It was just a normal Friday morning, yet we had no idea of the treat that was in store for us.
Within seconds of arriving down at the shelf to make the transfer to our research vessel, Bardan, a large shape was spotted moving through the water – too large to be a dolphin, too small to be a humpback whale, and it had a dorsal fin, ruling out the possibility of a Dugong sighting.
After some intense minutes of searching for the erratically moving animal, it was spotted several hundred metres away, moving west down the Wasini Channel. Trying to obtain photographs in order to identify the species proved difficult – with a small body size (around 7-8m length), an erratic movement pattern, quiet, indistinct blow and less than 3 seconds at the surface for each breath with about 5 minutes in between breaths, getting any photo at all required you to be quick off the mark! Every camera and video camera on board saw some good use!
|''..a head broke the surface..'' an important part of the distinguishing features|
Possible species included minke whales, either northern, southern or dwarf morphs; Bryde’s or pygmy Bryde’s whales, or small fin or Sei whales. All rorquals, all possibly found here, though none have ever been recorded before.
|''a white oval patch stretching from lower mandible to dorsal surface and a single rostral ridge''|
Turning off the boat engine revealed the inquisitive side of the whale we were watching. Without warning, a head broke the surface right next to the boat, prompting a round of oohs and aahs, but enabling a quick look at a head with a white oval patch stretching from lower mandible to dorsal surface and a single rostral ridge.
This immediately ruled out a Bryde’s whale, which have three rostral ridges, and increased the probability that we were looking at the first ever recorded sighting of a Minke whale in Wasini/Shimoni waters. In addition, the white colouration around the head increased the probability that we were looking at a Dwarf Minke whale.
How intriguing – a great example of why we all love marine. There is always something new to see!
by Chloe Corne, Marine Field staff and Humpback whale obsessionist :)