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Whales of Comoros
Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
The humpback whale is so named for the hump on which the dorsal fin rests. In the Comoros it bears the name of Noudjou. The humpback whale can grow up to 18 meters long and the females are generally longer than the males, who average 15m in length. The humpback whale is characterized by a robust body and exceptionally large pectoral fins, it is the only whale with such long limbs and represents 1/3 of the length of its body. On its head, the whale has tubercles, sort of "buttons" that would be traces of ancient sensory follicles, their functions are not known to this day. The pectoral fins have irregular bumps on the outer edge and the dorsal fin back is covered by more or less obvious bumps, depending on the individual, in the joints of the spine. It is slate-colored, black at a distance with color variations from one individual to another, the ventral part of the whale is white spotted with black and irregularly. The ventral part of the caudal fin can be white or black with variations of pattern specific to each individual. This pattern is used to identify each individual in a formal way. This species is known for its spectacular acrobatic jumps that it performs quite regularly, its pectoral and caudal flippers against the surface of the water. Comorian humpback whales belong to the overstock C2 that migrate between the Antarctic and the Comoros, Madagascar.
The humpback whale is a migratory species that travels thousands of kilometers between its breeding area (the tropics) and food (Antarctica). The Comoros are a very important step in the migration of humpback whales, mating, calving, educating and preparing their calves for migration to food areas. Their presence is timed between June and December with a peak of attendance at the month of September. The males produce a very characteristic song whose function is not yet well known, it is quite possible that it plays a role in breeding and mating. The song evolves during the season and years with additions, omissions, innovations, humpback whale singing is fascinating and complex and is transmitted by copying, each new innovations in the singing of a single singer can be adopted by a whole population, we speak of a culture of transmission. The males form competitive groups that match each other, compete for a few days until only one remains, the latter can mate and play the role of escort to the female with calf. The population visiting the Comoros have not yet been estimated and we do not know yet whether individuals are loyal to the Comoros or if they are opportunistic visitors. The data is being analyzed, whales tagged in Mayotte and Moheli show that they are in perpetual motion and they come to rest in the Comoros for some time and continue their paths. The major parts of our observations show that the most commonly observed formation around Chindini / Foumboni are Mothers / Calves pairs. Groups of males observed in the Comoros can reach up to 7 individuals and songs are recorded throughout the mating season.
Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)
The sperm whale is the world’s largest predator, Adult male sperm whales (more than 50 feet long [more than 16 meters] and more than 45 tons are the largest toothed whales. Unlike the baleen whales, sperm whales are active predators, specializing on large squids in the deep sea but also eating large bony fishes and sharks. Sperm whales have several specialized physical characteristics that aid in this predatory behavior. They have large conical teeth for ensnaring their preferred prey. Like most active predators, they have large brains and in fact, the sperm whale has the largest brain of any animal on the planet. They also have the most powerful sonar of any animal, which they use to find their prey in the dark deep sea. Finally, they have an ability to dive to incredible depths (up to 1000 meters) and stay down for incredible lengths of time (up to two hours), both abilities increasing their likelihood of finding prey. As a result of their deep-sea behaviors, sperm whales typically live in waters of several thousand meters deep and are rarely seen along the coast except in areas where deep trenches or underwater canyons approach the shore.
Dwarf Minke whale (Balaenoptera sp.)
This whale is one of the smallest baleen whales up to 8 meters long. It is characterized by a very pointed muzzle, an erect and curved dorsal fin, a dark, blackish color of general appearance and a unique coloration for the species with a unique patchwork for each individual. The pectoral fins are short, dark at their extremities and white at their bases, this white color extends to the shoulder and the lower abdomen. The pointed snout has a light gray, triangular thoracic patches are present from each side of the animal at the pectoral fin to the dorsal portion.
This species was first observed in the Comoros by Moidjio CRCAD in September 2018, a group of 3 individuals including a juvenile whale swimming between Grande Comore and Moheli. His ecology and behavior are not known. It is a rather shy species, difficult to observe by its small size, it does not produce blow.
Cuvier's Beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)
Video made during MMO/PAM course in Savona joint venture between Menkab el respiro del mare and Moidjio CRCAD. (credit: Biagio Violi)
This whale has never been observed alive before in the region and in the Comoros, only one individual stranded in Grande Comroes was identified by Robineau in 1975, suggesting the presence of Ziphius cavirostris in the Comoros. The Cuvier's whale is a medium-sized whale measuring nearly 7 meters long. Its coloration is vary from one individual to another with a body between light brown and black, strewn with scars and more numerous in older males. This species of beaked whale is characterized by a pale, gray or white head whose forehead is rather steep and with a lower jaw longer than the upper jaw, the males have 2 conical teeth at the end of the lower jaw. Zc has a small dorsal fin erect and curved, located 2/3 of its robust body. It is a very difficult animal to observe because it spends more time underwater than on the surface to breathe, its apneas can reach 25 minutes and up to 1 hour of time. It does not like contact with the boats and taking pictures is very difficult. Zc is a specialist in deep water and is the whale champion of apnea, she holds the depth record with dives at 3000m below the sea surface. Zc has been identified on 4 occasions and each year by the teams of Moidjio CRCAD during the monitoring campaigns between 2017 and 2019 in the deep waters between Moheli and Grande Comoros and the southwestern part of Chindini where there is a landscape of deep submarine canyons, typical habitat of whales. Our 4 observations include a single individual, a group of 2x 6 to 8 individuals and a group of 2-3 individuals.
Blainville Beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris)
The Blainville Whale is the most documented whale species in the region. It is a small whale, the males reach lengths around 4.4m and females around 4.6m. Its name comes from the scientist who made its discovery and also from the significant density of the bones of its rostrum. His body is robust and compressed laterally. The males are distinguished by a very arched posterior jaw taking on the upper jaw and significantly exceeding the rostrum. On the slope of the arch of the jaw is a tooth with barnacles facing the front of the animal.
The Blainville's beaked whale has a flat melon, its coloration is gray / blue with brown, brown / dark individuals, some males have pale round marks on the body that are scars from lamprey. Its dorsal fin is small, triangular and located 2/3 of its body. It is also a whale that favors deep water and spends more time diving than surface. The Blainville's beaked whale can reach 1600m depth. It is not very active acoustically and emits clicks and whistle only when in depth. She apprehends her preys by sucking by generating a depression with the tongue in her mouth. Moidjio CRCAD observed this whale on two occasions, a group of 2 female adults and one juvenile and one adult male west of Chindini, Grande Comore, deep canyons.
Dearniyagala Beaked whale (Mesoplodon Hotaula)
The Hotaula beaked whale is a very rare whales that has only been reported 8 times in the entire world. It was described for the first time in 1963 but was accepted as a separate species in 2012. We were fortunate enough to have the first sighting of a group of 3 individuals in summer 2019 in Comoros waters. The Hotaula beaked whale is rather small (4.5m), it is all black in appearance with little scaring. The snout is small and the melon rather flat. The back is arched with pronounced spinal chord. The tail has no notch.
Our recording for this species is the first in Comoros water.
Pygmy Sperm whale
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