Cetaceans on the island of La Palma

MISTICETOS

Bryde’s whale

Balaenoptera edeni

The Bryde’s whale is easy to identify due to the presence of 3 longitudinal ridges on its head and a tall and curved dorsal fin. Its body has a hydrodynamic shape and it is dark grey on the dorsal area and slightly white on the ventral area, sometimes with pinkish stains. The blow of this whale is thin, foggy and with a variable height. They tend to bow their body when diving and do not usually show the caudal fin out of the water. These whales seem to be solitary animals and they can be found them in pairs or as lonely individuals. However, they may be observed in groups in breeding and feeding grounds. It is the only of its family that does not perform seasonal latitudinal migrations. Nonetheless, they do move within a local region seasonally and these movements are very poorly understood but likely associated to those of their prey.
Weight16 - 18,5 T
Size13,7-14,5m
Conservation statusLeast concern
Dietfish, squids and octopus
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Fin whale

Balaenoptera physalus

The fin whale has a hydrodynamic and long body and it’s the second largest species of cetacean in the planet It has a darker dorsal area and it’s white on its ventral side. The head is V-shaped with an only longitudinal ridge and it has a tall and slightly curved dorsal fin. – The blow can reach up to 4-6m high. The characteristic feature of this species is the asymmetrical colour pattern of its rostrum: the left side is dark grey and the right side is light grey with a white left jaw. They normally dive down to 100 – 200m and hold their breath for longer than 10 minutes. his is a very social species that gathers together with other individuals making groups of between 2 and 10 animals. In Canary Islands, we can see them with calves and even accompanied by different species, such as sei whales, Bryde’s whales or dolphins.
Weight♂50T ♀39T
Size♂20m ♀18.5m
Conservation statusVulnerable
DietKrill (Mostly)

Sei whale

Balaenoptera borealis

This species has a sharp and slightly bowed head which shows an only central ridge starting off the blowhole. The colour pattern is dark grey to brown on its top and white on its ventral area. The dorsal fin is tall, thin and quite curved and it is positioned two thirds along the back unlike the majority of the baleen whales. Therefore, when they surface the dorsal fin can be seen along with the blowhole. This species of whale produces a column-like blow when breathing that can reach 3m high. In general terms, they are seen in small groups of up to 5 individuals or as solitary animals. However, in the breeding and feeding grounds we can see up to 200 whales gathering.
Weight15-17T
Size14,5m
Conservation statusThreatened
DietMainly krill

ODONTOCETOS

Short-finned pilot whale

Globicephala macrorhynchus

This species is easy to identify thanks to the presence of 3 longitudinal ridges on the head and its tall, falcate dorsal fin. It has a hydrodynamic body that is dark gray on the dorsal part and a little lighter or white on the ventral region, sometimes with pink hues. – When submerged they arch their bodies and normally do not show their caudal fins out of the water. They are quite solitary animals, being able to be found alone or in pairs, although in the feeding and reproduction areas they can be observed in groups. It is the only whale that does not perform seasonal latitudinal migrations, although it does make small seasonal movements possibly associated with those of its prey and still little studied.
Weight1,3 - 2,3 T
Size♂6,5m ♀5m
Conservation statusData deficient
DietSquid, octopus and fish (occasionally)

Sperm whale

Physeter macrocephalus

The sperm whale is the biggest cetacean with teeth. Its huge and rounded head is very noticeable and accounts for one third of the total length of the animal It has a single blowhole that is shifted to the left, which makes it easy to identify from the distance as we can see a left-angled blow. Sperm whales can dive down to 2000m in order to feed on their favourite prey, such as the giant squid. Females become sexually mature at the age of 8-9 and the pregnancy period is 18 months. This species can be seen throughout the year in Canary Islands. We commonly see “nursery groups” integrated by social pods of females and calves, closely related to each other.
Weight♂40T ♀15T
Size♂17m ♀11m
Conservation statusVulnerable
DietSquids and deep-sea fish

Common dolphin

Delphinus delphis

Common dolphins are easy to differ from other species of dolphins due to their yellow-ish flanks on both sides of their body. Some adults also have this colour on the base of the dorsal fin. They live in large pods usually split by age and/or gender. This species is a very active dolphin that can jump out of the water and approach quite close to the boats. They dive down to 200m of depth and their dives last approximately 2 to 8 minutes. This species has a strong seasonality in the Canary region since it has been registered in these waters only in the winter and spring months.
Weight80-130kg
Size2,5m
Conservation statusLeast concern
Dietfish, squids and octopus
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Rough-toothed dolphin

Steno bredanensis

Unlike other dolphins, the rough-toothed dolphin is easily identified for not having a clear demarcation between their sloping melon and their beak. They have a grey body and it’s characteristic a white-pink pattern on their beak and ventral area. This is an oceanic species which is strongly associated to deep waters (> 1000m), usually far from the coast. For this reason, although they have a wide distribution, it is very challenging to see them in nature and therefore it is one of the most poorly understood species of dolphin. As Canary Islands are very steep under water, this species can be seen in coastal areas. Some populations show trends of staying in local areas or even being potentially resident.
Weight150kg
Size2,6 - 2,8 m
Conservation statusLeast concern
DietFish, squids and octopus

Bottlenose dolphin

Tursiops truncatus

The bottlenose dolphin is one of the most popular dolphins due to its coastal habits and its unfortunate presence in captivity. It has a grey body and white ventral area. Morphological differences have been described between coastal and off-shore populations, being the latter the ones with a larger size and darker body. This species can be seen throughout the year and some populations are known to be resident. They are frequently found in pods of up to 20 animals that have strong social bonds to each other. This species is highly protected by European laws due to its proximity to the coast and consequent interaction with anthropic activities.
Weight250 - 650 kg
Size1,9 - 3,8m
Conservation statusLeast concern
DietFish, squid, octopus and crustaceans

Atlantic spotted dolphin

Stenella frontalis

The Atlantic spotted dolphin is one of the smallest species we find in Canary waters. Calves lack of dots on their body and they start developing only at the age of 2-3 when weaning takes place. Their dorsal fin is tall and curved with absence of dots. They can dive down to a maximum of 100m of depth for about 6 minutes. They dive to a maximum depth of 6m for around 6min. They can be observed throughout the year in large pods (between 10 and 50 animals) and show an acrobatic and friendly behaviour towards the boats.
Weight130 - 140 kg
Size2 - 2,3 m
Conservation statusData deficient
DietFish, squid, octopus and crustaceans

Stripped dolphin

Stenella corelueoalba

The main feature of this species is the black stripe that goes along its body on both sides, from the eye to the flipper and the anus. The stripped dolphin is widely distributed in warm and temperate waters around the world and Canary Islands is one of the breeding and feeding grounds of the species. They gather in large pods and have acrobatic behaviour, although they do now show themselves curious about the boats as it’s the case of other dolphins.
Weight80 - 115 kg
Size2,5 m
Conservation statusData deficient
DietFish, squid, octopus and crustaceans

False killer whale

Pseudorca crassidens

It is easily recognized due to its “torpedo” body shape along with its dark colour and lack of beak. The false killer whale is a poorly understood species and has received little attention because of its oceanic habits, found most of the times far from the coast. This species receives its name thanks to the similar diet to the orca’s (both are top predators) and the similar morphology with that species (specially their skull) False killer whales gather in family units of 10-60 animals.

In Canary Islands, this is a rare species and the scarcely sightings are related to the presence of big tuna fish (main prey of this species) in the area.

Weight1200 - 2200kg
Size5 - 6 m
Conservation statusData deficient
DietFish, squids and other smaller dolphins (in rare occasions)

Cuvier's beaked whale

Ziphius cavirostris

The Cuvier’s beaked whale is the most common species of ziphid. They are usually found in pods of 3-12 individuals although their ecology makes sightings challenging since they are deep divers and can do apneas of up to 40 minutes long. Sexual dimorphism is not very noticeable. However, an adult male can be recognized by the pair of conical teeth that they develop on the tip of the lower jaw, which can be seen even with their mouth closed. This pair of teeth is not shown in females because the teeth are not functional (ziphids prey on soft animals such as squids, that can be sucked). These teeth are thought to be involved in mating events and fights for females. The presence of scars produced in these fights is very evident on the back of the males and are missing in juveniles and sub adults.
Weight3 T
Size5,5 - 6,9 m
Conservation statusLeast concern
DietFish and deep sea squids

Blainville's beaked whale

Mesoplodon densirostris

This species has a robust and hydrodynamic body. The head is small with a flattened melon. They have a brown/greyish colour with dorsal ochre marks explained by the presence of diatoms on their skin. Only in males, the much arched tip of the lower jaw shows a pair of teeth that are well developed when they reach breeding age. The teeth are frequently colonized by cyrripeds and are considered a secondary sex characteristic. They feed at variable depths ranging between 300 and 1300m and their apneas last up to 45 minutes.
Weight800 - 1000 kg
Size4,5m
Conservation statusLeast concern
DietFish and deep sea squids

Risso's dolphin

Grampus griseus

The Risso’s dolphin is a species with a robust body and rounded head with no beak. Its dorsal fin is tall (up to 50cm) and curved and it’s positioned in the middle of the back White scars cover the whole body and are bigger in number with the age, reason why they turn white. The scars are produced mainly in fights among them. More white males are dominant in the pods and more attractive to females. Females tend to be darker and newborns have a grey colour. – Females tend to be darker and newborns have a grey colour.
Weight350 - 450 kg
Size3,8 m
Conservation statusLeast concern
DietFish and squids

Other species

Cory’s shearwater

Calonectris diomedea

The Cory’s shearwater is, no doubt, the most emblematic and representative seabird of the archipelago. This is a migratory bird and one of the biggest species of shearwaters. They get to the coast only during the breeding season and that is why they are mainly observed flying off shore or resting on the sea surface. They have a characteristic brown-greyish plumage on the dorsal area and whiter on the ventral area. Both sexes can be differentiated by their vocalizations, since they produce this type of sounds when approaching to the coast. Females tend to have coarser and deeper sounds than males. They nest over islets and coastal cliffs, where they lay an only egg that is babysitted by both parents for 55 days.

Weight600 - 800 g
Size120 - 125 cm wingspan 45 - 56 cm length
Conservation statusLeast concern
DietFish, crustaceans and cephalopods

Flying fish

Fam. Exocoetidae

Up to 70 different species of flying fish exist and they all belong to the Exocoetidae family. Flying fish present a worldwide distribution in the oceans, but especially in tropical and subtropical waters.

Their big wing-like fins enable them to glide over the water‘s surface for up to 50 m distance and during 45 seconds. This strategy is useful to escape from natural predators (mackerel, tuna fish, sword fish, marlin…), reaching speeds of 50-60 km/h. It is very usual to find them when in the tour, making leaps above the surface.

Weight300 - 500 g
Size25 - 30 cm
Conservation statusLeast concern
DietPlankton

Loggerhead turtle

Caretta caretta

The loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) is one of the most frequent species around Canary Islands They come from the western Atlantic and juveniles travel along the Gulf Stream to get to the Macaronesia. Once they are sexually mature (6-7 years old) they will return to their birthplace. These turtles are usually found floating on the water so as to increase their body temperature, since they are cold-blooded animals. We can sometimes observe they carry parasites and algae on their back and there is evidence that they could host up to 100 different species of those. The most obvious difference between both sexes is found in their tail, being thicker and shorter on males.

Weight90 - 150 kg
Size0,9 - 1,2 m
Conservation statusVulnerable
DietBivalves, crustaceans, corals, fish, jellyfish, sea urchins, algae

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