In August, the peak season here on Pico Island is coming to an end. However, this doesn’t mean that we don’t have any whales and dolphins anymore!
In August, we could record at least 13 different cetacean species around the island.
Our Top 5 of the recorded species this month consist of Sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis), Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis), Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus), Pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) and Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus)!
In terms of spectacular sightings, this month has clearly been one of the most amazing months ever recorded here on Pico.
The Sei whales are still around, although it is not the right season to see them regularly. However, it is not just that we could see them every single day this month, but also those animals offered awesome moments for us.
We had astonishingly curious calves coming for an eye-to-eye-encounter to the boat and breathtaking feeding-scenes appearing to be part of the National Geographic program. This year, there is plenty of food around Pico Island, which may be a reason for this usually migratory species to stay for a long time.
All these big bait balls, what those big schools of tiny fish are called, also lure other species to the big Azorean “all-you-can-eat-buffet”. For example, we could spot the Atlantic spotted dolphin likewise every day. Often they were seen feeding at the same places around the bait balls like the Sei whales. While Sei whales prey on Plankton, Krill and small fish, like the Long-spined snipefish, the Atlantic spotted dolphin also likes the small fishes, but additionally enjoys some of the Tuna swimming around. Although the Atlantic spotted dolphin is our smallest species here with up to 2,1 meters in length, there are sometimes fish as big as 1 meter long found in their stomachs. They swallow them completely without chewing beforehand.
In contrast, our local Sperm whales only showed up 82% of the time. Nevertheless, these moments when they go for a foraging dive get always burnt into our hearts. Sperm whales feed mainly on squids of all sizes, but these have less energy content than fish. This fact gets also reflected by their movement adaptations. They move generally slower and between dives they rest for a while at the surface.
This resting behaviour can further be seen in Pilot whales, which we could spot 82% of our trip days, too! They often occur in proximity to sperm whales, because of the same food sources. After catching some of the delicious squids in depths of around 600-900 meters, we can watch them resting at the surface for a long time. Unfortunately, this species is not staying year-round. When it is getting too cold on the Azores, they will leave to tropical waters, but not too far away, around Madeira, we have a resident population.
Still, we have resident population of other dolphin species – like for example the Risso’s dolphins, which we have seen in 79% of our days. These beautiful white creatures are keeping us in their ban every time we see them. This month we had even more reason to be happy! A group of females showed up and got followed by a group of our local males. We could see fabulous jumps of some males to impress the females. The local population is shrinking, so we would appreciate some offspring for the next summer!
Of course, we could also see our other resident dolphins quite often, like the Common dolphins and Bottlenose dolphins.
Another highlight this month was particularly the good sightings of Beaked whales! We came so close that we could identify a good amount of them down to the species. This is hard to fulfil in such an elusive family. Most of the recent knowledge about them came only from stranded, dead individuals, because they are not easy to find and observe.
The sheer amount of wildlife around us makes us so grateful here on the Azores. So, keep tuned what the next month will bring!