Thursday, 12 July 2012

Pilot Whales!

So yesterday was a pretty cool day! Sometime just after lunch we got a call from the bridge that there were pilot whales just beside the boat. As usual, there was a mad dash upstairs to try and see them before they disappeared off into the depths again, but it turns out we needn't have worried too much as the group stayed with us for the best part of an hour. 

Whale sightings tend to bring everyone out onto deck!

The species of pilot whale we get in temperate waters is the long-finned pilot whale, Globicephala melas which belongs to the group 'Odontoceti' or 'toothed whales'. Pilot whales are fairly common offshore, and I've seen them on most of the deep-water research cruises I've been on, but they don't tend to be a particularly active species, and they seem to spend a lot of time resting at the surface. It's always cool to see them, but you don't really get very exciting photographs when they're just relaxing! Yesterday we got lucky though and the group not only stayed with us for ages, but they were also actively diving and spy-hopping and also had a lot of very young calves with them. The calves were brilliant to watch as they were noticeably more exuberant and slightly more clumsy than their parents in the water, but also couldn't dive for nearly as long as the adults which helped us keep track of them as they moved around. Because the weather was a little rougher than normal yesterday too it meant that the animals were sticking their heads much further out the water than they usually do to breathe which meant we could get some really clear views of their faces. Anyway, without further ado, here's some of the best ones:

Pilot whale group. You can see from the fin sizes that there are a lot of  young animals present.

Popping up to breathe

All surfacing at once

And, my personal favourite (I am extremely chuffed with this photo, it took a lot of waiting to get it!):

Calf surfacing beside its mother.

The calf in that last photo was still young enough that you could see the foetal bands on its flanks, which are essentially caused by folds in the skin when the calf is still inside the mother's womb. They'll fade over time, but give an indication that this is still a very young animal, probably no more than a few weeks old.