The Azores are currently one of the world’s largest whale sanctuaries. Among resident and migrant species, common or rare, more than 20 different types of cetaceans can be spotted in the Azores. It is an impressive figure and it corresponds to a third of the total number of existing species. This is an an ecosystem with unique characteristics. With majestic whales and friendly dolphins, the blue Atlantic Ocean becomes even more magic around these nine islands. And it brings to the present, when preservation is the keyword, an old cry: “How she blows!”
Best time of the year
Whale and dolphin watching is possible throughout the whole year due to the great number of species existing in the waters of the archipelago. In addition to resident species, such as common dolphins and common bottlenose dolphins, with which you can swim, there are also the whales that pass through the Azores in their migration routes. Spotted dolphins are more common during the summer, while blue whales can be easily spotted at the end of the winter. Sperm whales, sei whales and bearded whales are frequent in the summer. One thing is for sure: regardless of the season, there are always new things to discover.
There is no age limit to enjoy this true gift of Nature. Having in mind that each trip to the sea lasts for about three hours, the recommended minimum age is five. A calm sea for an adult may sometimes be difficult to bear for a very small child.
What to take with you
Cameras are a must. During cetacean watching, there are moments that only happen once in a life time. An image is essential to help keeping the memory of a unique meeting. For those who are not used to travel by boat, taking anti-nausea medication may be a way of guaranteeing that the journey remains pleasant. You should take with you water and light food, such as fruit, sandwiches and energy bars.
Were there no sightings?
This rarely happens. Whales or dolphins are spotted in 98% of the trips, regardless of the time of the year. The number of times you come across these sea creatures is so high that some operators will refund your ticket when either dolphins or whales are not, in fact, spotted.
Alternatives to a trip to the sea
When sea conditions are not ideal, trips may be postponed or even cancelled. But don’t get disappointed. You can learn more about the rich Azorean history related to whales. There are several museums and interpretation centres, mainly on the islands of Pico and Faial, which may be an interesting and charmingshelter. Visiting the vigias (whale observation posts) spread throughout strategic points on several islands is another option. Part of these small houses that provided information to the whale hunting fleets have been restored, and today, once again, there are trained eyes scanning the horizon, searching for cetaceans. The vigias are generally located in coastal areas and provide breathtaking panoramic views.
The cetaceans that cross the Azorean seas are protected species. They deserve special attention and humans must minimise their interference in the paradisiacal habitat that they have chosen as their own. To spot whales and dolphins in their natural and pure habitat is a privilege that few people have enjoyed in the whole world. You should take special care in following the guidelines and safety rules given on board. To safeguard resident and migrant cetaceans, a code of conduct was developed and visitors should follow it.
- To chase, disturb or feed cetaceans.
- To swim with whales.
- To pollute the sea.
- To make noise.
- To have more than three boats at once in the same spot.
- To navigate along the cetaceans, at a constant speed and more than 50 metres away (100 metres away if there are baby cetaceans).