An island made of sperm whales

by firmm Team

Fotos: firmm

The 25th of September was to become a very special day in the history of sperm whale watching in the Strait of Gibraltar.Already the first few weeks of September we had seen one or two sperm whales from time to time, which suggests that they were back in the area. A light Poniente (west wind) was blowing when we left the harbour on that day and headed west. After about 45 minutes excitement arose, a sperm whale blow had been discovered far away at 11 o' clock. As fast as possible we drove there and as we came closer, we saw that there was a whole group of animals on the surface. Apart from the sperm whales there were also some pilot whales to see. We couldn't believe our eyes. We tried to figure out how many animals had gathered here eventually. At least five, we thought first, then six. Eduardo said, “No, there are at least seven." The other crew members tried hard to concentrate in order to find out the exact number. At last, everyone on the fly deck agreed that there were ten animals. I had goose bumps by now. We were trying to figure out what that sperm whale assembly meant.

Sperm whale assembly  

Now also Pilot whales came swimming from all directions from far away, they gathered around the sperm whales and formed like a wall around them. Gonzo, ZackZack, Gorro and Edu were all there. It was an incredible spectacle. The sperm whales did not do much, now and then you could see the part of a head sticking out of the water, then a piece of a tail-fluke, then they joined together to the so-called "Marguerite formation". They usually do this to protect a sick or injured animal. They circle it in, with the tail-flukes pointing outwards, in order to be able to put an attacker to flight if necessary. Of course, it could also be that they had a calf in their midst and protected it. Researchers usually refer to this formation as a "defensive" conduct. What we observed that day, however, made a completely peaceful impression. They temporarily undid the formation, but after half an hour or so they joined together again like the leaves of a daisy. The pilot whales around them also seemed quite relaxed; sometimes you could see them "spyhopping". In order to complete the assembly, some bottlenose dolphins had joined in, too, and now they made high jumps a little further away. We could hardly believe our luck and stared at the scenery as if spellbound. 

A pilot whale "wall" Sperm whales and pilot whales part of a sperm whale fluke head of a sperm whale Daisy formation Daisy formation spyhopping pilot whale 

After a while we saw that in the distance a large flock of seagulls came flying, they were probably curious what this enormous gathering of marine mammals had to mean. Surely they thought that the multitude of animals meant that there might be a bite to eat for them as well. After flying a few rounds over the gathering, satisfying their curiosity and being sure that there was probably nothing edible to get, they moved on again. For us it was already time to drive back, the two hours had flown by.

More... and more birds arrive. 

Of course it was clear, however, that on the next tour we would immediately go back to the place where we left them. And indeed we found them again, but a good deal further west. The first three we found about a mile away from the original point, these were still accompanied by the pilot whales. Another mile further on were the 10 animals, which now lay quietly in a row next to each other. Without much turmoil, simply next to each other. Pilot whales were not to be seen any more; apparently these animals had swum too fast for the pilot whales to keep up. The sperm whales could be observed for quite a while, but then they dived down one by one.

Sperm whales... in a row Now they are... diving down. 

What an unbelievable privilege to see ten sperm whales dive in a row. On the following exit we tried to find the animals again, but unfortunately the fog thwarted our plans. However, this day of sperm whale sighting was a very special day for everyone involved, something like that is rarely seen in the Strait of Gibraltar.  


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