One of the biggest surprises of the Azores isn’t the number of whales you’ll see, but the variety of species that swing by its shores. This is the Atlantic “Gulp Stream”, where up to 30 species of whales and dolphins travel, rounding up krill, squid and schools of fish. Some, like blue whales, are visitors on their way to their summer feeding grounds, while others, such as sperm whales, stick around all year long.
And it’s not always the obvious species that inspire the most excitement. You’ll be amazed by fin whales, which aren’t far off a blue whale in size, and fascinated by the stories of resident sperm whales told by marine biologists who know their individual quirks. More unusual whale species blow through the Azores too – tropical visitors like Bryde’s whales and big gatherings of pilot whales.
It takes a moment for Amanda Stafford to choose one of her most memorable encounters with whales in the Azores. She founded our whale watching partner, The Dolphin and Whale Connection, and has two decades’ worth of whale watching tours
to flick back through.
“It was morning and the sea was very, very calm,” decides Amanda. “The group I was with had had amazing experiences all week... The quality of the water felt special; it felt like a real Sunday. There was this sense that church bells had been ringing and everyone was resting today.
“Lo and behold, there in the water, lolling on the surface, was a huge group of northern bottlenose whales. They look slightly prehistoric, with great big heads, and they had been gorging on squid. They were totally satiated, lolling around, farting – it was unbelievable watching these things. They’d obviously been having a major feed. And they’re transitory whales; they don’t live in the Azores… They’re extraordinary. They’re nothing like anything else in the ocean. Everybody in the boat was in complete amazement.”
So although you might have a certain whale that you’re eager to see – and some tours even focus on seeing one species, such as blue whales
– chances are that you’ll end up being surprised by something completely unexpected. Our whale watching holidays are steered by conservationists and boat captains who’ll give you the best chance of accessing the mysterious world of whales, translating what you’re seeing and ensuring that you’re observing instead of disturbing.
Keep reading to discover which whale species you can see in the Azores…