As we start another round around the sun, it is finally time to make a summary of the year that we left behind.
In this slide show we condensed Terra Azul highlights of 2019 in terms of sightings of cetaceans…and not only 😉
We encountered 19 (NINETEEN!!!) different species of whales and dolphins. Our iconic Sperm Whales (Physeter macrocephalus) and Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis) are the most sighted species with 212 and 286 sightings, respectively. Turning to larger ‘resident’ dolphin species, Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are stable in third position with 119 sightings though the year, and Risso’s Dolphins (Grampus griseus) were encountered 49 times. In spite of being considered an offshore species, Striped Dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) approached our coasts quite often (66 sightings).
Blainville’s Beaked whales (Mesoplodon densirostris) were also sighted all year long in the waters off the coast of Vila Franca do Campo (16 sightings, of which 9 confirmed by photographs and two individuals, a male and a female, photo-identified). Encounters with Sowerby’s Beaked Whales (Mesoplodon bidens) happened mostly during the Summer (7 sightings). In two occasions we have also been lucky enough to spot a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale (Ziphius cavirostris) and a pair of Northern Bottlenose Whales (Hyperodon ampullatus).
For the ‘blackfish’ category, Pilot Whales (Globicephala spp.) were the most sighted (19 encounters), especially in Spring and Summer, followed by False-Killer Whales (Pseudorca crassidens) and Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) which appeared a couple of times each in March and June, confirming the unpredictability of their occurrence in São Miguel waters.
Migratory species made their appearance as expected but we noticed several temporal and occurrence variations when comparing to the previous years. Spring baleen whale season started later than usual and May was the best month to encounter these leviathans (85% probability!). Once again, Fin Whales (Balaenoptera physalus) were the most sighted species followed by Sei Whales (Balaenoptera borealis) that arrived later in June and appeared again in the Autumn months. Blue Whales (Balaenoptera musculus) arrived at the end of April and occupied the third position in number of sightings, closely followed by – surprise! – Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeagliae). Overall, sightings of baleen whales halved in 2019 when comparing to 2018. In particular, while Fin and Blue Whales encounters decreased, Sei and Humpback whales were encountered twice as often than in 2018. This was quite a revolution but it is not so unusual to observe macroscopic changes in temporal and spatial distribution of baleen whales between different years. Probably prey distribution influences baleen whale migration and the time spent foraging in our waters.
In contrast, Atlantic Spotted Dolphins (Stenella frontalis) seemed to find plenty of fish and they stayed in São Miguel from June till late December.
As anticipated, whales and dolphins were not our only focus out there!
During our bird-watching trips we had amazing sightings with marine and shore birds. Cory’s Shearwaters (Calonectris borealis) were abundant from March to November and the percentage of successfully fledgling birds on our Ilehu of Vila Franca was very high (~85%), most likely because of the high availability of fish for the breeding pairs. Bulwer’s Petrels (Bulweria bulwerii) were encountered from April to August, with the summer months having the highest chance to see several individuals looking for food not too far from our shores. Great Shearwaters (Puffinus gravis) arrived in large groups with the beginning of the Autumn, while the Winter has brought Madeiran Storm Petrels (Oceanodroma castro) back to the Ilheu of Vila Franca. Forty-eight birds were ringed in the only known colony of São Miguel. This little special bird returned to breed on our Ilehu only in recent years, after mammal predators were eradicated by a successful conservation project run by SPEA (the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds). Ruddy Turnstones (Arenaria interpres), Sanderlings (Calidris alba), Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) were frequently spotted looking for food on our rocky coastline and we also had a few encounters with rare vagrants such as the Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus).
Finally, how not to mention the many encounters we had with Loggerhead Turtles (Caretta caretta) and other large fish species such as sharks (Blue and Hammerhead), Sunfish, Marlin and Swordfish. We even recovered several specimens of giant deep-water octopuses left behind by feeding Sperm Whales!
On top of the amazing sightings that we shared out there on the Atlantic Ocean, it was a pleasure to have you on board, our guests and our fantastic crew members. To the next round around the sun and always ready for the unexpectable! 🙂