Hi all. Following on from the excellent podcast with Bob Pitman and some brief chats with Jon – I have put together some notes on finding marine mammals around the world, based on my experience guiding boat based trips around the world for the last 20 years. This document includes an annotated list of where I have seen some cetacean species around the world and then a description of some of the possibilities on ship-based expeditions I have guided around the world with a focus on the more poorly known species. I hope this information is interesting and useful to some of you. We would be really interested to hear of other regular spots to see some of the more poorly known species and encourage folks to leave comments if they have good sites for the uncommon species. Cheers! Adam
Marine Mammal Notes by Adam Walleyn firstname.lastname@example.org
NWP = Northwest Passage
NAO = North Atlantic Odyssey
BDU = Birding Down Under
AO = Atlantic Odyssey
WPO = West Pacific Odyssey
RFE = Russian Far East
RWPIC = Remote West Pacific Islands Cruise
??? = not seen by me
Southern Right Whale
North Atlantic Right Whale – land based Cape Cod mid March to mid May
North Pacific Right Whale – slim chance southern part of RFE June and July (Ring of Fire, Siberia’s Forgotten Coast with HE) I’ve only seen it once in northern Kurils
Bowhead Whale – NWP, NAO, Wrangel Island trip, land based Shantar Islands, Floe Edge mid/late June
Pygmy Right Whale – subantarctic convergence – very slim chance on BDU and AO…I’ve only seen it once couple hundred miles north of South Georgia
Common Minke Whale
Dwarf Minke Whale – rare in subantarctic waters and even Antarctic peninsula sometimes; widespread in tropical waters but generally hard to see/identify there
Antarctic Minke Whale – common any Antarctic trip
Sei Whale – many places but entrance to Beagle Channel most reliable I know
Eden’s Whale – ??? I’m a bit unclear about distinction between Bryde’s and Eden’s
Omura’s Whale – Raja Ampat, eastern Indonesia
Pygmy Sperm Whale – seen just a handful of times in deep trenches in Solomons Islands seems much rarer than sima (WPO)
Dwarf Sperm Whale – tropical water deep drop-offs not uncommon, Solomon Islands best place (WPO, AO)
Arnoux’s Beaked Whale – Ross Sea regular north of McMurdo ice edge
Sato’s Beaked Whale – Kuril Islands
Baird’s Beaked Whale – Commander Islands – sw side of Bering Island usually reliable
Cuvier’s Beaked Whale – regular in any deep tropical waters – WPO, AO, etc
Northern Bottlenose Whale – Jan Mayen (NAO)
Southern Bottlenose Whale –Drake Passage and Scotia Sea, south of New Zealand
Shepherd’s Beaked Whale – occasional Tristan da Cunha, Chathams Islands ie near islands along subantarctic convergence (AO, BDU)
Tropical Bottlenose Whale – deep drop offs New Caledonia and Solomon Islands (WPO)
Sowerby’s Beaked Whale – ??? the Gully off eastern Canada (Sable Island trip with Adventure Canada)
Andrew’s Beaked Whale – seen a male once in the Bounty Trench (BDU)
Hubb’s Beaked Whale – seen pod containing males once on shelf off Honshu
Blainville’s Beaked Whale – most common warm water mesoplodont (WPO)
Gervais’ Beaked Whale – Brian Patteson’s Hatteras trips
Gingko-toothed Beaked Whale – seen male at Torishima once but we suspect its pretty common there (WPO)
Gray’s Beaked Whale – common on Chatham Rise (BDU), sometimes in Scotia Sea
Hector’s Beaked Whale – ???
Deraniyagala’s Beaked – ???
Strap-toothed Beaked Whale – regular in Scotia Sea, Drake Passage, south of NZ
True’s Beaked Whale – ???
Perrin’s Beaked Whale – ???
Pygmy Beaked Whale – ???
Stejneger’s Beaked Whale – Bering Sea crossing from Kamchatka to Commander Islands
Spade-toothed Beaked Whale – ???
Ganges River Dolphin – Chambal
Indus River Dolphin – Harike Punjab
Araguain Boto – ???
Bolivian Boto – ???
Pink River Dolphin
Franciscana – Ilha Comprida
Narwhal – Floe Edge, NWP
Atlantic White-sided Dolphin – off Maritimes and New England
White-beaked Dolphin – NAO
Peale’s Dolphin – Falklands
Hourglass Dolphin – Antarctic convergence
Pacific White-sided Dolphin – west coast USA/Canada
Dusky Dolphin – New Zealand, South Africa, etc
Irawaddy Dolphin – Mekong River in Cambodia
Australian Snubfin – ??? Darwin
Short-beaked Common Dolphin
Long-beaked Common Dolpin – Channel Islands
Fraser’s Dolphin – Solomons and eastern Indonesia (WPO, RWPIC)
Indopacific Humpbacked Dolphin – ??? Hong Kong
Indian Humpbacked Dolphin – from land De Hoop SA
Australian Humpbacked Dolphin – Queensland
Atlantic Humpbacked Dolphin – Arguin Bank Mauritania
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin
Clymene Dolphin – open ocean south or northn of Asenscion (AO)
Striped Dolphin – widespread but spotty; volcanic islands south of Japan most regular spot I know (WPO)
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin – Hatteras trips, Canary Islands
Rough-toothed Dolphin – widespread but uncommon in tropics Ascension Island reliable (AO)
Short-finned Pilot Whale
Long-finned Pilot Whale
Pygmy Killer Whale – Solomon Islands (WPO), Humboldt current good too
Melon-headed Whale – Solomon Islands, eastern Indo, volcanic islands south of Japan (WPO, RWPIC)
False Killer Whale
Northern Right Whale Dolphin – ??? Monterey
Southern Right Whale Dolphin – subantarctic convergence: Chatham Rise, north of South Georgia (BDU, AO)
Commerson’s Dolphin – Falklands
Chilean Dolphin – southern Chilean fiords
Heaviside’s Dolphin – West Coast NP
Hector’s Dolphin – Banks Peninsula, etc. NZ
Narrow-ridged Finless Porpoise – ???
IndoPacific Finless Porpoise – ??? Hong Kong
East Asian Finless Porpoise – ??? unclear about these splits
Spectacled Porpoise – slim chance near Antarctic convergence – have seen once in Scotia Sea and once in Drake Passage
Vaquita – ???
Burmeister’s Porpoise – Humboldt current coastal areas of northern Chile and southern Peru
A Marine Mammal Enthusiasts Quick Guide to Ship-Based Expeditions
These are my impressions of marine mammals possible on the various ship-based expeditions I’ve guided around the world. The emphasis on these notes is for the more uncommon species and just based solely on my impressions of doing these trips, normally several to many times. Every trip is different. Its also worth noting that unless specifically mentioned these trips are not dedicated marine mammal watching trips and so don’t expect deviations in itinerary to search for these species or even for the boat to change its course if these species are encountered.
Antarctic Peninsula trips – A well known and well traveled route. Beagle Channel at start and end of trip excellent for Sei Whale (especially near channel entrance), very slim chance of Burmeister’s Porpoise. Crossing to Falklands reliable for bow-riding Peales Dolphin. Falkland Islands almost sure bet for Peale’s and Commerson’s Dolphin, also chance for Right and Sei Whale. Crossing to South Georgia can be phenomenal for numbers and variety including Blue and amazing numbers of Fin. Strap-toothed Whale is regular on this crossing and Gray’s Beaked Whale occasional. Very slim chance of Spectacled Porpoise. South Georgia good for Blue and Right Whale and incredible numbers of Antarctic Fur Seal and Southern Elephant Seal. Crossing to peninsula also can have amazing concentrations of large whales especially Fin with chance of Blue. Hourglass Dolphin is reliable on this crossing as is Southern Bottlenose Whale (usually multiple sightings); Strap-toothed Whale is also regular on this crossing. Peninsula usually produces Orca, Humpback and Antarctic Minke, rarely Dwarf Minke which can be playful with boats and rarely Arnoux’s Beaked Whale in South Shetlands. Wedell, Crabeater and Leopard Seals all expected. Drake Passage good for Southern Bottlenose Whale and sometimes Type D Orca.
Ross Sea trips – a long trip south from New Zealand. A huge diversity of cetaceans occur along the way but it is often rather quiet. Southern Bottlenose Whale and Hourglass Dolphin good bets and Strap-toothed Whale fairly regular as well. Blue and Right Whale possible. The subantarctic islands south of New Zealand have large numbers of Hooker’s Sea Lion. There usually isn’t much pack ice at north end of Ross Sea but when there is Ross’ Seal can be common. The fast ice edge down at the bottom of the Ross Sea seems reliable for Arnoux’s Beaked Whale. Type C Orca is very common in Ross Sea.
East Antarctica – most years Heritage Expeditions run a trip from NZ to East Antarctica. Apart from the usual southern ocean stuff this trip usually encounters quite a bit of pack ice which normally has Ross’s Seal on it.
South Indian Ocean – ships rarely venture to the subantarctic islands of the Indian Ocean sector (French and South African authorities have made it almost impossible to land on their islands) – the one time I headed down this way for a long trip I didn’t see anything but the usual southern ocean species.
Eastern New Zealand subantarctics – most of these islands subs are readily visited on any Antarctic trip from NZ, but only occasional trips are made out to the eastern islands of Bounty, Antipodes and Chatham and these are the most interesting from a cetacean perspective. I’ve had a very close encounter with male Andrew’s Beaked Whale in the Bounty Trough north of the Bounties. The Antipodes often have Subantarctic Fur Seal on them. The Chatham Islands are a very exciting area. Based on strandings they probably have the greatest beaked whale diversity anywhere. The Chatham Rise in particular (running between Chathams and New Zealand) is amazing. I once saw in a single day 14 pods of Gray’s Beaked Whale totally overing 100 individual. They are the most common beaked whale there but I have also seen Sheperd’s, Strap-toothed and Southern Bottlenose and there are surely others, though most of the rest would be tough/impossible to identify. Chatham Rise is a regular (but not every trip) place for Southern Right Whale Dolphin and Pygmy Right Whale has been documented there but not seen by me there!
Ships running from the southern hemisphere to northern often put on repositioning cruises and these are some of the best ways to access the tropical regions for marine mammal watching.
Humboldt current – up the west coast of South America. Chilean fiords for Chilean Dolphin. Further north coast of Chile excellent for Blue, Fin and Sei. Burmeister’s Porpoise in coastal areas of northern Chile and southern Peru (Arica and Callao two good areas). Further north still off northern Peru, Ecuador and Colombia can be good for a variety of dolphins (including Striped), blackfish (including Pygmy Killer) and possibly beaked (potentially including Peruvian Beaked Whale).
Mid Atlantic Ridges/Atlantic Odyssey – Antarctica to Europe. Can be an epic cetacean watching trip. Starts off in Antarctica in April when large whale feeding concentrations are at their peak and can be mindblowing. Crossing from South Georgia to Tristan da Cunha can be very exciting: Southern Right Whale Dolphin is regular, it is the only place I have seen Pygmy Right Whale. Good numbers of Blue Whale sometimes and good chances for Strap-toothed and possibly other beaked whales. The Tristan/Gough group is noteable for large numbers of Subantarctic Fur Seal and have had very friendly Sheperd’s Beaked Whale pod right off Nightingale Island. Crossing north to St Helena tend to be very quiet. Long crossings north to Ascension and Cape Verde generally quiet but can be very good including sometimes large pods of Clymene Dolphin, Striped Dolphin and chances for Cuvier’s and Mesoplodon beaked whales (good luck identifying them!) and Dwarf Sperm Whale. Ascension Island is great for bow-riding Rough-toothed Dolphin plus Bottlenose Dolphins hunting flyingfish around anchored boat at night. Trip often continues through Macaronesian Islands of Cape Verde, Canaries, Salvagems and Madeira via Arguin Bank. Great numbers and diversity in this area including False Killer Whale, Risso’s and Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Cuvier’s and Blainville’s Beaked Whale, plus Blue, Fin and Bryde’s, megapods of Common Dolphin, etc. I’ve seen Atlantic Humpbacked Dolphin on Arguin Bank on this trip and there is a slim chance of Mediterranean Monk Seal around Madeira.
West Pacific Odyssey – New Zealand to Japan. Another really interesting trip for tropical cetaceans. Crossings from New Zealand to Norfolk Island and on to New Caledonia can have Striped Dolphin, False Killer Whale, Cuvier’s and Blainville’s Beaked Whale and Blue and Bryde’s. Steep drop-offs around New Caledonia can have Tropical Bottlenose Whale and Cuvier’s and Blainville’s Beaked Whale. The many steep drop-offs and trenches around the Solomon Islands and eastern New Guinea are in my experience the best tropical cetacean watching in the world, certainly so for diversity. Particularly good for blackfish (Pygmy Killer, False Killer, Melon-headed and Short-finned Pilot) along with Fraser’s and Rough-toothed Dolphin, both Dwarf and even Pygmy Sperm Whale, Tropical Bottlenose Whale, Mesoplodon sp., and interesting rorquals possibly including Eden’s, Omura and Dwarf Minke. Plus huge numbers of Spotted and Spinner. The long crossing to Micronesia and on to southern Japan tends to be very quiet but always some interesting possibilities. The volcanic islands south of Japan (Bonins, Torishima, etc.) are quite lively. Mesoplodonts seem rather common here and at least some are Gingko-toothed. Also good for Striped Dolphin, Melon-headed Whale. On the final stages of the journey coming into Honshu we have had Hubb’s once and sometimes Baird’s Beaked Whale.
There are lots of other cruises through the tropics the most interesting for cetaceans that I’ve done are around eastern Indonesia – for me, second only to the Solomons for tropical cetacean watching. Melon-headed Whale, Fraser’s Dolphins and Omura’s Whales are some of the more interesting species there.
Russian Far East – Carrying on north from Japan lots of really interesting trips into north Pacific. Kuril Islands have small chances of Sato’s Beaked Whale and Pacific Right Whale plus large numbers of Orca, Dall’s Porpoise, Sperm Whale. Sea of Okhotsk has chance for most of these species plus Beluga and Bowhead, and four species of ice seal: Ribbon (regular on pack ice in early summer), Bearded, Ringed and Largha. Commander Islands also has slim chance of Pacific Right Whale, plus lots of large whale (Humpback, some Fin, chance of Blue), lots of Orca and regular for Baird’s Beaked Whale. Crossing between Kamchatka and Commanders is a possibility for Stejneger’s Beaked Whale. Heading north along Kamchatka and Chukotka peninsula very slim chance of Pacific Right Whale, plus lots of Gray Whale and Beluga, some chance of Ribbon Seal and huge Walrus haulout. Chukchi Sea good chance for Bowhead Whale. Northeast Passage continuing along north coast gets into Laptev Walrus country and then Franz Josef has another decent chance of Bowhead, slim chance at Narwhal.
North Atlantic Odyssey this is the continuation of the Atlantic Odyseey – Netherlands to Spitsbergen. Starting out with White-beaked Dolphins in North Sea and then past Fair Isle and on to Jan Mayen – the latter an excellent area for Northern Bottlenose Whale. Heading north to east Greenland pack ice which has been fairly reliable for Bowhead in recent years (sometimes in enormous numbers). Also massive numbers of Harp Seal and usually reliable for Hooded Seal as well. East to Svalbard for Blue Whale, Beluga, Walrus, etc.
Northwest Passage – usually runs from Greenland to western Canadian arctic, sometimes on to Alaska. Most interesting section is eastern Canadian arctic. Fiords and deep bays in eastern Canadian arctic usually reliable for Narwhal though views are often poor – but not always! Lots of Harp Seals in these areas as well and sometimes Hooded Seals on pack ice. Fiords sometimes have Belugas – shallow estuaries can have incredible rubbing concentrations. Sometimes get into summer feeding grounds of Bowhead in Prince Regent Inlet. Trips carrying on to Alaska get into large numbers of Bowhead in Beaufort Sea.