Posts Tagged ‘Cetaceans


A Mothers Love

Young life is precious. I was on Madeira a couple of months ago. Well, to be accurate I was at sea off the south west corner of of the island. We came across a very young Sperm Whale. It was flanked by two grown up females. Presumably one was it’s mother; the other maybe an aunt or sister.  This is an animal with the largest brain of any organism on earth including ourselves. This complicated and advanced species has a developed social infrastructure. Any which ways it was obvious this young fella was being protected and defended from all comers.


Tarts of the Sea

Some excellent dolphins in Madeira. Four species, Bottlenose, Atlantic Spotted, Striped and Common all put in an appearance. Some are more playful than others. Striped in particular are always boat shy but with a little patience an an excellent skipper good views can be obtained. Spotted however are the real ‘tarts of the sea’. They want to play with anybody.



Madeira is without doubt a beautiful island. Eye popping panoramic views from ear popping montane roads; a warm climate, lush exotic fauna and idyllic azure seas. However, it wasn’t the lure of the islands beauty that took me there last week. It was the promise of a Bryde’s Whale.

This species of cetacean is known to summer around the island each year. I have been on a mission to see and photograph Bryde’s Whales (pronounced Broodas) for some years. This trip was a long time coming.

Upon arrival a word with several boat operators around the island revealed not a single Bryde’s had been seen this season. Not one. I was hoping with seven trips to sea booked that situation would change. However I was to be disappointed. They are late this year and at the time of writing have still not appeared.

However nature has a habit of compensating. It was on one of the seven trip we were to definitely pull something totally unexpected out of the bag.

The spotter situated on the hillside above radioed in to say he had seen a couple of animals that he thought were beaked whales. We were onto them. The skipper, Danial, brought the rib around and plotted a course. We were in the right area within minutes. Now all we had to do was find them. It was easier than I thought.

Around a quarter of all the world’s ninety or so cetaceans are beaked whales. They are deep diving enigmatic species more at home in the cold dark depths of the ocean than they are at the surface. Minutes viewable are usually followed by up to an hour or more kilometres deep. They are rarely observed for any length of time. Some species are almost completely unknown.

As we scanned the sea two fins, a scarred light grey back and a flat forehead meant I had seen my first Blainville’s Beaked Whales. I was overjoyed. These are creatures I have only ever read about and seen in books.

Compensation indeed.



Sailing off the coast of Punta del Este in Chile we were scanning the sea to see if we could pull out another new bird for the trip. The wind was up and so was the swell. However, the little transporter ferry we were on was coping well.

We’ve all watched the U boat movies on telly. The German commander folds up the periscope and gives the order to ‘Fire Torpedos’. The scene cuts to the surface where a trail of white tracks towards the British battleship. Well imagine us on that ferry seeing those torpedos coming straight at us… then another … and another. The missiles broke the surface to reveal their true form. Commerson’s Dolphins are instantly recognisable; piebald streamlined animals moving at warp-neck speed. I so wanted to see this species … and see it well. As they shot under our hull the views were just amazing.





Orca – an organisation worth joining

It’s always difficult to see everything when you go on an organised tour. Inevitably someone will see more than you do and the group as a whole will always see more than the individual. Sharon, Andrew and I travelled down from Portsmouth to Santander last week with ORCA – a worthwhile charitable organisation that takes the care of the seas, whales, dolphins and porpoises to its heart. Their website is worth checking out

Although the group saw more than us, we saw the following:

1 Fin Whale

4 Sperm Whales

2 Cuvier’s Beaked Whales

Circa 200+ Common Dolphin

Circa 20 Striped Dolphin

10+ Bottlenose Dolphin

3 Ocean Sunfish

Cory’s Shearwaters coming out of our ears

Gannets Galore

30+ Manx Shearwater

4 Sandwich Terns

1 Common Tern

2 Cormorant

1 Shag

Loads of Herring Gulls

Loads of Yellow Legged Gulls

2 Mediterranean Gulls

10+ Black Headed Gulls

2 Common Gulls


In our 2 hours in a Santander Park we had

2 Black Kite

Wood Pigeon

2 Swift

4 White Wagtail

Blue Tit

Black Redstart (heard only)


Chiffchaff (heard)


House Sparrow



In terms of what is usually seen it was a relatively poor crossing with low numbers of cetaceans and no Killer Whales or Pilot Whales seen at all along with very few seabird species. However, these cruises take place all summer and numbers do increase later in the year. We’ll be doing at least one next year (in one form or another) so if you are interested in joining the same cruise as Sharon and I let us know.

Cuvier's Beaked Whale 2

Fin Whale Common Dolphin

Sunfish Gannet Corys Shearwater



Starling without an abacus

Finally … proof that Rose Coloured Starlings can’t count!

This individual was at Land’s End and was just one of the birds we saw on our tour to Scillies this year. An excellent tour with fantastic scenery, a wonderful hotel, good company and some great birds: 117 species including Garganey, Balearic Shearwaters, Storm Petrel, Red Kite, Osprey, numerous Merlins and Peregrines, Jack Snipe, Grey Phalarope, Mediterranean Gulls, Ring billed Gull, Short eared Owl, Firecrests, Yellow browed Warblers, a rather contentious (what I presume to be an eastern race) Willow Warbler pretending to be an Arctic Warbler, Rose Coloured Starling, Ring Ousel, Black Redstarts, Red flanked Bluetail, Pied Flycatcher, Whinchat, Richards Pipit, Blyth’s Pipit, Short toed Lark, Cirl Bunting, Little Buntings and a Common Rosefinch in addition to four species of cetacean– could you ask for more?

Places on next year’s tour are now open for booking. See details here where a full itinerary can be downloaded … but don’t hesitate to give me a call if you have any questions.

2015 10 16 Rose Coloured Starling Lands End Cornwall_Z5A1900


A sea unleashed

I’ve been at sea is some rough weather in my time but these waves were the highest I’ve been out upon. A storm force 9 and 8 metre walls of water were tossing our ship around like a cork in a bathtub. Somehow daunting but somehow beautiful. Each wave was topped with translucent green and capped with white spume that vortexed upwards creating a seascape of turquoise geysers.

We were working our way south through the Bay of Biscay earlier this week. The day had started well with crowds of Common Dolphins racing to join us. As the ocean unleashed her swell so the cetaceans became increasing difficult to find. Some distant Fin Whale Blows and a passing pod of Long finned Pilot Whales were punctuated with more rorqual blows. Sea birds fared better with Manx, Balearic, Cory’s and Great Shearwaters punctuated with Great Skua sightings, but even they deserted us at the height of the storm.

On the return leg the sea was somewhat calmer. More Common Dolphins, a host of Sunfish and more shearwaters but not the hoped for beaked whales.

Maybe next year…

2015 09 17 Common Dolphin Bay of Biscay_Z5A8367

2015 09 16 Bay of Biscay_Z5A8189

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