Whale watching in The Azores
The Azores are currently one of the world’s largest whale sanctuaries. More than 20 different types of cetaceans can be spotted in the Azores and it corresponds to a third of the total number of existing species. The waters of The Azores have an ecosystem with unique characteristics and the whales and dolphins mean that the blue Atlantic Ocean becomes even more magic around these nine islands.
On S. Miguel Island there are several places for year long whale watching, such as Ponta Delgada and Vila Franca do Campo. Medium-sized boats can take up to 80 people, providing excellent safety and comfort. Between São Miguel and Santa Maria, in spring time, you frequently see the blue whale, the biggest animal on earth at 30m in length and weighing 150 tons.
On Terceira Island, whether in Angra do Heroísmo or Praia da Vitória, there is a wide range of whale watching. Of the several species that frequently pass through the Azores on their migration routes, the blue whale stands out. It can be seen during Spring and Autumn between the islands of Terceira and São Jorge.
Faial, Pico and São Jorge compose the so-called “Triangle islands”, where hard-fought battles between whalers once took place. The city of Horta, on Faial, today houses one of the most important and dynamic centres for monitoring cetaceans in the archipelago. Many whale watching companies operating on this island have experts and scientists linked to the University of the Azores as guides. The Horta university campus comprises an investigation and scientific centre for Marine Biology, Oceanography and Fisheries. Together with other universities around the world, the centre carries out many studies on the population, migration and routes of those giant marine animals.
The whale hunting tradition has its roots on Pico Island, the last place in the Azores to abolish whale hunting, back in the 80’s. Today there are whale watching companies in several places of the island, namely Madalena, Lajes and Santo Amaro.
The connection that people from Pico have to this activity is reflected by the several museums and ethnographic centres dedicated to whale hunting, where the traditional crafts of this activity are to be preserved. The Whalers Museum, in Lajes, and the Whalers Industry Museum, in São Roque, are two good examples.
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, there are also the whales that pass through the Azores on 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.
What if there are 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.