Wildlife Travel in Pictures: Whales and Dolphins in the Azores

Sperm Whale, Faial & Pico, Azores

The Azores is one of the top 10 best destinations in the world for whale and dolphin encounters, being a temporary or permanent home to more than a third of the world’s species.

The Azores is a Portuguese archipelago of nine volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean.  Europe lies to the west (about 1,500km from Lisbon) and North America lies to the east (about 4,000 km to New York).  Each island is unique in size, population, history, character and attractions, making the archipelago a perfect location for a long multi-island stay or a number of return visits.

Perfect for photographers, hikers and general lovers of the great outdoors, the Azores offer a number of activities and highlights that seems out of proportion with the size and tranquillity of these picturesque islands.  And without doubt, one of its biggest highlights is whale and dolphin watching.

I recently enjoyed my first visit to two of the archipelago’s nine islands. Although I was too late for the annual migration of humpback, blue, fin and sei whales,  there were enough sperm whales in the waters near Pico and Faial Island to ensure I didn’t return home disappointed.  And when they dived below the surface, there were four different species of dolphins to keep me entertained.

Searching for whales in their natural habitat can be a lottery, requiring patience and local experts.  But it’s worth the wait for a glimpse of the size, beauty and power of these beautiful mammals.  These are just some of the sightings I enjoyed over three days from both a catamaran and smaller zodiac.

Sperm Whale

Sperm whales have a distinctive rounded forehead and large head, which holds a significant quantity of a substance called spermaceti.  The oily fluid was once believed to be sperm but exists in both male and females, with scientists not yet able to understand its function.

Males can reach as long as 18 metres and as heavy as 45 tonnes and the sperm whale can hold it’s breath for up to 90 minutes for a 1,000 metre dive.  They are classified as endangered.

Sperm Whale, Faial & Pico, Azores

Sperm Whale not far from the shores of Faial Island, the Azores.

Sperm Whale, Faial & Pico, Azores

A young calf, thought to be only a few months old and 4 metres in length, breaches, possibly calling for it’s mother?

Sperm Whale, Faial & Pico, Azores

   A young calf lifts its head for a curious look, as it swims with three female sperm whales

Sperm Whale, Faial & Pico, Azores

A sperm whale prepares to dive deep below the surface in search of food

Bottlenose Dolphin

Bottlenose dolphins are very social and inquisitive animals and the species most commonly depicted in movies such as Flipper!  They were regular companions to us out on the water.

Bottlenose Dolphin, Faial & Pico, Azores

Bottlenose Dolphin_Faial & Pico_Azores_Kellie Netherwood-10

Bottlenose Dolphin, Faial & Pico, Azores

Spotted Dolphin

These dolphins are named after the spots that are absent at birth but build up as the dolphin ages.  This was the species I saw most regularly on my trip, as they like to ride in the bow of the boat and would swim towards us with long leaps to do so.

Spotted Dolphin, Faial & Pico, Azores

Spotted Dolphin, Faial & Pico, Azores

Spotted Dolphin, Faial & Pico, Azores

Rissos Dolphin

The most distinguished feature of the Rissos Dolphin is the white scars that it accumulates throughout its life.  They are born dark grey and are almost white when they reach maturity.

Risso Dolphin, Faial & Pico, Azores

Risso Dolphin, Faial & Pico, Azores

Common Dolphin

The common dolphin has a a distinct yellow and grey hourglass pattern along its side.  I saw many of these as they travelled in large groups, bow riding in front of the zodiac boats.

Common Dolphin, Faial & Pico, Azores

Common Dolphin, Faial & Pico, Azores

Common Dolphin, Faial & Pico, Azores

 

Whale watching tours in the Azores are subject to guidelines aimed at protecting the interests of the animals that call the region home.  This includes restricting the number of licenses issued to tour operators.    I joined marine biologist Lisa Steiner at Whale Watch Azores in Faial.  You can learn more about them and see more photos of their sightings on their Facebook page.

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

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