Two tropical species in the temperate waters of The Azores?

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2020 has been an amazing year for sightings of two rare species in the waters of the Azores – Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera edeni) and whale sharks (Rhincodon typus)!!! 

Whale shark sighted on August 29th 2020.

Both species inhabit tropical and warm temperate waters but are very occasionally sighted in the Azores. According to the IUCN, Bryde’s whale are considered Least Concern while whale sharks are Endangered and their population is decreasing. Presence of both species in Azorean waters might be due to a temporal expansion of their range, meaning that these good conditions for them may only be found temporarily in our waters.

Bryde’s whales were only confirmed in the Azores for the first time in 2004 (Steiner et al., 2008). However, before this they may have been misidentified and could be more common here than previously thought. Futurismo’s team has sighted Bryde’s whales in São Miguel for only a couple of weeks in the summer of 2009, another couple of weeks in the summer of 2013, and a few months in 2017 (van der Linde et al., 2013). This year, Bryde’s whales have already been around for a while, providing us with amazing experiences during our whale watching tours.

One of our interns from the University of the Algarve, Margarida Leal, has been looking at our photos and she has managed to identify 24 different Bryde’s whales according to the shape and marks on their dorsal fin.

When talking about whale sharks, these are even more rare than the Bryde’s whale – the last sighting of a whale shark recorded by Futurismo in São Miguel goes back to 2008! Since then, there have been some sighted mostly by fishermen in São Miguel, and a few in Santa Maria island, which is further south of São Miguel.

This year we have recorded some amazing sightings, and more whale sharks have been seen by other companies and fishermen. The 30th of August was International Whale Shark day, and our interns from the University of Barcelona (Marc Rams and Diego Esteban) and Vilnius University (Laura Stukonyte) have prepared a schematic poster to explain how to identify these animals with photos.

Are those extraordinary sightings in the Azores related with climate change? 

It is hard to confirm, but we can definitely say that something is changing! The international scientific community is currently working looking at this worldwide. Futurismo is actively collaborating with the SOCLIMPACT European project, which aims to assess the effects of Climate Change on the Blue Economy, and particularly with Andreia Sousa, a researcher from University of Lisbon, whose investigation aims to create a vulnerability index for cetacean species in the Macaronesia.

We can’t wait to better understand what’s happening and what the future holds for both species in the waters of the Azores!

Check out the videos of our sightings of a Bryde’s whale and a Whale Shark!

Story written by Mafalda Navas.

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