Blue whale watching in the Azores

They are the largest animal, by far, on our planet and quite possibly the largest that ever lived. Adults can weigh up to 200 tons and reach 24 metres in length, and their tongues alone can be as heavy as a full-grown elephant. So even if you’ve never been near the ocean in your life, you’ll know a blue whale when you see one.

These immense creatures have an almost mystical quality to them. Their gentle nature, complex behaviours and social structures – plus the fact that, because they dive so deep, we still know relatively little about them, makes them very intriguing. We’re lucky in fact that we’ve still got them around. Blue whales remain endangered, having almost been wiped out by hunting and now regularly killed by ship strikes and discarded fishing gear.

Normally observed traveling alone or in pairs, blue whales move at around 20km per hour, and their blows can reach up to 12 metres, which alone is a very impressive sight. Even on a blue whale watching vacation you may not always get a great view of the whales – in fact, a responsible tour operator will never get too close – but just being in their presence for a little while can be a very humbling experience.

Why go blue whale watching in the Azores?

The Azores, a volcanic archipelago in the North Atlantic, is a world-class destination for dolphin and whale watching with many species passing through its deep waters every year, including blue whales. Both the BBC and National Geographic have chosen to film here, giving some indication of its prestige, and it is also a very well-managed destination, crucial not only for the whales’ wellbeing, but to ensure that you have a worthwhile experience.

Small group tours are usually accommodated on either São Miguel or Faisal, returning to land each afternoon as opposed to live-aboard trips. Whale watching might be the focus of your trip, involving daily departures, or form part of a more diverse itinerary. If you want to get more in-depth you can also take part in a scientific conservation project, led by a team of biologists to collect ecological data accruing various skills such as whale identification and educating members of the public on behaviours.

Trips are often accompanied by expert marine biologists there to provide a fascinating commentary on what you’re seeing. You will sail either in Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs – not suitable for people with back complaints) or catamarans, which may be assisted by land-based whale spotters (vigias) in purpose built towers which were once used for whaling. While sightings can of course never be guaranteed, success rates are high and there are always many other marine species to be seen.

Naturally, we carefully screen all tour operators on our site to ensure their responsible whale watching practises are up to international standards. You can have confidence that these trips present no harm to the whales, and also have a positive effect on their conservation.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Azores or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Best time to see blue whales
in the Azores

Whales are most commonly seen off the Azores between April and August. Blue whales, like other baleen species such as humpback and fin whales, are drawn by the plankton blooms that appear between mid-March and mid-June, filling up before they embark on their epic spring migration to the Arctic. These nutrient-rich waters, warmed by the Gulf Stream, are an absolute magnet for whales and other marine life. The islands have a pleasantly warm climate all year round, averaging around 25°C in August, and 16°C in February, so you should be fine with a light fleece and windbreaker. Do bring waterproof clothing however, as the Azores see a fair amount of rain.

Whaling was once a major part of the islands’ culture and economy, but thankfully the practise was ended in the 1980s and the Azores transitioned pretty smoothly into whale watching and research trips instead. The annual Whalers Week, a festival beginning on the last Sunday in August, sees decommissioned hunting boats take part in rowing races on Pico, while the island’s whaling museum offers a sobering look at the industry and its personalities.

Reflections from our blue whale watching reviews

You might not actually see very much of the whales themselves unless they happen to breach right out of the water or come close to the boat.
– Alison Pemble
“Way above expectations! Informative, even as to the exact moment to click the camera shutter, skilled in being in the right place at the right time, positioning the boat for everyone's advantage, including the whale's, knowing the whales' routines, and even helping organise the non-water days. Over the 4 days spent at sea we saw 50 !!! whales.” – Jean Tuck

“The very best part was when we found a blue whale and a fin whale swimming side by side. This allowed us to clearly see the differences between them – almost as if they were doing it for our benefit. I was also happy that the whales seemed to be undisturbed by our boat. I hope that's true. Definitely bring a peaked cap that stays on your head - the glare from the sea can give you a headache.” – Trish Byrne

“Take some warm clothes including a waterproof/windproof top coat, preferably things that can be layered as, despite the sun, the wind can be very cold when on board especially when the boat is going quite fast tracking down a sighting which may be several miles away out at sea... We were very lucky with the sightings we had; literally being more or less in the middle of the Atlantic, which is vast, and being able to "find" these creatures is amazing in itself; the scientist on board was very knowledgeable, friendly and keen to share her knowledge. The animals' well being was always the most important factor and so we did not stay long at each sighting to allow the whales the freedom to continue with their journey.” – Tim Hall

“Be aware that this is not a BBC wildlife programme, so come with realistic expectations of what you might see. You might not actually see very much of the whales themselves unless they happen to breach right out of the water or come close to the boat. Most of the animal is below the surface. A camera/videocam with a good zoom or a pair of binoculars gives a much enhanced view, but take a plastic bag to protect from salt spray.“ – Alison Pemble

“The 3 hour trips out to sea were truly amazing with many sightings of Blue, Sperm and Fin Whales together with several dolphin and turtle species. There were numerous other creatures to be expertly described by our guide ( the man’s knowledge was unbelievable) therefore these trips were simply out of this world and went by like a flash. We were also educated as to the role of the spotters (and were fortunate to meet one spotter) who guided us to the animals, again learning how all this is achieved was a real pleasure. Regarding going out on the boat, I was very worried about getting seasick as I’m not good on the water, however just taking some travel sickness pills sorted that out and I didn’t have any issues at all.“ – Richard Christie
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Mike Baird] [Intro: Good Free Photos] [Best Time: Mike Baird] [Some reflections: David Stanley]