2020 was a difficult year for everyone and our team was set on spending the last hours of it in the marvellous company of cetaceans at sea. Our fleet was sent some miles out to meet a pod of Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) and some rather shy Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), while our Stenella even managed an additional sighting with some Short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis).
These colourful dolphins tend to be more abundant during the winter months which may be related to the availability of prey and these dolphins seem to love hunting Halfbeaks (Belone belone). Such feeding situations are particularly fun to watch and could also be enjoyed this morning. When hunting these planktivrous fish, the common dolphins usually gather in small hunting parties of 3-4 animals and coordinate efforts at the surface to gather and scare the fish. Then, 1 animal darts the surface directly into the school of terrified fish and catapults them into the air and the stunned fish are an easy prey once they hit the water.
It’s an incredible event to witness and something we have the pleasure of observing during this time of the year. At this stage, however, it is unclear whether the same groups of common dolphins return to Madeira to engage in these spectacular hunts. Documentations on groups of pilot whales and individual Bottlenose dolphins, species that are encountered all year round and have a higher site fidelity to the islands waters, are much more advanced. Such information is largely based on photo-identification data where the animals are recognised through markings on their dorsal fins. Our team does its best to aid scientists in such identification processes all year round and we often even recognise individuals with distinct markings from our boats.
Our team was happy to end the year with such sightings and that, in the midst of humanity’s struggle with COVID, we must remember that there are so many incredible creatures to save in our oceans. It really is up to us to improve our ways and reduce their struggles so they can continue being the positive ray of light in this world.
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
10:00 Bottlenose dolphins, Short-finned pilot whales
10:00 Bottlenose dolphins, Short-beaked common dolphins, Short-finned pilot whales