Whale watching in the Azores

By | Category: Travel destinations

azoresWhen I was very small I remember watching a documentary about whaling in the Azores. The processing of the whales upset me and I resolved never to holiday in the Azores.

That was so long ago, even longer than I thought when I realised that it has been 30 years since whaling ceases in the islands. Today the Azores is one of the world’s top whale and dolphin sanctuaries and the whale watching season is just about to begin.

Once a vital part of the Azores’ economy bringing in much of the local revenue, nearly every family on the islands once had a connection to the whaling industry. Now, whale watching boats have replaced fishermen’s barges and the fate of these creatures has dramatically changed for the better.

Today, the archipelago is a world-class whale watching destination which embraces the 25 resident and migratory species which roam its waters – with conservation, preservation and trips to spot whales in their natural habitat key to its tourism strategy. Spring and summer offer the best chance of spotting species such as sperm, pilot, beaked, and false-killer whales, and this April enthusiasts can go in search of the magnificent and rare Blue Whale as it migrates through the islands’ waters. The common dolphin, common bottlenose dolphin and the spotted dolphin can also be seen here and often swim alongside RIB boats on exhilarating wildlife trips.

Visitors can discover the Azores’ whaling heritage on the island of Pico at sites such as Museu dos Baleeiros, an old whaling boat house-turned whaling museum, or Museu da Industria Baleeira de Sao Roque do Pico, an old whaling factory. Fabrica da Baleia de Porto Pim, a museum which houses traditional equipment once used for whaling on Faial Island is also a short distance from Peter’s Café in Horta Marina, which was once a local haunt for whalers, but is now a colourful and popular meeting place for passing international sailors.

Semana dos Baleeiros is a traditional Azorean festival on Pico which celebrates the archipelago’s whale heritage (25-31 August 2014). Dedicated to Nossa Senhora de Lourdes (Our Lady of Lourdes), patroness of the whalers, the festival dates back to 1882 when a storm threatened the lives of the whalers who were trying to return to Port Lajes on Pico. As well as the religious celebrations, there are music performances, traditional shows, and sporting activities which take place around a whaling museum in Lajes.

A whale watching holiday in the Azores won’t come cheaply even allowing for the decline of the euro against the pound. During the peak Blue Whale migration it can set you back at least £900 per person.

 

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