Incredible whale-watching destinations
Whale watching has become tremendously popular since it first began on Pico years ago. Here, the old expertise of the lookouts in hilltop towers is still used to spy the whales. It is a truly world-class cetacean hotspot. A single 3-hour trip might reveal two or three whale species and almost certainly some playful dolphins.
Numerous enterprises now offer the experience. Because of the weather, the main season is from April to October. Nevertheless, cetaceans may be seen throughout the year and you may find there are opportunities in winter. Winter trips are more prone to cancellations, caused by rough seas or bad weather.
With 27 species now recorded in Azorean waters out of a total of some 83 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, this makes the Azores one of the world’s top places to observe them. The islands most geared up for organised excursions are Pico, Faial and São Miguel.
Nova Scotia is one of the best places in the world to go whale-watching, both in terms of quantity and variety. In total, 21 whale species cruise the province’s coastal waters. Baleen whales (such as minke, humpback, fin and the critically endangered north Atlantic right whales) are drawn by huge amounts of plankton, krill and schools of small fish, particularly where the cold outflow of the Bay of Fundy meets the warm Gulf Stream waters.
Toothed whales (such as pilot, killer and sperm whales) tend to eat fish and squid and are common in the Gulf of St Lawrence and Cabot Strait. Although it varies from species to species, whale numbers tend to be highest from late July to mid September.
The town of Húsavík, on the north coast of Iceland, was dubbed as the country’s whale-watching capital after the townspeople refitted a couple of retired fishing boats. Since then, the slaughterhouse turned into the internationally acclaimed whale museum.
A local population of uninhibited whales play along willingly, coming to feed in the shallows of Skjálfandi Bay in summer. If they’re in the mood, they put on quite a show. Now it’s one of the best spots to catch an up-close look at Iceland’s biggest animals – definitely worth the northern detour.
The Antarctic waters are home to several species of whale. This includes the Antarctic minke, humpback, and fin – a regular summer visitor. In the Antarctic summer blue whales feed on krill, taking some 8,000kg in a day, which may amount to 8 million shrimps.
When the pack-ice extends at the onset of the Antarctic winter, blue whales move towards warm tropical waters. There they live off their blubber reserves and gather in discrete groups for courtship and mating at about ten years of age.
There are three truly Arctic whales – bowhead, narwhal and beluga. Rotund and robust, the beluga is a sociable creature, rarely alone, and relatively common around the ice. The bowhead is decidedly less common. Their great size and the fact that they float when killed made bowheads desirable prey for early whalers. Originally abundant in Greenland waters, they were heavily exploited from the 17th century onwards.
The narwhal is one of the world’s most striking animals. It spawned, by virtue of its long, spiralling tusk, one of the most charming myths – that of the unicorn. There is also the possiblity of spotting several other whale species in Arctic waters. This includes fin, humpback, minke, pilot, killer and even blue whales around coastal areas in the summer months.
Zanzibar’s Mafia Island offers an immensely rich marine environment, which provides some of the finest snorkelling and diving sites in the Indian Ocean.