Whales in the Azores

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The "vigias" at the shores of the Azores are reminders of the time when whale hunting was the main source of income for local people.


Whales were hunted around the Azores from the 17h century to the mid-1980s. The call "baleia, baleia!" ("whale, whale!") was used to bring whale hunters, who typically had other occupations on the islands, to the hunting boats that were always ready for use. Until the practice of whale hunting was banned, locals used to hunt from 10-meter row boats and throw harpoons by hand instead of relying on modern motor boats. Although it may be hard to understand from today's perspective, this extremely dangerous and tough occupation was highly respected in the Azores. The whale catchers of the Azores enjoyed an excellent reputation for their courage, dependability and honesty, so much so that Hermann Melville memorialized the traditional whale hunt of the Azores in his novel, "Moby Dick".
Although the world continues to be interested in whales, the practice of following them has fortunately become more benign. Today, the vigias serve to watch whales from shore, sometimes from many kilometers away. The data are used to direct tourist boats to observe the giants from nearby.
The Azores are considered one of the world's busiest whale waters. The water is clear and rich in nutrients, since the Gulf Stream brings warmth and nutrients, which makes the underwater world particularly varied and offers excellent feeding opportunities for whales. In addition, the gentle sloping of the islands under water is an ideal nursery ground for young sperm whales, who gradually learn to hunt in greater depths and are watched by groups of females while the mothers dive down to feed.
Over twenty whale species have been observed in the waters before the Azores. The animals come to the area in the summer months to feed and rear their young. Sperm whales weigh a ton at birth. As the largest toothed whales, they can reach lengths of 18 meters and a weight of 50 tons. The largest baleen whales, blue whales, can become even bigger. With a length of up to 33 meters and a weight of up to 200 tons, they are the largest creatures ever to have lived on earth. However, the waters of the Azores also teem with many smaller whale species and dolphins.