What was supposed to be a dolphin swim turned out to become an extraordinary whale watching trip!
On a sunny morning in July we left the harbour in Lajes, where Frank recently opened a new shop. We are operating from both Madalena and Lajes now, the two largest cities on Pico Island.
Once on the water, we soon encountered a pod of Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis), which is endemic to the temperate and tropical areas of the Atlantic Ocean. We put the swimmers (two at a time) in the water and they had a really good time with the animals. After a while, one of our vigias got exciting news: He had spotted rare Northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus)! This species is also endemic to the North Atlantic Ocean and belongs to the group of the beaked whales (Ziphiidae).
Beaked whales are one of the least known groups of mammals because of their deep-sea habitat, mysterious habits, and apparent low abundance. It was hunted heavily in Norway and England, leaving an estimated population of approx. 10,000 animals.
We took off and approached them very slowly and carefully. There were four or five animals traveling together, showing impressive blows!
As we were aiming to continue the ‘dolphin swim’, we looked for some bottlenose dolphins due to the advices of the vigia. We found false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) instead! A few of the approximately 30 animals surrounded the boat, definitely very curios, and surfaced right next to the boat. One of the bigger males (they can grow up to 6 meters) even rubbed its belly against the boat- outstanding!
The False Killer Whale has not been extensively studied in the wild; much of the data about it has been derived by examining stranded animals.
We could not find any words to describe this very special encounter! It was the first time in 2011, that false killer whales were seen in the Azorean waters.
After all we had seen that day, we also found a pod of short finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus), the second largest member of the oceanic dolphin family (Delphinidae).
Both false killer and pilot whales belong to Blackfish, which consists in 6 species of cetaceans (orca, long and short finned pilot whale, melon- headed whale, pygmy killer whale and false killer whale) They are commonly called whales but classified scientifically in the Delphinidae or oceanic dolphin family.
Four species in one trip, two rare sightings, close encounters – What an incredible day!
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