Whale watching - A view from our expert author

Pilot whale Azores by Dennis Van De Water© Dennis Van De Water, Dreamstime

For world-class whale watching spots, visit the towns of Lajes, Horta and Ponta Delgada.

Whale and dolphin watching has become a major focus of ecotourism and the increase in its popularity is phenomenal; it’s the fastest-growing tourist activity worldwide. Beginning as a commercial enterprise in 1955 on the southern California coast, it is claimed whale watching is now organised in about 120 countries with 13 million participants – 2008 figures; its popularity continues. For some economies, it has become an industry in its own right; divide the number of whales viewed into the cash generated, and each whale must be worth a small fortune.

Good news in support of the conservation argument for, in this role, whales are more valuable than if they were hunted and killed. Another important plus is that in many places commercial whale watching has become a recognised tool for education, and is supporting research by the observations and recordings made during whale-watching trips and other inputs. All the more extraordinary that, with government subsidy, Norway, Iceland and Japan continue to hunt and kill them commercially and at the same time offer whale-watching trips! How I should like to translate the calls of the whales and know the word they have for us.

Because of the weather, the main season is from April to October, although cetaceans may be seen throughout the year and you may find there are opportunities in winter.

With over 27 species now recorded in Azorean waters out of a total of some 83 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, this makes the Azores one of the world’s top places to observe them. In January 2009, the first northern right whale for 110 years was recorded in the Azores, five miles south of Faial. The islands best placed and with organised excursions are Pico, Faial and São Miguel.

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