Lance's Journal

Azores -- 28 July

[Glossary ]

In the crow's nest again. The boat working its way down the southern coast of Pico. I enjoy this solitude, alone with my thoughts, well above the ocean's surface. The sea is so calm today, very little wind. Only a few ripples mark the interface between air and water. For three hours I look for whales and see nothing. Then as it nears 5 pm., some distant blows reveal a female sperm whale and two calves not much larger than the little guy I had seen two days earlier.

As we approach, white churning water around the group of sperm whales and the distinctive, black dorsal fins of short-finned pilot whales indicate some interesting interaction is taking place between the two groups of cetaceans. There are a dozen or more pilot whales in the group, of which there are several large males (approx. 15 feet in length and possessing a more bulbous dorsal than the females) and at least two juveniles. The pilot whales seem to be enjoying a game, hastling the sperm whale calves by swimming beneath and around them. And although difficult to confirm, they appear to be making some contact with the calves. Even the juvenile pilot whales are joining in the fun.

The three sperm whales continue swimming ahead. Unexplainably the female submerges and dissappears for a moment, leaving the calves at the surface to fend for themselves. Defenseless the two small whales stop in the water, confused by the frenzied action around them. But instantly the adult sperm whale rises from the depths- her large brown head breaking the surface with a crash- coming straight toward the calves with an aggressive behavior that scatters the marauding pilot whales.

Soon, a second female sperm whale arrives at the scene, escourting one calf on one course, while the other adult sperm whale manuevers the second calf in the opposite direction. The pilot whales stick with the latter pair for a while longer but soon lose interest and eventually move away, having had their fun.

We continue following this sperm whale couple. At times the calf and adult shallow dive only to emerge a few hundred yards away. Whenever the female dives for extended periods of time, the calf plows ahead, alone at the surface, moving in what seems like a fixed direction. When another adult surfaces nearby, the calf moves toward it, but crosses back over to its mother (I'm taking the liberty to assume it is the mother ) whenever she comes up from a dive.

Once, when alone for an extended period of time, the calf smacked its tail three times in a row on the water's surface. Less than a minute later an adult popped up only a few feet from the calves position. Was it a coincidence the adult happened to appear at that moment, or was the lobtailing-behavior communicationing the calves need for care? Maybe the little guy was simply signaling us that he was tired of our observations. We moved on.

[ Next ] [ Previous ]