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Madeira and Azores (Portugal) > Pictures and travelogues > Dolphins and Whales in the Azores

Pictures from bottlenose dolphins and sperm whales near Pico Island in the Azores.

Bottlenose dolphin in the Azores
Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) near Pico Island in the Azores.

The Azores are a paradise for dolphin swimmers and whale watchers. Bottlenose dolphins are the most common of the oceanic dolphins. They travel in social groups and communicate with each other by a complex system of squeaks and whistles. Their diets consist mainly of forage fish. Bottlenose dolphins may look like fish but they are mammals. They have to come to the water's surface to breathe. They are mainly found in temperate and tropical waters. Males are larger than females and can be as long as 4 meters (13 feet) and weigh more than 450 kilograms (a thousand pounds).

Dolphins produce high frequency clicks, which act as a sonar system called echolocation. When these sounds hit an object in the water, like a fish or rock, they bounce off and come back to the dolphin as echoes and tell the dolphins the shape, size, speed, distance, and location of the object.

These aquatic acrobats are called bottlenose dolphins because their beaks are shaped like bottles. Dolphins are very social and curious animals. They often approach boats and people in the water in a seemingly friendly fashion. They have been spotted jumping high in the air, landing on their sides or back with a great splash.

Swimming with wild dolphins is very different to swimming with captive ones, the latter being rewarded with food whenever they complete the tasks given by the trainers. It is a lifetime experience.  Bottlenose dolphin can reach speeds of over 30 km (18 miles) an hour.

Other dolphins such as the Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus), the Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis), the Striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba), and the Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) are also found in the Azores archipelago.

Sperm whale in the Azores
Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephal) near Pico Island in the Azores. 

The sperm whale, also known as cachalot, is the largest of the toothed whales. It feeds primarily on giant and colossal squid. Mature males are considerably larger than females. They may reach up to 20.5 meters (67 ft) in length.

Sperm whales are easily recognized by their massive heads and prominent rounded foreheads. They can dive as deep as 3 kilometres (9,800 feet) in search of squid to eat. These giant mammals must hold their breath for up to 90 minutes on such dives.  They are the deepest divers of the great whales. Females with their young form groups (called pods) with other females while mature males live solitary lives outside of the mating season. The pod has usually 10 to 20 members. Sperm whales are vocal and use a system of echolocation.

The species is now protected by an international whaling moratorium, and is currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. Killing the larger breeding-age males over many years upset the male-to-female ratio, and the birth rate has seriously declined in some populations.

The Azores archipelago is an ideal destination for whale watchers. Many boat trips are organized from Pico, Faial, Terceira and Sao Miguel. Whale watching is seasonal. Sperm whales (max 20.5 m) are spotted from March through October. April to mid-May is the season for watching Blue whale (max. 30 m), Fin whale (max. 27.3 m), Sei whale (max. 19.5 m), and Humpback whale (max. 15 m). In July and August: Beaked whale (max. 4-13 m), Northern bottlenose whale (max. 9.8 m), Sowerby's beaked whale (max. 5.5 m), Cuvier's beaked whale (max. 7 m), sperm whales and dolphins. Some other species including Short-finned pilot whale (max. 18 m), Whale Minke (max. 10.7 m), and Orca: (max. 9.8) may also occur from time to time.



More pictures from the Azores
Find here many pieces of information and more pictures of Dirk Wuyts (ADC Scuba Diving Antwerp Club) about his trip to the Azores: Pico Island, Faial Island and several diving spots.

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Pictures from bottlenose dolphins and sperm whales near Pico Island in the Azores. Travel guide to the Azores with many nice pictures.