A never ending August :)
Updated: Oct 4, 2022
August has been incredible. It has been the best month in our Azores delphis project career and we are stoked to share more of our experiences. Since the weather has been good almost every single day of this month, we got a lot of time at sea, and I mean a LOT. Days at sea ranged from 6-10 hours, which was then followed by planning the next day, downloading all the data, and charging all the batteries..we have been busy. Here's what we experienced in August.
How was the ocean?
In contrast to June and July, we have had a spectacular August where we made up all the
trips that we didn't have in July due to bad weather and sea conditions. August has been a blast, and has also been very busy. We had weeks with 1 day off to rest because we had to, not because the weather limited us (otherwise we would have had 18 days of fieldwork in a row!). We have been tired, but happy. The glassy days that we were expecting in July? They came in August and did not disappoint!!! We are back on track with our expected field-work days. Look at that ocean. It was a lake!
What species of whale is this?
In one of our awesome August days we encountered a very large feeding frenzy. We initially thought it was a juvenile Sei whale, as it was slightly smaller than usual...
However, after checking the footage we could see the 3 ridges on the top of the head:
meaning, this individual was a Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera brydei). Bryde's whales are uncommon visitors in the Azores, but when they show up, it does tend to be in the summer months. We got lucky with this one! During this encounter the common dolphins were just 200m away from this feeding frenzy but they did not dare interact in the commotion going
on. The spotted dolphins, however, were in full interaction with this Bryde's whale and its lunch.
This individual was a hungry one as we caught it surface foraging 4 times in a 15 minute flight. If you have a good look you can even see the fish bait ball in there before the Bryde's
whale charges towards it.
The Cory's Shearwaters were very active at the surface as you can see them flying erratically. The spotted dolphins were absolutely enjoying this feeding frenzy and seemed to occasionally bow-ride/swim in front of the whale. Just to give you an idea, spotted dolphins are about 2 meters. This Bryde's whale? Between 11 and 13 meters. We will post the video on our social media channels soon so stay tuned!
Society of Marine Mammal Conference 2022
Results! We are happy to announce that we continued to collaborate on common dolphin photo ID research, after our first poster presented in Barcelona in 2019 at the World Marine Mammal Conference. Milla Brandão was invited to present her thesis findings at the 2022
Society for Marine Mammalogy conference in Florida, USA! Milla was a student of our co-founder Dr. Laura Gonzalez and did her thesis on common
dolphin photo ID where she made a catalogue of 12 years of opportunistic data from the whale watching company Futurismo! Milla found that the longest re-sighting of an individual common dolphin was within 11 years! Additionally, she found a whopping 120 individuals that were confirmed re-sightings! These findings give us an idea that there may be pods, or groups of common dolphins that are long-term residents around the south coast of São Miguel, Azores. Great work Milla! These results are very useful for the continuation of our study on common dolphins. We continue to take photo ID during our data collection and we are noticing some of the same individuals that Milla had identified in her catalogue.
Logo developer and VIGIA on board!
More special guests in August! Our teammate and logo developer Anxo Cao made some time for us, and joined us on board. With his new underwater camera he experimented a
little after our research trip was done and these are the results. Aren't they great? Thank you for your help Anxo!
Our other VERY SPECIAL guest on board was NICOLE PEREIRA! YES! The vigia or look-out
from Terra Azul! She has found dolphins from land for us in the last 3 years of this project and she finally knows what were doing out there for so many hours. Thank you once again Nicole (see her in the back of the boat, doesn't she look happy? We sure were happy we convinced her!)
Beluga is back
Our poor drone, named Beluga that collected all the data in 2021, was unfortunately having
problems with the gimbal just as the weather forecast became amazing, despite having a full check-up before arriving to the Azores. Thankfully, DJI Care Refresh is AMAZING, and it just took 8
days for our Beluginha to return to us. We only missed 3 days of fieldwork with her, which we managed to do with a replacement drone from Terra Azul. This was arranged thanks to Tiago Batista!!! Additionally, we had some issues with our tablet that we used for the Phantom, but there appeared to be a bug with the DJI Go 4 app (anybody else experienced the same???) where we constantly had the app crash and unable to start. This bug seemed to only be a problem with the Samsung/android, and was entirely solved when once again, Tiago Batista from Terra Azul came and saved the day, and let us use the IPAD of the drone of Terra Azul. THANK YOU TIAGO WE LOVE YOU!!!
Land-team going strong
This month was continued with the land-based team to search for the common dolphins. In August we had new members to the team who were working with our co-founder Laura Gonzales for MONICET. Meet Begoña, Clara, and Marc (from left to right).
We also had continuing members: Laura, our friend Oriol, and lastly Margarida who was one of the very first land-team members!
One member has left back to her home country, Lisa, thank you for help! With this increased effort from land we had a much higher chance of seeing common dolphins very early in the morning: the 7 O'clock streak of finding dolphins has carried on into the month of August. We also increased our chances of finding the best pods since our team learned the difference between "good" and "bad" pods/sub-groups of dolphins. The land-team has also come up with the most creative ways of leading us to the dolphins! By pointing the finger on the spot with the land reference, drawing maps, "behind you", "left of you", you name it, they've tried it and it worked every time!
We truly appreciated the effort that went into this; it made our lives at sea much easier and even gave us a laugh at times! We are very thankful for everybody's effort, endurance, and motivation to wake up at 5 am to help us find dolphins. Now that is dedication!!!!!
Everybody also had the chance to come on board with us once to see how we work. Of course this team could not have done it without the trusted vigias Nicole Pereira, Filipe Ferreira, and Ricardo Pacheco! From the month of September we will not be working with land-based teams anymore due to the later rise of the sun, which coincides with the working hours of the vigias, so we will not consistently need the land-team anymore. We will miss you enormously that is, if we make it to the sea in September......
So far, we had incredible weather! BUT, the weather forecast for September does not look
good at all......The forecast is showing 2 or even 3 large storms/hurricanes that could pass by or hit the Azores archipelago, heavily influencing the waters along the coast of São Miguel. September is supposed to be our last month of field-work, so we are hoping to get our last surveys done before the autumn officially arrives...our fingers are crossed!!! It has been 9 days of being stranded on land, and this will continue for at least a week longer....if we are lucky....
Photo credits: Tiago Batista
Anyway, were still smiling, a goodbye for now, from the team!
Fieldwork is funded by KNAW Ecologie
Author: Fadia Al Abbar