Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bahamas Expedition: Rare sighting of a pygmy sperm whale

This post was written July 12.

At sea well before 7 a.m., with light winds and calm seas, we head to Cross Point, the location of last nights beaked whales. Early en-route, we encounter several pygmy sperm whales (Kogia sima) a species the NEAq team had never seen from a boat before (blunt headed small whales, ca 9-10 feet). [Note: the Aquarium's rescue team has responded a deceased pygmy sperm whale, shown in this post.] Remarkably, even less is known about this species (and its close relative the dwarf sperm whale) than the beaked whales, and every sighting is a treat. These whales are also deep-diving squid eaters, but spend little time at the surface, and are extremely wary of boats.

 Pygmy sperm whales (Kogia sima) in the distance. This is about all one usually sees of this species! 
(BMMRO/K. Ferguson)

But onward. Beaked whales, almost in the same spot as last night! Diane spots them early, but they prove elusive, with long dives and short surfacing periods. And the wind starts picking up, eventually making sight conditions impossible. Then one of our motors starts smoking and has to be shut down. We retreat to a nearby cove to anchor, check the engine, and see if the wind drops. Our refuge is home to a local reef, so several of our crew slip over the side to have a look around. This reef is at risk by a proposal for building a channel to develop a limestone quarry just behind the beach, so it was interesting to see the diversity of coral and fish in the area. [Note: The Aquarium's teen divers posted their observations from threatened mangrove habitats along the coast of Bimini last year.]

Bottlenosed dolphins over the sandy bank at Rocky Point, South Abaco. (Photo: NEAq/R. Rolland)

The engine does not appear to be damaged, but needs some attention, and the wind increases. Yikes! We retreat for home on one engine, with Diane on the phone to the mechanic. He suggests a simple temporary solution, and we are back in action (sort of), but the wind gives us no breaks, and we continue homeward. A greeting committee of the local bottlenosed dolphins interferes with a direct transit, and we identify 21-22 of them before continuing on, arriving at the field station in mid-afternoon.


Facebook Comments


Post a Comment