Baleen whale migration 2023: fun and science

by Enrico Villa

Late March will see the official start of our baleen whale season 2023. Join us and enjoy close encounters with the biggest animals of all, while helping our scientific research activities!

Mother and calf Humpback whale spy-hopping

Mother and calf Humpback whale spy-hopping (photo by Justin Hart)

While Sperm whales and dolphins are always with us, baleen whales pass by our waters mainly in spring, while they migrate north towards their high-latitude summer foraging grounds.

Baleen whales belong to suborder Mysticeti of the Cetacea order and have always been the main subject of our self-funded scientific research. Now, thanks to a collaboration with Professor Michael Traugott of the University of Innsbruck and biotech company Sinsoma GmbH, our investigation on the diet of Blue whales, Fin whales, Humpback whales and Sei whales has taken on a whole new dimension.

Blue whale diving for krill

Blue whale diving for krill (photo by Justin Hart)

A few years ago we at CW Azores succeeded in identifying the krill species our baleen whales feed upon in the Azores: the Northern krill (Meganyctiphanes norvegica). We did that by analysing prey samples, which we collected right where Blue whales and Fin whales were feeding at the water surface.
Last year, we successfully re-confirmed this by extracting prey DNA from faecal samples of Blue and Fin whales, using a technique known as DNA metabarcoding.

Our lucky and strongly conservation-oriented spring guests were with us during data collection and, of course, they enjoyed lots of close encounters with the undiscussed gentle giants of our planet.
This is what you can call literally a WHALE OF A TIME! 😉

Fin whale defecating at the surface after a fish meal

Fin whale defecating at the surface after a fish meal (photo by Justin Hart)

Scientifically speaking, our goals for baleen whale season 2023 are the following:

  1. Get more faecal samples from Blue whales and Fin whales. In particular, we would love to be able to collect Fin whale faeces when they feed on fish (like in the picture above, where the water is stained greenish/brownish, as opposed to red-stained waters when whales feed on krill).

  2. Collect faecal samples of Humpback whales and Sei whales, since we have not got any yet!

  3. Collect eDNA samples on a regular basis, utilising techniques that we fine-tuned under the guidance of Prof. Traugott in 2021 and 2022.

Cutting edge eDNA analysis is so amazingly sensitive that we can obtain genetic material from whales and many more organisms by simply filtering seawater around the animals, or even in their absence! In the latter case, the whales were there before and left traces of their DNA.

Krill jumping off the water to escape baleen whale predation

Krill jumping off the water to escape baleen whale predation (photo by Justin Hart)

In spring, we offer two special Whale Watching holidays. They are a lot of fun and also highly educational!

Whale Watching holidays Spring 2023

- BLUE WHALE MIGRATION (English | German | Italian)

- GIANTS OF THE SEA (English | German | Italian)

By purchasing one of the above packages you will you enjoy breathtaking encounters with baleen whales. Furthermore, you will help our research and learn a lot more about whales and dolphins, as our spring special programmes also include lectures!

Want to see the biggest animal ever to live on Earth? Join us now!