Today we know that the biggest animal that ever existed on Earth, the Blue Whale, visits the Azores every year, especially in spring, but it wasn’t always like that.
Going back in time, about 45 years ago, a young researcher named Richard Sears fell in love with these magnificent animals when he visited the Quebec region of Canada, more specifically the islands of the Mingan Archipelago.
In these small islands of the great estuary of the Saint Lawrence River, every year the blue whale and other species of baleen whales gather by the dozens or even hundreds to feed.
It was there that he founded the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS), a research center that aims to learn more about these amazing animals. What he most wanted to know was: what were they doing there, where did they come from and where were they going?
This meant that about 25 years ago he visited the Azorean Islands to find out if he could find the blue whales that visited “his” islands every year.
Fortunately, whale watching has been carried out in the Azores for over 30 years, mainly of our iconic Sperm Whale, and with the knowledge of the now experienced researcher Richard and the collaboration of whale watching companies in the Azores, a catalog of animals that were identified through photographs of their bodies.
It was important to analyze its characteristic pigmentation, which can vary between light and dark gray, and which is different in each animal, identical to the fingerprint that each of us has and that distinguishes us.
And so over the last few decades, our knowledge of blue whales has increased every year, and what were once just a few blue whales have now become dozens and then hundreds identified in the Azores.
Currently, more than 700 different individuals have already been seen in “our” Azorean islands. Of these 700, every year some return to the Azores and that’s what happened Saturday, the blue whale that we saw during our departure had already been spotted in the Azores in 2014.
Therefore, we will continue to take pictures every time we go to the Sea, because we want to know more about these amazing animals as well as all the cetacean species that live here, that are passing through or that rarely visit us.
So today we know this, but tomorrow we can know much more.
Text by Rui Peres dos Santos, PhD student and Researcher at: CCMAR-Centre of Marine Sciences Resources, Restoration, Connectivity and Climate (R2C2) and Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS)