The Azores, a worldwide cetaceans hotspot: The blue whale research program

May 2018 I had a fantastic opportunity to join a blue whale research program in The Azores.
The program was part of the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS) Research Institute from Quebec, Canada.

MICS is a non-profit research organisation dedicated to the study of marine mammals in the St Lawrence and North Atlantic Ocean, with an emphasis on the
biology and ecology of baleen whales. Once of their responsabilities is monitoring the blue whales that live in the North Atlantic Ocean, and migrate from
the Quebec regions to the Azores.

So, next to learning a lot about blue whales, our mission was set, identify as many blue whales as possible and see where they are coming from.
This off course was easier said then done, because to identify a blue whale, you need to have their finger print, and a blue whale finger print is the
drawing on the upper part of his body on both sides.
As a photographer I got the job, together with the captain of the boat to make as perfect as possible the pictures so we will be able to identify them
later one via the computer.

During our expedition, we stayd in the wonderful accommodation of Espa├žo Talassa in Lajes on the island of Pico. This hostel is the pefect combination of
eco tourism, local culture, good food and a passion for cetaceans!

The program was for 1 week with almost every day being a full day on the ocean.
Since the Azores, and especially Pico is one of the best whale hotspots in the world, we observed so many unique animals and so many different species.
A list of the observations:

Sunday 22/5 – Half day trip:

  • Fin whale
  • Blue whale

Monday 23/5 – Full day trip:

  • 2 sei whales, mother and calf
  • 7 different Blue whales
  • Lots of Striped and common dolphins
  • A unique Longnose lancet deepsea fish which is a very spectacular observation on the surface.

Tuesday 24/5 – Full day trip:

  • 9 different Blue whales
  • A very large pod of False killer whales, swimming for a long time next to the boat with spectacular jumps and flukes
  • Bottle nose dolphins as part of the false killer whales (Unique!!)

Wednesday 25/5
Morning trip:

  • Blue whale
  • 2 Fin whales
  • Lots of Striped dolphins
  • Cuvier Beaked dolphin
  • Short fin pilot whales
  • Big pods of Common dolphins

Afternoon trip:

  • Blue whale
  • Fin whale
  • A lot of Risso Dolphins

Thursday 26/5
Morning trip:

  • Blue whale
  • Big pod of Common dolphins
  • Fin whale

Afternoon trip:

  • 3 different Blue whales
  • Fin whale
  • Lots of Commons dolphins

Friday 27/5
Morning trip:

  • 2 Humpbacks jumping our of the water in front of the shore
  • Lots of Risso Dolphins
  • Several Common dolphins

Afternoon trip:

  • Fin whale
  • Striped dolphins
  • Several Risso Dolphins
  • Big pod of Common dolphins

As you can see, with such a list of observations, this is truly a magical place on earth if you love cetaceans. There are not many places in the world
where you can observe 12 different cetacean species in a short week, believe me!

The aim of the study was to identify as many blue whales as possible, and with a total amount of 23 different animals in 1 week, they said that this was
one of the best weeks ever on this location. Next to that, we were able to identify at least 14 individuals and match them with the existing database,
this means that we were able to add another 9 individuals to the database, and a big part of those is now coming from my own pictures.

I don’t have to tell you how lucky feel that I was able to participate in this program, together with the fact that I’m proud to donate my pictures to
the institute and being part of this research program!

Enjoy some of the pictures.

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