25 Sep 2018

21 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Twenty Three: Clymene Dolphins

The first full day at sea on the crossing between St Helena & Ascension Island had started well for Cetaceans with a small party of Sperm Whales & a party of around fifteen Short-finned Pilot Whales before breakfast. This was followed by a brief appearance of a small party of False Killer Whales while most people were still finishing their breakfast. The morning continued with another party of eight Sperm Whales in late morning which were in no hurry to dive & allowed us to have prolonged & close views. Soon after that a distant Orca put in a brief appearance off the port side, but too distant & brief for photos. It all quietened down for Cetaceans for several hours until late afternoon when we picked up a distant pod of at least fifteen Dolphins on the starboard side. Unfortunately, they were hunting & didn't want to come & check out the Plancius. The photos aren't any better than record shots as they didn't come closer than a half mile. However, the photos did allow them to be identified as my first Clymene Dolphins.
Clymene Dolphin: It is just about possible to see the three coluration tones on the right hand most exposed individual. The odd pale marking on the central individual is presumably splashing water or an effect of the harsh crop
Clymene Dolphins are one of the Spinner Dolphin group & are also known as Short-billed Spinner Dolphin. They are a small Dolphin with a maximum size of only 1.9 metres & thus are only about 80% of the size of a Striped Dolphin or one of the Atlantic populations of Short-beaked Common Dolphin. They have similarly markings to the Atlantic population of Spinner Dolphins, which also have a similar range in the Atlantic. Clymene Dolphins occur in the tropical & subtropical Atlantic, Caribbean & Gulf of Mexico, in a broad band from Brazil to New Jersey in the US & from Mauritania to Angola & are typically a deep-water oceanic Dolphin. The key features are they are similar to the larger Spinner Dolphins, more robust in shape & having a shorter & stockier beak and an erect & only slightly falcate dorsal fin. The colouration is a dark grey uppersides, light grey sides & a white belly, with the dark grey dipping into the light grey under the eye & below the dorsal fin. There may also be a dark band running along the rear flanks which Spinner Dolphins do not show. The main separation from the Atlantic population of Spinner Dolphins is Spinner Dolphins are a bit larger (between intermediate in size between a Clymene Dolphin & Short-beaked Common Dolphin), are slimmer with an extremely long & thinner beak and the dorsal fin is either slightly falcate or erect & triangular in shape.
Clymene Dolphin: Showing the dark flank stripe
Clymene Dolphin
Clymene Dolphin: The short beaks are visible on these individuals
Clymene Dolphin
Overall, it had been another long, but brilliant day on the Atlantic Odyssey with five Cetaceans species seen & two new Cetaceans for my list: False Killer Whale & Clymene Dolphin.

24 Sep 2018

21 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Twenty Three: False Killer Whales

The first full day at sea on the crossing between St Helena & Ascension Island had started well for Cetaceans with a small party of Sperm Whales & a party of around fifteen Short-finned Pilot Whales that moved straight past the Plancius & didn't linger. All this happened before breakfast. By now I was settling into a routine of having a fairly quick breakfast, filling up the insulated coffee mug & getting back on the bridge wing whilst everybody else was enjoying a more leisurely breakfast. Even so it wasn't quick enough to see the Solar Polar Skua than Hans found while I was having breakfast. The advantage of being back on deck was I could get a good position on the best bridge wing for the next few hours. At lunchtime, I would fill up on hot drinks, grab some biscuits in lieu of lunch so I could get a good position for the afternoon. Generally, the best side was port in the morning & the starboard in the afternoon, but sometimes I ended up having to compromise if the winds were blowing hard into one of the bridge wings. It was good I was back quickly as I was one of a small group of people who were on the port bridge wing when a small party of False Killer Whales made a brief appearance: a new Cetacean for me. The only other party of False Killer Whales seen on the Odyssey was on 26 Apr 18, when they appeared in a mixed party associating with a group of Melon-headed Whales. Unfortunately, I only managed to get on to the Melon-headed Whales on that occasion.
False Killer Whales: A slightly confusing photo until you realise that there is a second individual starting to surface immediately before the closer False Killer Whale
False Killer Whale
False Killer Whale
False Killer Whale
False Killer Whale: Looking at the photos, it is possible to confirm that the dorsal fin is location mid point along the body
False Killer Whale: Both are now clearly visible
False Killer Whale: A close crop of the dorsal fin shape of the first individual
I wasn't sure what they Cetaceans these were. I had only had a brief view with the binoculars before I picked up the camera which turned out to be a good decision as this was the only views I had & photos I was to get. They looked like one of the Blackfish group of Cetaceans. They clearly were not Orcas as they were far too small & the dorsal fin shape was wrong. Although, they were about the same size as Short-finned Pilot Whales, the dorsal fin shape was wrong and they didn't linger on the surface like Short-finned Pilot Whales or the out of range Long-finned Pilot Whales tend to. This left False Killer Whale, Pygmy Killer Whale & Melon-headed Whale. The only one of the three species I had seen was Melon-headed Whales & that was sixteen years before in the Philippines & I couldn't remember much about how to separate them. Fortunately, Hans also managed to get some photos of these False Killer Whales which helped to confirm the identification when Han & Majike (who had missed them) reviewed the photos. The main separation features are False Killer Whales are a similar size to the two species of Pilot Whales around six metres long, whereas the other two species are barely half that size. Generally, the males are a big bigger than the females in the Blackfish. Having seen the Short-finned Pilot Whales only an hour earlier then comparing the size in my mind wasn't too difficult. False Killer Whales have a fairly long & slender body and an overhanging melon (if the front of the head is seen well). The dorsal fin is slender & falcate and often rounded at the tip (but this shape can be variable). The dorsal fin is located at the middle of the back. Based on size and dorsal fin shape they had to be False Killer Whales.
False Killer Whale
False Killer Whale
False Killer Whale: A closer crop of the dorsal fin of the second individual
False Killer Whale
False Killer Whale: A final view & they were gone
I had been disappointed to have missed the views of my first South Polar Skua: it probably appeared for its third & last time, but it was too far away to be sure of its identification. However, I was really pleased to have still had a short enough breakfast to be back on deck for these False Killer Whales. I seem to remember that I had taken nearly half an hour to have breakfast. By the time of the West African Pelagic, I had learnt to only allow around fifteen minutes for breakfast & to fill up the coffee mug.

23 Sep 2018

21 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Twenty Three: Short-finned Pilot Whales

The previous Posts for the first full day at sea on the crossing between St Helena & Ascension Island covered the Seabirds & Flying Fish seen on the day & some magical encounters with a couple of parties of Sperm Whales. The first party of Sperm Whales were seen before breakfast, although they dived before we had close views, whereas, the second party of Sperm Whales lingered with us for the best part of an hour. However, there was one more bonus for the early pre-breakfast observers on the decks when a party of around fifteen Short-finned Pilot Whales appeared. This was our second sighting of Short-finned Pilot Whales with out first sighting being a party seen on the final full day at sea before we reached St Helena. Unfortunately, today's party of Short-finned Pilot Whales were moving straight past the Plancius & didn't linger. Still, I managed to get some photos of some of the group.
Short-finned Pilot Whale: Male. The blow is small & difficult to see at any distance. However, Short-finned Pilot Whales are fairly easy to pick up at a distance due to their habit of swimming on the surface in small groups for extended periods & their black appearance
Short-finned Pilot Whale: Male. This male has a noticeable melon & has clearly been battered in the past given the damage to the point of the dorsal fin
Short-finned Pilot Whale: Female. This female has also got a small notch within the rear curve of the dorsal fin
Short-finned Pilot Whale: The male & female
Short-finned Pilot Whale: A final view of another individual before they disappeared
This morning was a good example of why it was worth being on deck soon after dawn as sometimes we saw a couple of Cetacean species before breakfast. Even better was I had a quick breakfast to get a good position on the bridge wing with the better lighting & while most people were still having breakfast I was one of the lucky few to see the first False Killer Whales of the Odyssey: I will cover those in the next Blog Post.

22 Sep 2018

21 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Twenty Three: A Magical Encounter With Sperm Whales

The previous Post covered the Seabirds & Flying Fish seen on the first full day at sea on the crossing between St Helena & Ascension Island. However, the highlights of the day were to be the Cetaceans. It all kicked off before breakfast when we picked up some distant large Whales well in front of the Plancius on the starboard side. Due to the blows these large Whales could often be picked up from the bridge wing at two miles or more away. This then allowed us time to get people onto them, albeit it might be five to ten minutes before we finally drew level with them. In this time, they may have crossed the bows if moving at right angles to us or dived. We seemed to see a larger number of large Whales in the first hour of light than in any hour of the day & I wonder whether some were just in the same dozy & less active state that many humans are when they first wake up.
Sperm Whale: A typical sighting of one of the distant blows. Marijke said it looked like a Sperm Whale as they have an unusual head with their blowhole on the left side of the head & tend to make low, lop-sided blows
Sperm Whale: A harsher crop revealed a large-bodied Whale surfacing
This was our first Sperm Whales on the Odyssey. The Expedition staff were discussing with the Plancius's crew whether it would be possible to change course, but the Sperm Whales were clearly hungry & food was on their mind. It was also on our minds, but breakfast didn't start for another half hour.
Sperm Whale: Unfortunately, three minutes later when we were still quite distant, they decided to head deep for breakfast
Sperm Whale: When you see the tails of large Whales, it's a sign they are starting to dive
Sperm Whale
Sperm Whale: That's the show over for the next 30 minutes or more. When they dive they typically dive for 30-45 minutes & are believed to feed around 400 metres. However, they have been found to dive as deep as two kilometres & stay down for up to two hours. They would have been at least five or more nautical miles behind the Plancius by the time they resurfaced: at which point they wouldn't have been visible (not least, as we were heading off for breakfast)
Fortunately, this wasn't the only Sperm Whale party we saw during the day. A second party were found around 11:00 & this party were more showy. They were making shallow dives, but quickly returning to the surface. The Captain was happy to slow & manoeuvre to allow us to enjoy a superb Sperm Whale encounter which lasted near an hour from our initial sighting. It is believed there were eight Sperm Whales in the party & Marijke said that there were likely to be females and youngsters as the males tend to only join these parties for short periods.
Sperm Whale: As with the earlier sighting, it all kicked off with an initial set of distant low, lop-sided blows
Sperm Whale: However, this time the Sperm Whales were in no hurry to dive. The Plancius is such a quiet ship that she doesn't disturb Cetaceans on the surface when she slows, turns & carefully approaches surfaced Cetaceans
Sperm Whale: As the blow disperses, the small dorsal fin appeared
Sperm Whale: As the dorsal fin appears, the head had already disappered
Sperm Whale: Another sighting
Sperm Whale: A close up of the head from the last photo showing the off-centred blowhole
Sperm Whale: This is a different individual with a poorly pronounced dorsal fin & is presumably an immature
 Sperm Whale: This individual must have twisted as it dived as this looks like the tip of a tail flipper
Sperm Whale: Preparing for a shallow dive
Sperm Whale: Showing the brunt head & offset blowhole
Sperm Whale: As the back of the head appears, the front of the head has already disappeared
Sperm Whale: Finally, the dorsal fin appears
Sperm Whale: This appears to be a different immature as it has several pale blotches close to the dorsal fin which appear in the same places on different photos (so they do not appear to be splashes of water)
Sperm Whale: Another individual blowing as it surfaces
Sperm Whale: The same individual
Sperm Whale: A close up of the asymmetric blowhole
Sperm Whale: As the previous individual fully surfaced, it had a very distinctive pale dorsal fin
Sperm Whale: A close up of the distinctive pale dorsal fin
Sperm Whale: A younger individual surfaced next to the white finned individual
Sperm Whale: The dorsal fins of the two individuals
Sperm Whale: Both individuals resurfaced & blew together
Sperm Whale: Females can grow up to about 12 metres & the largest males have been recorded at 19 metres long
Sperm Whale: A final individual with small notches in the dorsal fin
It had been a brilliant hour & finally the Captain decided we needed to get moving again.