Our cetacean research

futurismo research atlantic

Probably you all know Futurismo as a whale watching company, or even as a tourism company that carries out tours on land to discover the islands and at sea to show you the amazing whales and dolphins off the Azores. And you are right. However, we are much more than that.

On this post, we show you what we have been doing during our whale watching trips besides observing whales and dolphins since more than a decade ago. At Futurismo we collect data about the cetaceans we sight during our tours.

We have been doing this consistently since 2008, and we have thousands of records of more than 20 different species of whales and dolphins around São Miguel.

Among other information, we register date and location, species, composition of the group or behaviour of the species we see, and also sea conditions and any other interesting information that might be of interest later. 

If you come to do whale watching with us, you will see our biologists recording the data with a GPS onboard (Fig.1). Once on land, we pass all the info to our database, which is now updated daily after our trips.

At the moment (March 2020), we count with more than 14.000 sightings of 22 different species of whales and dolphins sighted off São Miguel.

However, these data are often supported with photographs. During our whale watching trips you can see our biologists using cameras with powerful lenses taking photos of the animals we see (Fig.2), not only to share with you on social media, but as well very useful for our research.

Photos are a key element to identify individuals. Yes, you have read it properly, individuals! We manage to recognize almost every single whale or dolphin around looking at their photos.

Sometimes it is not an easy task, but often they have marks or scars on their dorsal fins or tails that help us to identify them. This technic, called photo-identification, is used by researchers from all over the world and well established since a long time ago, especially, with the development of digital photography.

Nowadays, in Futurismo we have catalogs of several species of whales and dolphins, that are being updated more or less regularly. Just to give you an example, in our catalog of sperm whales we have more than 400 individuals, identified by tail and dorsal fin; and some of them sighted off São Miguel since more than 15 years ago!

You may wonder now, what do you do with all this information?

Over the years, we have been analysing and working these data while we are on land: our biologists’ office work! We share on our social media our monthly statistics, and so far, we have a good (and realistic) idea of when the different species appear around our island.

Species sighted year-round, which may (or not) be resident around the islands; species sighted seasonally every year; or species that undertake extensive migrations from breeding to feeding areas passing by the archipelago on their route. We have managed to understand the special oceanographic conditions existing in this Mid-Atlantic Ocean, where islands are surrounded by very deep waters, temperature of the water change almost 10 degrees along the year, and ocean circulation creates unique opportunities for life to develop, both for prey and its predators… whales and dolphins.

Furthermore, the photo-identification tool gives us some interesting info too. Over time, we got to know some of the animals that are often sighted here. We recognize families of sperm whales, and some of them you may also know if you follow our blog… Have you ever heard about our most beloved whale Mr. Liable? See the video of our research about this specific sperm whale and our poster about him.

We easily identify some bottlenose dolphins with special features, such as Egyptian with its characteristic pyramidal dorsal fin or Max with that maxilar broken. Or we can even realize if some Risso’s dolphins has came from other island to visit us! At some point, we even miss them after a long time without seeing them, dear old friends…

Some of these amazing results have already been presented in some international conferences. Others have led (and are leading now!) to different Msc. and PhD thesis in collaboration with different European Universities. And some others have been recently published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. You can find a list of our publications here.

Futurismo database has become very important not only for us to learn more about the animals we see, but for some other researchers who study cetaceans too.

Nowadays we are collaborating with different research projects in the Atlantic, so if you want to learn more about them, please stay tuned! 😉

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