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Untitled Document
Transparent utfyllnad Cetaceans in Azores
A Common Dolphin off São Miguel.
Photo: Bosse Carlsson.

From harpoons to binoculars and cameras
Whales and whaling play an important part in the history and culture of the Azores. The arrival of American whalers in the Azorean waters at the end of the 18th and 19th centuries brought a new factor to the local economy. The first Yankee whalers arrived in the islands in 1765 and the locals were soon beeing employed on the American whaling ships. Azorean were recruited as crew members, and developed a reputation for being brave and strong. Ultimately, they designed and built their own whaling vessels. Longer, narrower and faster than the American boats that were their inspiration, they were dubbed the "Pico arrows". The whaling went on using the same traditional open boats and hand harpoons right up until 1985.
   Today the whaleboats no longer leave to hunt cetaceans. The long battles at sea are just stories which the old whalers tell at the doors of the old boathouse. However, the whales have not left the islands and are today an object for a new fast growing whale watching industry that brings a new generation of caretaking and friendly whalers.
   The growth of the whale watching industry has led to the establishment of rules, regulations and codes of conduct governing whale watching activities. These often attempt to manage the growth of the industry and to lessen potential impacts on the whales.
   In the port of Lajes do Pico you will find a small Whalers museum, and close to it is the BOCA (Observation Base of Cetaceans from Azores). There you can find further information about the cetaceans that live in the Azores waters, a library, statistics resulting from observations of cetaceans, and information about different research plans in progress.

Sperm Whales off São Miguel. Photo: Staffan Rodebrand.

The fluke of a diving Sperm Whale off São Miguel.
Photo: Staffan Rodebrand
Where and when
Between May and October is the best time to visit the Azores, when Sperm Whales are in residence (males are present year-round). There are many places where you can find cataceans, and there are many companies offering whale-watching safaris in small zodiacs from Faial, Pico and São Miguel but also elsewhere. When sea watching at Mosteiros on São Miguel you will often see groups of dolphins, and even Humpback have turned up there.
   There are of course no guarantee to see whales on each sea tour, even if the chances are good, but you will at least have a good sea tour with close contacts with many seabirds and dolphins.
   One other option is to combine bird and whale watching taking one of the ferry tours between the islands.

What you could see
A large number of cetaceans have been observed in Azorean waters. On the Espaço Talassa web site (see "Links" below) you will find a list together with lots of information about them.
   Most often you will encounter species as Sperm Whale, Short-finned Pilot Whale, various beaked whales, Short-beaked Common Dolphin, Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Striped Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Risso's Dolphin and fortunately increasingly sightings of Blue, Fin and Sei Whales!

A group of Bottlenose Dolphins off Graciosa. Photo: Staffan Rodebrand.

A Risso's Dolphin off Pico.
Photo: Staffan Rodebrand.

Whale watching tours
There are a number of more or less serious companies that offer whale watching tours; most of them in Faial, Pico or Säo Miguel (see the links section below). Many of them use underwater microphones as well as old lookouts "vigias" high up in the mountains, from where the whales are spotted and the boats will be directed. In the past whales were spotted from these lookout towers (built on prominent headlands), overlooking the sea. As soon as a Sperm Whale came into view, the spotter shouted "baleia á vista", which mean "whale in sight" and fired a rocket into the air as a signal. Then everyone heading for the boats, but nowadays only for watching them nice and easy...

Recommended books
Whales and Dolphins of the World. Simmonds. M., 2004. New Holland, London.
Mark Carwardine's Guide to WhaleWatching in Britain & Europe.
Carwardine. M. 2003. New Holland, London. (This book contain 8 pages about whalewatching in Azores).
Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises
. Carwardine, M. & Camm, M., 1995. Dorling Kindersley, London. (A handy and very useful field guide to identify these lovely animals).
A Spotted Dolphin off São Miguel.
Photo: Bosse Carlsson

Espaço Talassa – The Azorean Whale watching base (In English, French, German and Portoguese)
A great web site which contain a vast numbers of excellent photos and recent sightings from the Azores. Highly recommended!
Cetacea – Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises (In English)
Very informative and descriptions of all know species and links to whalewatching areas all over the world and of course many nice photos.
Futurismo – Azores Whale and Dolphin Watching (In English)
A whalewatching company with its base in Ponta Delgada on São Miguel. The web site contain many nice photos, programmes and booking forms.
Whale Watching Web (In English)
A great resource to everyone interested in this magnificant and charismatic group of mammals!
Whale Watch Azores (In English)
A whalewatching company located on Faial. The web site contain many nice photos, tour dates and research.
CW Azores (In English)
A whalewatching company located at Madalena, Pico. They can also offer longer pelagic bird watching tours.
Common Dolphins off São Miguel. Photo: Jan_Michael Breider..

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