Rainbows and Ripples

Pilot whale dorsal fin

On a gloriously sunny December’s day, whilst holidaying in Tenerife, I was fortunate to have my closest ever encounters with pods of both short-finned pilot whale (globicephala macrorynchus) and bottlenose dolphins. Cetaceans are mammals like us, giant creatures and yet unbelievably graceful in their element that it is always magical experience to gain a fleeting glimpse into a mysterious life that is so very very different from our own.

I had taken a similar trip once many years ago and had only a distant and fleeting sighting, so that was what I was expecting again this time. I was quick to grab a backlit fairly distant shot at the first sight of a pilot whale dorsal fin. The notches and marks on a cetacean’s dorsal fin are unique to every individual and are used as key identifying marks for scientists researching the pilot whale pods in Tenerife

But this time, I was in luck, the pilot whale pod ventured much, much closer. As I watched them spout water from their blowholes the droplets were refracted into a beautiful rainbow through the sunlight. Then a mature pilot whale swam right across the bow of the boat enabling a top down shot through sunlit dappled water into the sea.


Rainbow and pilot whale
Water droplet rainbow from a pilot whale’s spout


Pilot whale in dappled light
Full length photo of a pilot whale in sunlit water ripples
Pilot whale dorsal fin
Pilot whale dorsal fins are uniquely marked and used to identify individuals

After a last look at the pilot whales we moved on in search of the bottlenose dolphins. Once again we were in luck and watched a small family exhibiting fascinating group hunting behaviour. The dolphin pod was working as an organised team in herding a shoal of fish, much in the way a collie might herd a flock of sheep, curving round in arcs and keeping them tightly packed together in a group. The group worked closely as a co-ordinated team to keep the shoal of fish close together. Then individual dolphins would take it in turns to nip in for a quick snack. There were several calves in the group which may well have been observing this complex team hunting and learning the feeding technique in preparation for adulthood.

Mother dolphin teaching calves to fish
Mother dolphin teaching calves to fish


Dolphins herding fish
Dolphins herding and hunting a shoal of fish


Underwater bottlenose dolphin herding fish
Underwater bottlenose dolphin feeding on a shoal of fish