2 Nov 2022

2 Nov 22 - Indonesia - Banda Sea Cruise Day 7 - Cetaceans Between Babar & Damar

We had left Babar the previous evening and the Lady Denok had motored through the night. The following morning, I was up soon after first light as we were still at sea. I grabbed the first coffee of the day & headed for the deck.

About 08:45, we saw our first Dolphins when we encountered a distant party of at least twenty Blackfish. Blackfish is the name given for a group of largely black-coloured Dolphins comprising of: Orca (Killer Whale), Long-finned Pilot Whale, Short-finned Pilot Whale, False Killer Whale, Pygmy Killer Whale & Melon-headed Whale. Despite being called Whales, they are all part of the Dolphin family.

Thanks to the very calm water, we were able to pick up them up in the distance. They stayed on the surface as we approached, but we never had really close views. Looking at the very broad dorsal fins of the adult males, they were clearly one of the two Pilot Whales and the only Pilot Whale species that inhabits the tropical Indonesian waters are Short-finned Pilot Whales. Long-finned Pilot Whales prefer colder waters and the nearest they get to Indonesia is about half way up the Australian coast.
Short-finned Pilot Whale: Both species of Pilot Whales stay on the surface for extended periods
Short-finned Pilot Whale: Two adult males and a female or immature individual
Short-finned Pilot Whale: The left hand male blowing
Short-finned Pilot Whale: The right hand two individuals showing how distinctive the male's dorsal fin is
Twenty minutes later, we had our next Dolphin sighting: a small pod of at least six Spinner Dolphins. Spinner Dolphins are renowned for their energetic spinning as they jump & one individual didn't disappoint when it jumping out of the water. Unfortunately, after this spinning session, they continued on their way, with no further acrobatics.
Spinner Dolphin: Doing what they excel at
Spinner Dolphin: They occur in all the tropical oceans of the world
Spinner Dolphin: Spin over & back in the water in a relatively normal orientation
We saw two parties of Pantropical Spotted Dolphins during the afternoon. In both cases, there were about twenty individuals in the pod. While most passed at a distance, a few did feel obliged to put on a display by jumping out of the water.
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin: The main features are they are fairly slender Dolphins, with a reasonable length beak (which is not as long as a Spinner Dolphin's beak), a distinct crease between the beak and the base of the melon, a long & narrow dorsal fin with a slightly rounded tip and a dark dorsal cape which sweeps down below the dorsal fin, but quickly rises to the top of the back just behind the dorsal fin
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin: Not all Pantropical Spotted Dolphins are spotted & this feature is of limited use. They have a similar range to the Spinner Dolphins and they occur in all the tropical oceans of the world
The Cetacean highlight was the first Cetacean of the day. Arthur picked up a Beaked Whale on the surface, that dropped down, but resurfaced a few times. Fortunately, he also managed to grab a few helpful photos, which I thought at the time confirmed the identification as a Longman's Beaked Whale. Frustratingly, while I saw it on several occasions, I never managed to photograph it. I am grateful to Arthur for copies of his photos & permission to be able to add them to the Blog. Larger versions of the original photos can be found here (I've not changed Arthur's photos as they appear on the Blog). The likely Beaked Whales are Cuvier's Beaked Whale & Longman's Beaked Whale. Here are my reasons why I think it is a Longman's Beaked Whale, based upon features & photos in the excellent Marine Mammals of the World Ed 2 by Jefferson, Webber & Pitman book, as well as, photos online.
Longman's or Immature Cuvier's Beaked Whale: Copyright of the photo remains with Arthur Geilvoet
I think an adult Cuvier's Beaked Whale can quickly be ruled out by the lack of paler colouration, lack of scarring & lack of many cookie-cutter scars. This looks to have a pretty uniform colouration, with only one cookie-cutter scar (but Longman's Beaked whale can show some cookie-cutter scars). However, I don't think the colouration & lack of scarring eliminates a fairly young immature Cuvier's Beaked Whale, which should be more uniform in colouration & less scarred.
Longman's or Immature Cuvier's Beaked Whale: Copyright of the photo remains with Arthur Geilvoet
Looking at photos of Cuvier's Beaked Whales & Longman's Beaked Whales in the book & online, Cuvier's Beaked Whale is a much bulkier species, with a fairly pronounced curved body in front on the dorsal fin, whereas, Longman's Beaked Whale doesn't have this same bulk or upper body curvature. Separating Cuvier's Beaked Whale from Longman's Beaked Whale isn't heavily stressed in the book, with the book being more focused on confusion of Cuvier's Beaked Whale with a number of other Beaked Whale species (which only applies to other parts of the Cuvier's Beaked Whale range).
Longman's or Immature Cuvier's Beaked Whale: Copyright of the photo remains with Arthur Geilvoet
The book does say Longman's Beaked Whale can cause some confusion with Cuvier's Beaked Whale, but attention to colour & head shape should allow distinction, if seen reasonably well. That doesn't really seem to help given Arthur wasn't lucky enough to get a good head shot and the colouration of fairly young immature Cuvier's Beaked Whale. Both species should have paler heads, with Cuvier's Beaked Whale looking like it has the paler of the two heads. It's possible to see the blow hole which is at the back of the melon. The melon looks bulkier & longer which looks better for Longman's Beaked Whale, whereas it drops fairly quickly in Cuvier's Beaked Whale. But I'm not sure there is enough of the head to be sure on head shape or colouration.
Longman's or Immature Cuvier's Beaked Whale: Copyright of the photo remains with Arthur Geilvoet
In summary, I think it's between a fairly young immature Cuvier's Beaked Whale & a Longman's Beaked Whale. In the absence, of a clear full head photo, then I think the identification can still be made based upon the lack of bulk in the body & shape of the body in front of the dorsal fin which doesn't look right for a Cuvier's Beaked Whale, but fits pretty well for a Longman's Beaked Whale. I would be interested in any feedback from other Cetacean peeps with reasons why they agree or disagree with this analysis. Please leave a comment & an email address on the Blog.
Longman's or Immature Cuvier's Beaked Whale: They are also known as Indo-Pacific Beaked Whale. Copyright of the photo remains with Arthur Geilvoet
Subsequent feedback from James Eaton & Dan Brown have suggested this is more likely to be an immature Cuvier's Beaked Whale. I have changed the Blog Post since I wrote it to leave this as a Longman's or Immature Cuvier's Beaked Whale. I suspect we will never get an answer on this one for certain, but I will still look for others with experience of both species for further feedback.

In addition to the Cetaceans, I also had the only Sunfish we saw on the trip, which passed close down the starboard side & which I didn't pick up till it was near the boat. As I called it out to the others, that was the point it decided to head down from the surface.
Floating Coconut: Not everything on the sea's surface turned out to be a Cetacean or resting Seabird