Review: Whale watching in the Azores

Fantastic whale watching in the Azores

The first 2 weeks of July have been fantastic for whale and dolphin sightings on Sao Miguel in the Azores. The sperm whales have definitely been the stars of the show turning up almost every day!

Whale and dolphin sightings 1-13 July 2014
Whale and dolphin sightings 1-13 July 2014

A total of 7 different species have been sighted: 4 resident species (Sperm whales, Bottlenose, Common and Risso’s dolphins) and 3 migratory species (Beaked whales, Striped and Spotted dolphins).

Sperm whales

So, on to the stars of whale watching in the Azores, the sperm whales. They’ve been everywhere the last couple of weeks. It’s that time of year when the females start to appear with their calves. In the Winter and Spring we tend to see the males as they prefer colder waters. Below is a photo of two sperm whales  – an adult female preparing to dive on the left and a juvenile already diving on the right.

Terra Azul 1-13 July sperm whales

Sperm whales differ quite a lot in length; males can reach 18m and females about 12m and can weigh in at up to 50 tons. Newborns are 4m in length.

Terra Azul 1-13 July Sperm whale illustration

There are 2 main types of groups:
Breeding schools – females with calves and juveniles usually made up of up to 25 individuals
Bachelor schools – young sexually inactive males

When the males are mature, they live alone or in small groups in colder waters, meeting up with the groups of females briefly to mate.

These animals mainly feed on giant squid, which live at great depths, requiring extremely deep dives to hunt. Sperm whales can be submerged for 45 minutes to 2 hours (males making longer and deeper divers than the females), with intervals on the surface of about 5 to 15 minutes, during which they restore the oxygen in their blood before making another dive. They will stay longer at the surface if they are socializing or resting.

Terra Azul 1-13 July Sperm whale photo

While diving, their lungs collapse and they rely on the oxygen in their blood and muscles, also their heartbeat slows down and they only send oxygen to the vital parts of their body (heart and brain).

During their dives, they use echolocation to “see” underwater. Which means they emit sounds and listen to the echoes of those calls that return from the various objects around them (in this case their prey – the giant squids). To focus the sonar clicks they use the organ in their head called the Spermaceti.

This organ, the Spermaceti, is made of wax, which is used for two purposes: echolocation (as mentioned above) and for buoyancy control. When diving, Sperm Whales let cold water into the Spermaceti through their blowhole, which cools it and makes it denser so it helps them sink to the bottom. As they start making their way back to the surface, they warm it up using their blood, making it less dense, which helps them rise back up to the surface.


Many of the whale watching companies we work with are involved with whale and dolphin research on the islands. One has just added a new GPS device called ” Logger” to one of their boats (see below). The data collected from this device will help with a University of the Azores project looking at the impact of Land and Boat based activity in the Azores.

RoyalTek RGM-3800 GPS logger
RoyalTek RGM-3800 GPS logger

For more information on whale watching in the Azores

At Archipelago Choice, our small friendly team of island holiday specialists has been organising tailor-made holidays to the Azores since 1998 and more recently to Cape Verde, Saõ Tomé and Príncipe. Over this time we have developed the most comprehensive, flexible and fairly priced holidays to these beautiful islands.

All the holidays we organise are put together with great care using our extensive knowledge of the islands and our experience of travelling around them. We try very hard to give the most choice and flexibility possible combining activities, accommodation and island hopping so we put together holidays that best suit our clients.

So whether you want to go whale watching in the Azores, walking, canyoning, kite surfing or just relaxing on the beach, you can be sure our team of island holiday specialists will be able to help.

See our range of whale and dolphin watching holidays or contact us and we’ll help together a holiday of a lifetime for you!

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