Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the ban on whaling in the Azores - and the birth of whale watching
Whaling was a way of life, and an income source for some Azoreans up to 1984; especially on Pico Island. For almost two centuries the hunting of whales was part of the islander’s culture.
Following the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, whale hunting in the Azores ended around 1984 but the lore was kept in the local culture, literature and crafts.
Soon after the ban, in 1989 – in a 5-year period of time - the Azores managed to convert a whaling tradition into whale watching and research – with an impact that lasts today. From then on the whale and dolphin watching kicked off as commercial activity and the whale became a conservation symbol and an attraction for visitors. Local whaling museum are found throughout the Central Group, with 2 on Pico. Whale watching is a fun adventure found at any of the main island ports.
The Azores were named one of the top 10 sites in the world for finding whales in their natural habitat. Whale watching here involves in the Azores is a radical sport. Here it means a trip out to sea in a small, semi-inflatable motorboat traveling at high speeds. There’s definitely a thrill to this chase. It's not for the feint of heart. An experienced guide steers the boat to where on-shore spotters, in search of the largest mammals on the planet. Perhaps that’s why the islands were named one of the top ten sites on the planet for finding the marine giants. High up on the seaside cliffs, are directing him. Sightings are almost guaranteed. The species in these waters Experienced guides start with a briefing with insights into the lives of these creatures. And, best of all, seeing a whale is almost guaranteed resulting from a system of spotters along the local mountainsides who radio the boats with the position and number of whales. Local whales include sperm whales, northern bottlenose, finned, pilot, Sowerby’s beaked whales, and, occasionally, orcas. One of the best times to see any of them is in the spring, when they congregate in these waters. The boats fly across open ocean at high speeds, and the thrill of the case is unbelievable, but not for the fait of heart. And, the best time to see everything from a sperm whale to dolphin is spring – when they congregate in the mid Atlantic waters of the Azores.