The ocean was serene and beautiful. Great visibility, with Santa Maria island adorning the horizon. Very little wind, some clouds here and there, and great wildlife sightings! Our guests often ask us when is the best time to see whales and dolphins…morning or afternoon? The reality is that there is no “best” time. We cannot predict what species we will see, how many animals, or where we will see them. Nature often presents us with wonderful sights, but exactly what she gives…that is a surprise.
In the morning, the sea conditions were perfect. Glassy and dreamy. We looked far and wide for signs of cetaceans. With the always great support from Filipe, our lookout on land, we encountered several groups of our resident Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis). They showed us their curious nature on arrival. They approached our zodiacs with their still dependent offspring, and played around in our wake. However, for the majority of the sighting, the dolphins had other plans. Most likely the pod was on the trail of their next meal.
In the afternoon, we travelled further east towards Faial da Terra. The common dolphins had already left the area, but instead we were led to a group of Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) spread out over a wider area. At first, they were not that much interested in our presence so we gave them their space. Towards the end of the sighting, the group came together and some had a taste of bow riding! A special feathered beauty flew by during our bottlenose dolphin sighting: a storm petrel – most likely a Madeiran Storm Petrel (Hydrobates castro).
Then came a very nice surprise… As we reached the point to leave the bottlenose dolphins to their own lives and daily habits, something was spotted in the direction of Santa Maria island from onboard our zodiac. Fortunately, we did not have to move far to feast our eyes on the tell-tale signs of two BALEEN whales: a large blow and a long, dark back breaking the surface! A trail of circular flukeprints appeared and before we knew it, one whale resurfaced and showed us a characteristically tall dorsal fin. Here goes a big, big thank you to the amazingly skilled Sr. Carlos who located these two relaxed Sei Whales (Balaenoptera borealis) for everyone!!
Besides amazing cetacean sightings, we also had a funny encounter with two other forms of marine wildlife – a reptile and a seabird. While we were watching the sei whales, we found a Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) resting on an “object” in the water…only to discover that this object was, in fact, a Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta).
All in all, a fantastic day on the ocean with stellar sea conditions, especially after some days without tours because of strong winds and rain!