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The Gap Year Blog

Wandering Whales

19 Feb 2020 13:35 PM

Sometimes when we are out at sea, we cross paths with ocean wanderers. The sea has no walls, meaning any great whale can appear anywhere. Bryde’s whales (pronounced broo-dus), are ocean giants reaching 16 to 17 metres at maximum length. Over the last months, we have been visited by Bryde’s whales venturing to the south of Tenerife in pursuit of fish. They are a rare but welcome sight, usually appearing when feeding conditions off the island have stepped up a level.

A Bryde’s whale sighting is often accompanied by a feeding frenzy. The days Bryde’s whales have graced the surface, there seems to be an influx of fish into Tenerife’s waters. This does not go unnoticed by other hungry species. Bryde’s whales’ sightings occur nearby huge pelagic tuna and pods of clever dolphins, working to round up a bait ball. Sea birds plunge into the waves to pick off fish. Such natural spectacles of diversity are what watching marine wildlife is all about.

However, unlike the pods of dolphins and schools of fish, Bryde’s whales generally move by themselves. They are solitary creatures, preferring to dine alone. They are well adapted to do so. Unlike other species of baleen whale which feed mainly on zooplankton, Bryde’s whales prefer a mouthful of fish. The Bryde’s whale is one of two species of baleen whales that has learnt a hunting strategy called ‘bubble netting’. This involves blowing a self-made net of bubbles around a group of fish, trapping them at the surface. This is a smart trick, demonstrating the intelligence of cetaceans in manipulating their environment. Some of our luckier volunteers have been close enough to a feeding Bryde’s whale to witness the bubbles rising in suspense, followed by the emergence of a big fat hungry whale.

We haven’t always appreciated Bryde’s whales in the same way we do today. Rather than pointing cameras at them, years ago they were a common target for whalers. Bryde’s whales are exceptionally similar in appearance to the Sei whale. In fact, the only way to easily differentiate between the two species is by the number of ridges on the whale’s head; where Bryde’s whales have three ridges and Sei whales have just one. When whalers used to catch a Bryde’s whale they didn’t even realise they were catching a completely separate species. Now a protected animal, we are hoping Brdye’s whales will recover to their previous numbers.

Despite our unpleasant history with Bryde’s whales, they seem willing to give us humans a second chance. Bryde’s whale can often be inquisitive, sometimes approaching the whale-watching boats here in Tenerife and doing a spot of ‘human watching’. All the whale-watching boats we partner with share all cetacean sightings and news over a radio. Whenever any of our staff and volunteers overhear the word ‘rorqual’, it is impossible to describe the excitement that follows. There is nothing better than spotting a faraway blow and knowing the big boys have stopped in our neck of the woods again. Bryde’s whales follow the fish and are a sign of a healthy rich ocean.

We hope our waters remain full of life and continue to lure gentle giants.

By Katrina Davies - Frontier Tenerife Volunteer

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservationcommunityteaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!