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An incredible first time whale watch in the Azores

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An unexpected first wild whale watch

My first wild whale sighting was in Maui, Hawaii, but before diving into my experience, I want to acknowledge the tragic Maui wildfires that occurred earlier this year. Our hearts go out to the families affected by these devasting events.

The effects of climate change come in many forms. Climate change is among the biggest global issues for our planet, but whales can help. Whales take bathroom breaks at the ocean’s surface and by doing so, supply phytoplankton with life giving nutrients. Phytoplankton take in hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon each year and they provide at least half of the oxygen produced on the planet. Whales also absorb huge amounts of carbon over their lifetime. When whales die, they sink to the sea floor and, like phytoplankton, they take vast amounts of carbon with them helping to balance our climate. The continued recovery of whale populations is a significant mitigation strategy to combat climate change. Learn more about “The Green Whale.

Now, back to whale watching.


A whale of a surprise

My first wild whale sighting was actually unexpected. On the night before my first scheduled whale watch, I was sitting outside near the beach when people started shouting and pointing towards the horizon. At first, I saw nothing, but then, way off in the distance I saw a whale-shaped figure rise out of the water and make a big splash. Seeing the whale’s silhouette against a sunset background of orange and yellow looked like a scene from a movie. This sighting fueled my excitement to get out on the water the next day even more.

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An eventful day of sightings

The next day, the boat captain warned us that the whales were shy. Although I was disappointed by the news, it was hard to complain surrounded by lush green islands and the deep blue ocean. Luckily, the captain was wrong, and shortly after his announcement, I saw my first glimpse of the day of a whale breaching, my new favorite sight. This would be the first of many breaches. It was incredible to watch the whales as they dove down with their flukes in the air, slowly disappearing underneath the ocean’s surface. The anticipation would build just before the whales emerged from the depths and shot into the air, their whole, massive body on display. Scientists are unsure why they do it, but it must be fun.

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Throughout the day, I saw both male and female whales and they were all very curious about the boat. On numerous occasions the boat was “trapped” by the whales, which means the whales were so close to the boat we couldn’t move in any direction, due to safety concerns and legal reasons.

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A baby's first breaching

As the day went on, we were accompanied by a mother and her calf. It looked like the mom was teaching the calf how to breach. The mom would breach a few times and then the calf would try. A lot of the calf’s breaches were little flops, but the calf eventually got the hang of it. The whole experience was breathtaking. I was always drawn to the sea and protective of its inhabitants, but nothing could’ve prepared me to see such a ginormous and gentle giant in person, and that’s just the baby!

I’d encourage anyone and everyone to go whale watching, it’s not a sight that can be described, it must be experienced. Learn more about responsible whale watching.

1 Comment

  1. Diane Kastel on 11/05/2023 at 12:01 pm

    My, first, experience sighting humpbacks was in Barnstable, Massachusetts with a whale watching company.
    A pod of humpbacks chose to swim, directly, under the bow of our boat, and, I was rewarded to see them up close. have plans to return to Barnstable in the spring of 2024 with the, same, whale watching company. I have since gone on whale watching, excursions in Hawaii and at Dana’s Point in California but nothing as close up as my trip to Barnstable.

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