Almost everyone knows what a whale and a dolphin looks like, yet most will never have the good fortune of seeing one. Not so the residents of the magnificent Falklands archipelago. Here, two very different species of charming dolphin are commonly seen from land, and sharp-eyed passengers and crew of the many ships that come in and out of East Falkland's harbours will invariably spot large whales offshore. The long, complex coastlines of the Falklands, and the fact that they are surrounded by deep, rich oceanic waters, makes them one of the best places for cetaceans (the taxonomic group encompassing whales, dolphins and porpoises) on the planet. At least 23 species occur here, although some are but rare visitors.
Today, the sight of a bow-riding dolphin or the distinctive blow of a whale is greeted with a smile and a sense of privilege. It was not always thus. A century ago whales around the Falklands were seen as a marine resource, and harvested for their oil, as the eerie remains of a whaling station on New Island attest. Indeed, the Falklands are only 3 days by ship from South Georgia - an island that for decades last century was the crucible of world whaling.
More by luck than judgement, no whale species was completely wiped out before the industry collapsed, and today all of the once-exploited whales occurring in Falklands waters are recovering in numbers strongly. It is not unusual to encounter loose groups (pods) of tens of sei whales within sight of the coast - unthinkable a few decades ago - and a journey to South Georgia routinely encounters fin and sperm whales. Increasingly, the largest of them all - the gargantuan blue whale - is seen on this route, and sensitive recording devices placed on the sea floor are picking up their calls almost year-round.
The cetaceans illustrated here demonstrate the enormous variety that may be encountered in Falkland waters. The smallest (the exquisite, sociable Commerson's dolphin) weighs only 50 kg and never ventures outside shallow coastal waters. The largest, the lumbering sperm whale, usually seen alone, is 1,000 times as heavy and very firmly a denizen of the deep, capable of diving to depths of a kilometre.
1p Southern right whale dolphin
This remarkable creature gains its name from sharing just one characteristic of a right whale - it has no dorsal fin - but in all other regards it is about as different as any cetacean can be. It is slim, fast-swimming, occurs in large, tight groups and has a very characteristic colour pattern. This oceanic dolphin, illustrated here in Barnard’s Passage with Saddle Island beyond, is usually encountered well out of sight of land, and sometimes rewards the patience and dedication of sea-watchers on the route to South Georgia. This animal is one half of a classic species-pair. The Northern right whale dolphin has a very similar shape and behaviour, and occurs in waters of a similar temperature in the northern hemisphere.
2p Minke whale
Smallest of the 'rorqual' whales, the minke has a very similar shape to its cousins the blue, fin and sei whales, but its size fortunately protected it from the whaling industry until relatively late in the industry's history. For this reason, minke whales were never greatly depleted in the Southern Hemisphere and they are considered to be numerous enough to support a harvest to this day. This is the species currently being taken under the guise of 'scientific whaling' in the Antarctic.
5p Peale's dolphin
Commonly seen in harbours and coastal waters, this fast-swimming species has a classic dolphin shape. It is often attracted to boats and ships, playfully riding the pressure-wave of the bow and occasionally leaping out of the water. Group size is usually small by dolphin standards (less than 15), but nonetheless this is the most abundant cetacean around the Falklands and is illustrated here against Bird Island. Elsewhere, Peale's dolphins are found only around the coasts of southern South America.
10p Dusky dolphin
Famously acrobatic, the first sight of a pod of dusky dolphins is often of them leaping into the air and crashing down with a big splash and a resounding 'crack'. Unlike the Peale’s dolphin, which it superficially resembles, Dusky dolphins often occur in very large pods of over a hundred animals, and when excited they can turn the sea surface white with their splashes. Duskies are not common around the Falklands, being at the edge of their South American range. They also occur off New Zealand and South Africa.
30p Southern right whale (Redesignated 31p 2016)
Truly a symbol of hope and triumph over adversity, the corpulent southern right whale escaped from the very brink of extinction and is now recovering in numbers. Right whales - so called because they were the 'right' whales to kill - have the misfortune of carrying huge amounts of oil in their tissues, swimming very slowly, turning up in the same coastal waters year after year and floating when dead - an irresistible combination of attributes for early whalers. Right whales passing through Falklands waters breed along the coast of eastern South America (Argentina to Brazil) and many are en route to South Georgia, where they feast on tiny zooplankton, often very close to the coastline. This whale can be identified even at a distance by its v-shaped blow and its lack of a dorsal fin. At close quarters, the raised patches of yellow or white skin on its head, called callosities, are distinctive.
50p Fin whale
Second in size only to the blue whale, the 60' long fin whale has made a remarkable recovery from the whaling era and is today the most commonly-encountered whale in the deeper waters around the Falklands, especially to the east. Fast-swimming, the body colour of this species often looks brown with a yellowish tinge, the yellow being due to the film of diatoms that cover the skin of animals that have been in polar waters for several months. Fin whales are unique in having asymmetric pigmentation on their jaw; the right-hand side is white, whereas the left-hand side is dark grey or brown.
75p Hourglass dolphin
Capable of brightening the greyest and roughest of days in the Southern Ocean, the hourglass or Cruciger's dolphin can rarely resist bow-riding when a ship comes into range. They dart in from a distance, often cascading down the face of the breakers, and instantly taking up station on the vessel's pressure wave so expertly that they can even stop beating their flukes up and down. They then burst out of the sea for a breath of air and instantly resume the game. Hourglass dolphins seem so small in the vastness of the ocean, yet they are completely at home here, probably never coming within sight of land throughout their lives.
£1 Long-finned pilot whale
The long-finned pilot whale has two cousins in the northern hemisphere. In one case the evolutionary separation has not been long enough for a new species to be recognised, and the pilot whale occurring in UK waters is also known as the long-finned variety. Very similar short-finned pilot whales live in the North Pacific Ocean. All pilot whales are black, have a heavy dorsal fin set well back on the body, and live in tight-knit social groups. This is the species that commonly mass-strands - i.e. comes ashore and dies on beaches, for reasons that are still not fully understood. Pilot whales are not demonstrative; they dive deeply and normally rest calmly at the surface, replenishing their oxygen stores.
£1.20 Killer whale
Perhaps the most iconic of all dolphins (don't be fooled by the name - taxonomically this is the largest dolphin), the killer whale or 'orca' is unmistakable. The tall, upright dorsal fin of the adult male is unlike any other. Killer whales occur worldwide, but recent research indicates that in fact we may be looking at three or even four different species without having realised it before. Despite their much smaller size, females are the dominant sex. Matriarchs seem to lead their family groups, and may have a lifetime similar to that of humans. Some family groups in the Falklands region have recently learned that an excellent meal can be had by following long-liners and waiting for a stream of toothfish to be brought to the surface by obliging fishermen. Killer whales, and equally innovative sperm whales, can completely ruin catch after catch, representing a huge financial loss. Other pods, such as those occurring around Sealion Island off East Falkland, specialise on seals.
£2 Sperm whale
If asked to draw a whale, most people would give it a large, square head and long, thin jaw lined with teeth. They may not know it, but the species they are drawing is the Moby Dick of the cetacean world - the sperm whale. Seafarers sometimes see a distant bushy whale blow, apparently venting from the end of a long, dark log. Fifteen seconds later, another blow, and then another and another for perhaps ten minutes. This is a sperm whale and, in Falklands waters, always a male sperm whale, for the females and calves never venture out of much warmer tropical waters. Sperm whales eat squid, famously sometimes giant squid, and they do so in the absolute darkness of the deep sea, perhaps remaining submerged for an hour. On returning to the surface they normally simply lay still, drawing in huge volumes of air to allow a return to their dining depths.
£3.50 Commerson's dolphin
Perhaps the most charming of cetaceans around the Falklands, the Commerson's dolphin belongs to a select group of four coastal species of the Southern Hemisphere genus Cephalorhynchus. Commerson's dolphins live in the shallows around the Falkland shoreline, making a living in the beds of kelp and sometimes playing in the surf. A walk to Berther's beach, near the harbour at East Cove, is often rewarded by the sight of a pod of Commerson's surfing the breakers. This creature is found in similar habitat at the southern tip of South America and, remarkably, around the Kerguelen archipelago in the Indian Ocean, to which a rather lost (or perhaps unusually brave) pod must have swum eons ago.
£5 Sei whale
A sleek, graceful, fast-swimming whale, the sei whale is once again becoming a regular visitor to the Falklands, but it remains mysterious. No-one knows where these whales come from or go to. This is a social species, often appearing in large, loose groups. It is neither attracted to ships nor avoids them - just carrying on with the daily activity of feeding on zooplankton and small, shoaling fish. Illustrated here swimming towards Horse Block, this is a cosmopolitan species, seen off Iceland as commonly as the Falklands, but the northern and southern populations are separated by the vast (and, for them, inhospitable) waters of the tropics.
Notes by Professor Tony Martin, Centre for Remote Environments, University of Dundee.
Designer: Tony Chater
Printer: BDT International Security Printing
Perforation: 14 per 2cms
Stamp size: 30 x 51.46mm
Sheet Layout: 20 (2 x 10)
Release date: 9 November 2012
Production Co-ordination: Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd