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Dolphin and Whale Watching around Sao Miguel, Azores

dolphin and whale watching sao miguel

One of the first things that attracted us to the Azores was the chance of seeing whales and dolphins. As the Azores are literally in the middle of the ocean, you can see these beautiful creatures at any time of the year! 

There are numerous companies on the island that offer dolphin/whale watching tours. We chose Picos de Aventura (and recommend that you do too), for two reasons:

1) They don't disturb the cetaceans
Other companies on the island go out on bigger boats (with bigger engines) which can have up to 60 other people on board! That's not nice for the whales - and incidentally, not nice for the people either: Do you really want to be with a massive group of people all pushing for a front row seat? Or would you rather be with just a handful of others? 

2) They help research projects and are concerned about the animals and the environment 
Picos de Aventuras are working with Monicet which is a research project that wants to build a long term database of cetacean sightings. They are clearly passionate and knowledgeable when it comes to the preservation and protection of the animals - and the environment in general. 





We knew Picos de Aventura were dolphin and whale friendly, next we wanted to know how likely we were to see whales and dolphins

Like I said, the Azores are in the middle of the ocean, so dolphin and whales are very common there. However, the ocean is still massive and the boats are tiny so how do they know where to look?

Picos de Aventura employ a clever technique - they have lookouts on the mountains who use military binoculars to spot the whales, then they radio/phone the boat and tell them which direction to go!

Despite the commonness of the cetaceans and the cleverness of the binocular plan, there is still a chance you won't see whales - they are wild after all. In this rare case, Picos de Aventura give you the option of coming back on another day free of charge, or having your money back. Which is really cool, a lot of other companies don't do this. 

Ultimately, as long as you're at the Azores for long enough, you will see dolphins/whales. By long enough I mean at least a week (but ideally a fortnight - or a whole month like we did ;) ). 

The Azores weather is very volatile and if you come here for just three or four days, yes even in the middle of June, you could get four days of rain and you won't see the whales.


All in all, Picos de Aventura manage to keep everyone happy - they ensure the tourists have the highest chance of seeing the whales, but they also make sure that the whales are kept safe, by keeping the correct distances and forbidding swimming with them.

The boats go out three times a day, and we opted for an afternoon one:


sao miguel azores whale watching

We sat right at the front of the boat, we were warned that it would be less bumpy at the back, but we wanted to 'Jack and Rose it' and pretend we were the kings of the world. It was indeed bumpier at the front, but not that much bumpier and the views were worth it: 

sao miguel azores whale watching
i.e. we didn't have to see the backs of people's heads

We hadn't been at sea for very long before we saw our first dolphins!!


sao miguel azores dolphin

It was so cool to see them in the wild, they came right up to the boat, so the engine was respectfully switched off. There were lots of dolphins and we even saw pups! It really was magical.

Next we saw a Portuguese man o' war, apparently named because they look like the old Portuguese ships. Not because they're actually Portuguese.  


Anyway, I was busy thinking that we'd been lucky enough to see dolphins and jellies and have a great boat ride. There was no way we were going to see whales too, but then we saw a whale blow.. we saw whale blow? We saw air exhale explosively from a blowhole???... Basically we saw water burst upwards in the distance and were able to shout 'thaar she blows!!!' 

sao miguel azores whale watching
Blow
The boat sped towards it and soon we spotted it! It was a sei whale!!

sao miguel azores sei whale
Hi Sei!
Sei whales are the fourth biggest whales in the world. And it really was big!!! It kept moving along steadily - surfacing and diving. I managed to take a lot of shots of it diving, and due to the water colour and the fin shape, it kind of looks like a dolphin!:

sao miguel azores sei whale
But this amazing photo from Felix will give you an idea of how big it really was: 

sao miguel whale watching

It was so exciting! After ten minutes or so of observing the whale, we turned back to shore. We were quite far from Ponta Delgada at this point, but luckily our guides kept things interesting by showing us the Islet of Vila Franca do Campo - where Red Bull do Cliff Diving!


cliffs sao miguel

We highly recommend Picos de Aventura - they are by far the best adventure company on Sao Miguel. This was a really exciting, wonderful day. We were in the Azores for one month, this and Furnas were our absolute favourite days.





Recommendations:
  • Sit at the front of the boat if possible - it's lots of fun
  • Make sure your camera is waterproof 
  • If you have limited time on the island, whale/dolphin watch on your first day - that way if you don't see any, you still have time to come back another day!


We were invited on this boat trip as a guest of Picos de Aventura, but, as always, all opinions are our own. 

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We're Laura and Tanbay, a British/German couple who have successfully weaselled our way out of the rat-race and want you to do the same!

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