Dolphins and Whales in the Azores, Madeira and Portugal
spot and photograph whales in the Azores and dolphins in Portugal
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The power, beauty and grace of whales and dolphins have long captured people's imagination and Portugal is a great place to see them in their natural habitat.
It may seem to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips that everyone dreams about, but in Portugal it is surprisingly affordable. Most people choose to go on half-day or day trips as part of their general holiday. If you're looking for a romantic or fun present why not plan a surprise trip for your kids or your partner- it'll make it a holiday to remember!
If you are interested in becoming involved with dolphin and whale conservation, there are some organisations that offer longer holidays giving you the opportunity to help monitor the colonies.
Dolphins near mainland Portugal
The Sado estuary, near Setubal and Lisbon is home to a pod of 30 or so bottlenose dolphins who have grown unusually large- up to 4 metres (13 ft) long thanks to a plentiful supply of fish. As they live here all year around, viewing trip organisers can often identify the different individual dolphins by the shape of their dorsal fins and take great care not to disturb the colony. The surrounding area is a nature reserve, with lots of other interesting fauna and flora, including Portugal's famous storks.
In the Algarve, dolphin watching trips are widely available at marinas all year around. These report a 80% to 90% chance of a sighting. The early morning is the best time to see the dolphins as the sea is calmer. Throughout the Algarve you can see bottlenose dolphins who often come in quite close to the shore and you might also spot sharks, whales and orcas. In the west of the Algarve you may see Common dolphins as they breed off Cape St Vincent and in the autumn they are joined by Risso's dolphins.
If you just can't get enough of the dolphins in the Algarve then you can swim with tame ones at the Zoomarine Park near Albufeira- advance booking is necessary.
Dolphins and Whales in the Azores
The Azores are widely recognized as one of the top destinations in the world for whale spotting. As well as tourists and scientists, the whales and other sea-life have attracted film crews from the BBC and the National Geographic.
Of the 80 species of whale in the world, 21 can be found in the Azores. The dolphins and whales in the Azores include fin whales, minke whales, beaked whales such as Sowerby's, True's and Cuvier's, sperm whales, short-finned pilot whales, blue whales, sei whales, humpback whales, false killer whales, northern bottlenose whales pygmy sperm whales, orcas, rough-toothed dolphins, risso's dolphins, common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, spotted dolphins and striped dolphins.
They are attracted to the islands by its quiet, unpolluted waters and an abundance of food. For many years the islanders earned a living from hunting the whales. This practise has now been abolished but many of the traditional skills have survived and ensure that visitors have a good chance of seeing the dolphins and whales of the Azores. For example a 'vigia' or lookout stands on the clifftops with powerful binoculars and when he spots a shoal of whales he helps guide the boat towards them. Some boats also use underwater microphones to listen out for whales.
There are dolphins and whales in the Azores all year around but the best time for seeing them is from April to October when the sea is calmer.
Dolphins and whales in Madeira
Have you seen dolphins and whales in the Azores, Madeira or Portugal? We'd love to hear your story
Madeira is a relatively new destination for whale and dolphin spotting but is fast growing in popularity. There have been sightings of fin whales, sperm whales, sei whales, pilot whales, beaked whales, humpback whales, oceanic dolphins, Atlantic spotted dolphins, common dolphins, bottle nose dolphins, striped dolphins, rough tooth dolphins, Risso's dolphins and many others. In Madeira the tourist boats are legislated to ensure that they approach the wildlife carefully and respect their welfare.
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whales in the Azores and dolphins in Portugal photos copyright : Fokko Veenstra, Rui R, Francisco Ramos, Richard Styles, Paulo Magalhaes, Kym Parry,
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