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Cetacean Encounters

Tuesday February 3, 2009

Fiji is not renowned for numbers of whales and dolphins – unlike, for example, Tonga or Hawaii – but nevertheless we are regularly thrilled by sightings of various species.

We encounter dolphins quite often, paticularly around the Sacred Islands and on Sportfishing trips. We most commonly see Spinner Dolphins, which are small, active and travel in pods up to 20 strong. Larger, less common, and solitary are Pacific Bottlenose.

A much bigger species sometimes found outside the barrier reef is the Pilot Whale. These are usually in large numbers, and are an impressive sight on Sportfishing trips (although they don’t usually spell good fishing). The Pilot Whale is not a true whale, but actually a large dolphin.

Similarly misnamed is the Killer Whale, the largest species of the dolphin. Normally found in colder waters, they do transit the tropics, and we have seen them once, again on a fishing trip outside the reef.

True whales are less common than dolphins in our waters. Every year, in August, a handful of Humpback Whales pass through the Mamanucas, sometimes passing just off Tokoriki. It would be interesting to know if they are the same whales every year. Although we’ve never encountered them underwater, their singing is quite audible on scuba dives.

Our closest brush with a whale was immediately outside Tokoriki home reef, where Will and some guests spent a memorable safety stop with a 7m/24’ Minke Whale.

Within the last few days, a group of divers had a wonderful few minutes with a pod of Spinner Dolphins spotted on the way to a dive site. The Spinners are usually quite shy, riding the bow wave for a while, but moving off once the boat slows. This time however, they were much more confident – back flips, spins and Salmon leaps aplenty, and they hung around long enough for us to enter the water. They immediately headed over to investigate, making several close passes, before losing interest and drifting off into the blue…

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Illustration of Red tooth triggerfish