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The Azores in general and the narrow gap between Faial and Pico in particular are on the migratory route for various types of Whale and numerous types of Dolphin.
Hence the interest of the locals in hunting the whale and the establishment of whaling stations at Lajes do Pico and at Horta on the Island of Faial (the remains of which can be seen today). Whaling in the Azores stopped in 1987 and there is a most interesting museum of the former whaling industry at Lages do Pico, showing the amazingly small boats, the harpoons and all the necessary whaling equipment. It is well worth a visit and illustrates vividly the courage and tenacity of the Whalers (Called locally "Sea Wolves").
It is interesting to note that only sperm whales were hunted by the Azoreans (because it is the only species which floats when dead) and that the total number of whales ever caught by them is exceeded in one year by a single Japanese whale factory ship.
Lookout towers (called Vigias) were built in strategic positions high on the mountains and there, experienced searchers watched for the arrival of the sperm whales and sent messages for the whaling boats to be launched.
Today the Vigias are used for exactly the same purpose but now the watchers radio to the powerful Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs) who can then take their passengers directly to the area in which the whales are swimming. The boats can manouver to within 50 metres of these enormous mammals - the minimum distance suggested by the Whale Watching Code of Ethics. In the case of dolphins, however, the boats can manoeuvre much closer and, given the right conditions, parties of 3 persons (plus a diving instructor), can actually swim with the dolphins.
The success rate of actually seeing these fascinating mammals is very high, one operator reported only a 3% failure rate (i.e. nothing spotted at all) in an entire season! The best time of the year for whale watching is between May and October.
The watchers, high up in their Vigias keep an eye on the RIBs for the duration of their voyage for safety reasons, and of course the boats are fully equipped for complete safety and all passengers wear life jackets.
The 3-4 hour Whale and Dolphin watching excursions are priced individually (see centre pages) and as many excursions as you wish can be arranged. These excursions can be taken as an added interest in a relaxing longer holiday or we can design a short break of just a few days around two or three Whale Watching excursions. We will arrange suitable flights (International and inter-Island) and reserve the accommodation of your choice from the wide variety shown in this brochure.
Many people link Whale Watching with SCUBA Diving, Golf and the other activities to create a vigorous and interesting holiday.
Sperm Whales, the largest and most numerous in these waters are individually identified by photographs taken of the undersides of their flukes when diving. The other toothed Whales frequently sighted are Northern Bottlenose Whales, Pilot Whales, Orcas and Sowerby’s Beaked Whales. The Dolphins sighted regularly in these waters are Common, Atlantic Bottlenose, Risso, Atlantic Spotted and Striped Dolphins.
Excursions are in groups of between 8 to 23 persons. There are two organisations in Faial and one in Pico operating these excursions:
Faial or Pico– Norberto Diver
Norberto has 3 boats (RIBs) and 1 bigger solid hull boat and can accommodate all types of passenger of all ages (from 5 years) including those who are physically impaired. Whales are spotted from the original "Vigias" and the boats guided towards the ceteceans. The Vigia remains manned for the duration of the excursion for safety reasons. Life vests are provided. A pre-trip briefing is included. Trips include the coasts of Pico and Faial and up to 10 miles off shore. Skippers speak English and French. Operating from Horta with pick up in Pico. It is sometimes possible to swim with the Dolphins.
Destination Portugal, Madeira House, 37 Corn Street, Witney, Oxfordshire OX28 6BW