In a previous post we looked at the long standing connection between the people of the Azores and the whales that swim in the islands’ surrounding waters. While the islands were a major focus of the world’s whaling trade in the 19th and early 20th centuries, in the last 20 years the Azores have become better known as a place to observe whales.
So what makes the Azores so good for whale watching?
It is thanks to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream that the main migratory routes of many cetaceans (whales and dolphins) pass close to these nine volcanic mid-Atlantic islands. The sea temperatures are relatively warm and the abundance of food makes this area a favoured location for these sea giants.
What can you see if you go whale watching in the Azores?
Most trips run between April and October and you can see different species depending on the time of year you visit. The two biggest draws are the blue whales, best seen in the spring months as they pass through the area, and sperm whales, seen anytime between May and October and most commonly in July and August. While these two species may draw the crowds, a boat trip can reveal so many surprises in these rich waters. During the summer months you have a good chance to encountering pilot and beaked whales, Atlantic-spotted dolphins, striped dolphins and even turtles. In the cooler month species of you’re more likely to get a sighting of sei whales or humpbacks.
Here’s a little taster of what you might expect on a Azorean whale watching trip.
Is whale watching a form of responsible tourism?
There is a strict code of ethics that applies to all operators of whale watching trips in the Azores. It is in everyone’s interests that the rules below are observed, as visitors coming to the islands to admire the sealife are now such an important part of the local economy. Some of the rules are include here; ask us if you’d like to know more.
• Do not exceed the speed of the Cetaceans by more than 2 knots and keep to a constant
• Avoid sudden changes of direction when approaching an animal
• Avoid making any noises which disturb or attract the animals
• Once the observation time has ended, or if the animals show signs of being disturbed, the
vessels must return to beyond the approach area to the rear of the animals
• Do not approach closer than 50m to any cetacean
• Do not approach closer then 500m to any animal or group of animals seen to be motionless,
resting or giving birth
• Do not drive through a group of animals separating them, especially isolating the calves from the adults
• When observing calves or whales accompanied by young calves, boats must maintain a
distance of 100m or greater
• If three of more vessels are observing one group of cetaceans, boats must maintain a
distance of 300m or more if dolphins are present and 500m or greater when observing whales
• Observations of one group of cetaceans must not exceed 30 minutes
• Sailing boats may only approach the cetaceans under engine power
• The use of sonar is not allowed, even outside of the observation area
• Do not chase the cetaceans
• Do not feed whales or dolphins
• Swimming with whales is not allowed
• Do not throw litter or other waste into the water