themselves in the first years of their lives. The encounter today proved that these turtle adventures are not necessarily a lonely experience.
Our spotter then found an animal that is known to live around Madeira but is hardly encountered on the Southwest coast of the island; a Mediterranean Monk seal (Monachus monachus). The species is believed to be the world’s rarest pinniped species, with fewer than 700 individuals making up the few colonies left in the world. One of these colonies, a group of around 30 monk seals, lives on the Desertas islands which today is a natural protected area that is constantly monitored by the natural park of Madeira. In the last months a few sightings of monk seals have also been reported in the waters surrounding the Calheta, but this was an extremely special encounter nonetheless! What a great day at sea!
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
10:00 Atlantic spotted dolphins, Mediterranean monk seal
10:00 Atlantic spotted dolphins, Loggerhead turtles, Mediterranean monk seal