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  • Fadia Al Abbar

Overview of 2021

Updated: Jun 2, 2022

With the help of all the volunteers and collaborated individuals from whale watching companies, we had a successful season. Here's an overview of the activities we've done between April-Mid-September 2021.

How many hours at sea?

Yes, we have calculated, how many hours we spent at sea, how many times we saw dolphins, how many canceled trips we had because of (sudden) bad weather, the absence of common dolphins, etc. See the overview below!

Table: Overview of activities at sea

Total days at sea


Total trips done with Picos de Aventura


Total successful days at sea


Total trips done with Terra Azul


Total trips without common dolphins


Total look-out help from Picos de Aventura


Total trips canceled because of bad weather


Total look-out help from Terra Azul


Total hours at sea

186 Hours and 43 minutes!!!!!

Total miles traveled by boat (KM)


Longest day at sea (hours)

11 Hours and 38 minutes!!!

Longest day at sea (KM)


In the map below you can see the locations where we had our successful common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) sightings. We have only operated on the south coast of Sao Miguel due to the primary Northerly winds, making the south coast more favourable sea conditions for us to collect data. Map created by Luana Clementino.

Our longest day at sea went from the East to the West side of Sao Miguel, Azores, which is 63.54KM in length. We traveled 174KM at sea that day, taking us 11 hours and 38 minutes!!! See map below:

Map of the longest day at sea. The grey track indicates the boat-track and the blue flags indicate the cetacean sightings

Why so many days without common dolphins?

Our research relies on the look-outs from Picos de Aventura and Terra Azul on land who help us find the common dolphins, and direct the boat to them. The look-outs are incredibly experienced, and are capable of identifying the species from land. However, there is a certain month of the year, June, where the sunlight along with high humidity and haze make it very difficult to identify the dolphins. The look-outs are always very honest and tell us, this time of the year we cannot identify the dolphins, particularly with the presence of the migratory species the spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis). The weather conditions make the dolphins look black (due to backlight and the haze). Since common dolphins (2 - 2.5m) and spotted dolphins (2 - 2.2m) are approximately the same size, it becomes a challenge to identify them from land. Spotted dolphins in the Azores generally occur in larger pods (groups) than common dolphins do, so we can make a guess based on the size of the pod. Yet, common dolphins are frequently also found in large pods as spotted dolphins are, and spotted dolphins can be found in smaller pods as well. So, this led to days where we got tricked by spotted dolphins, and not finding the common dolphins. We learned that June is not the most reliable month to find common dolphins, which is something we will take into consideration for the next fieldwork season.

Photo: Spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) taken from the side of the boat

How many different species did we see?

During the fieldwork season we did see various other species, which are listed below from left to right:

- Spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis)

- Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)

- Sperm whales (Physeter macrophalus)

- Orcas (Orcinus orca)

- Risso's dolphins (Grampus griseus)

- Common turn (Sterna hirundo)

- Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta)

- Pilot whales (Globicephala spp.)

- Cory's shearwater (Calonectris borealis)

- Portuguese man o'war (Physalis physalis)

- Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba)

- Blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus)

What about tourism levels related to COVID-19?

The graph below is an overview of the 2020 and 2021 tourism levels that were recorded from the MONICET Database. With the help of Laura Gonzalez who works on the MONICET database, Sean O'Callaghan could create this graph. The tourism levels increased significantly from 2020 to 2021. A clear spike in tourism was found in June, and peaked mid-august, which then slowly reduced during September. This graph only indicates the tourism levels of one whale watching company, but we expect the general trend to be equal across all 7 whale watching companies in Sao Miguel, Azores.

The number of whale watching and swim with dolphin trips in 2020 and 2021 (source: MONICET). The blue line was in 2020 during the pandemic lock-down from March-May, and in the red line indicates the year 2021 with a semi-lockdown in May.

The warmest hearts of the Azores

After living and working in the Azores, I learned what a warm heart the Azores have, and how extraordinarily generous and helpful they are. Such collaboration and dedication to the project really warmed my heart and made the project even more fun to run. Skippers were able to predict dolphin behavior more accurately than I could ever have expected. They were interested and involved, which improved the quality of the project. The skippers,

whale watching guides, photographers, scientists

and lookouts

are incredibly experienced and have very valuable insights into the behavior of the dolphins. Some have been in the whale business for over 30 years, so they have an incredible amount of knowledge about the local dolphin population. Lookouts were able to predict where the dolphins might be found, and were able to identify dolphin species up to 30 km from shore simply based on the color and behavior of the dolphins. I've learned that teamwork and collaboration has increased the viability of this project and I really appreciate all the help we've had so far. Local knowledge is absolutely crucial when starting a new project, and letting them help with the research idea has made this project a success.

Preparations for season 2022

A big thank you from the team for the main funding from the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds and Stichting Lucie Burgers. We were able to complete 2 successful fieldwork seasons (2020 and 2021) and it gave an important start to the project. September 2021 marked the end of the funding of Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds. The 2022 season will start in Mid-May and the duration of the project will depend on the amount of funding we get. Several grants have been applied for, and we will share the news as soon as we know the results of the grants!

Stay tuned, because our next blog post will summarize the special, interesting, and beautiful sightings that we had in 2021!

Author: Fadia Al Abbar


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