Responsible travel: Blue whale watching in the Azores, 4 star accommodation
The way the boats approach the whales follow local regulations to protect the marine life. We only use licensed boat operators who are very sensitive to the well-being of the dolphins and whales. There is a good spirit of cooperation amongst the boat companies and agreements to respect the animals as a priority.
Research is ongoing on the boats, so these trips are helping to build our knowledge of these fantastic animals. Many of the skippers are professional photographers and maintain a comprehensive photo ID database, in particular sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales. The more we can learn about the whales and dolphins of the Azores the better we can understand things like their migrations and social structures. All this moves us closer to protecting them and the marine environment in a more knowledgeable, effective way.
Guests are encouraged to send in any photos they have taken on the whale watching trips that can be used in the ongoing photo identification projects. Every trip has a huge emphasis on conservation and sustaining the marine environment so future generations may also have the privilege of seeing marine mammals in the wild.
The accommodations we provide reduce, reuse and recycle - for example they use a water bottle refill scheme and are committed to using up to 25% renewable energy in their new projects.
We only work with local suppliers who employ at least 80% local people which means financial benefits to families here. The land based lookouts whose immense skill at tracking the animals previously earned money from whaling now earn money from tourists - an enormous change that we are passionate about supporting. Many of their adult children now skipper the whale watching boats and work within the small scale tourism.
Our whale watching company offers presentations in local schools to educate the children about the marine life on their doorstep with an emphasis on conservation. This is financed by tourism.
All the activities we recommend locally are run by Azoreans and are designed to maintain good relationships between visitors and the local people. For example, we sell and promote only local crafts to our guests to support local craft makers and artisans and to spread tourism income to many islanders. Our favourite restaurants are all run by Azorean people, and we do recommend that our visitors try the delicious local cuisine while supporting sustainable local fishermen in particular.
As well as whale watching we offer geological and cultural tours hosted solely by experienced local guides with an in-depth knowledge of their island and its landscape. These trips include climbing the volcano (Portugal's highest peak!) and exploring the underground caves. We support the local vineyards where guests can sample the fantastic Azorean wine and take these locally produced gifts back to people at home.