North to South (2) – Off the coast of Portugal

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It is nine days since we left Endeavour Quay, Gosport, for our two month journey to the Falkland Islands. After the stormy first few days, we are all overwhelmingly grateful for the continuing good weather we are now experiencing. The sun is out, the seas are calm, spirits are high and cetaceans are about!

Over the week we have had a wide variety of encounters including bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, striped dolphins, spotted dolphins, a lone pilot whale, sunfish, a humpback whale and Cuvier’s beaked whale.

On day 6, after a deliriously wonderful night’s sleep alongside in La Coruna, devoid of any rocking and rolling, we set off in the sun and calm seas. Many members of team were seen sporting T-shirts for the first time, pasty white arms reflecting the light, left, right and centre. As we left the Spanish shore we spotted multiple pods of common dolphins and even a few groups of bottlenose dolphins. Strangely, for once, they did not seem interested in approaching SOTW and bow-riding, it seems they may have had other things on their minds. Namely food.

Just as the sun was getting low in the sky and everyone had been fuelled with a cup of tea and chocolate biscuit, we heard Andy shout “BLOW! 30 degrees” from the A-frame. A flurry of activity took place, cameras were seized and the team scattered on deck to try and find what Andy had just seen.

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Andy on watch from the A-Frame.

Then there it was. The tall bushy blow and unmistakable dorsal fin of a humpback whale cutting silently through the water. After a few breaths at the surface, the whale arched it’s back ready for a deeper dive, raising it’s fluke out of the water. Photographs of the fluke are a great way of identifying individual whales. Through looking at the nicks, notches and pigmentation patterns on the fluke, we can identify individuals, just like with a human thumb print. If it matches with a photo identification catalogue, we may be able to trace where this whale has come from and where it ends up on it’s migration.

For many of the team onboard, this was their first humpback whale sighting.

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However, no one onboard had seen a Cuvier’s beaked whale before. On day seven that changed. The sea was so calm there was barely a ripple and we could clearly see the white head of the tiny Cuvier’s beaked whale breaking the surface of the water before its grey-brown body. Cuvier’s beaked whales are now known to dive to depths of two miles for over two hours, making the chances of seeing them at the surface fairly slim. But this Cuvier’s milled around for fifteen minutes, allowing us to get photo ID shots and an eDNA water sample in the vicinity.

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All in all, a fantastic week, with so much to write about it is hard to condense into a single blog post! Stay tuned for more updates as we make our way to Gran Canaria and Cape Verde where we will be picking up new team members.

Kerry

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