Honeymoon TR: Watching Whales & Swimming with Dolphins

(Last Updated On: August 21, 2011)

The Azores are a great place to see whales and dolphins. Once hunted, the commercial killing of whales in the Azores ended in 1984. Commercial whaling was immediately replaced by commercial whale watching. And Pico is one of the prime places in the Azores to gaze upon some of the world’s most majestic ocean creatures.
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We embarked from Madalena and headed for the southern side of the island. Here the seas are deep and rich with squid, perfect for the Sperm Whales who like to feed on them.

Frank ready to watch some whales, complete with an oversized PFD that acts doubly as a neck pillow.
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Our first sighting, however, was not whales. We first spotted dolphins. This type is called the Common Dolphin.
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Notice that is is easy to spot the dolphins under the water, especially with the aid of polarized lenses.
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Our next sighting- Atlantic Spotted Dolphins. This pod was particularly friendly and I just wanted to jump in the water with them, right then!
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Then, we spotted some whales. Sperm whales to be exact. We saw 15 of them over the course of about an hour or so. These are just a few pictures selected from the many. Sperm whales dive deep in the ocean to feed on squid but can often be seen resting at the surface like this between dives.
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The whales are just “catching their breath”, preparing for the next dive.
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And it is never very long before they dive into the depths of the ocean.
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Sometimes they “wag” their tails at us as they dive.
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And, rarely, they really stick that tail up in the air. Commonly referred to as “love-tailing”, we aren’t sure why they do it. But, we were happy to be ‘loved’ by this young whale.
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On our way back to Madelena, we came across a pod of Risso’s dolphins. These dolphins are a lot more shy, but still fun to see.
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The Risso’s dolphins have grayish skin at birth. But, fighting and other interactions lead to scarring on the skin which appears white. The older the Risso’s dolphin, the whiter the skin.
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A short video of the Risso’s dolphins we saw.

Risso’s Dolphins off the coast of Pico Island, Azores from 14erskiers on Vimeo.

Swimming with Dolphins
After seeing all the wonderful dolphins during our whale-watching excursion, I wanted to swim with them. The dolphins played with us in the boat, swimming towards us as we arrived, and swimming along with us as we continued on our path. Some of the companies that offer whale-watching also offer opportunities to swim with them. So, we signed up.

We arrived at the office where we had signed up, ready to swim with dolphins. As they shoved us into rental wet suits and snorkel-gear, of which most people who were signed up to swim with the dolphins actually brought with them, we realized we were in for the real thing. Frank, having never snorkeled before and a bit tentative about his swimming skills after growing up in land-locked Colorado, opted out. He would not be joining me in swimming with the dolphins. I’d be going it alone, along with 5 other foreign tourists. I quickly identified one man who stood out from the group of four Germans. “Hello, my name is Brittany.” In a thick accent that I couldn’t quite distinguish, “I am Anatoli.” “Where are you from?” “Ukraine, but I live in Pennsylvania now.” A math professor at Penn State, we were instant friends… as well as snorkeling partners.

So, there we were, four German, one Ukranian, and one American, all decked out in wet suits on a small zodiac equipped with a driver and a guide. We searched for dolphins and came upon a large pod of common dolphins.
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The driver took the boat through the pod, looking for a group of young males who are more apt to play along with us (as opposed to females with young babies to protect).
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He found some, and two Germans dropped in. Only two people are allowed to swim with the dolphins at once.
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Each pair is given about 10 minutes to swim with the dolphins before being called back to the boat. Then, the process repeats, beginning with the driver looking for a group of ‘bachelor’ dolphins.
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Not quite evident in the pictures, the seas were quite rough that day. So, please excuse the crooked and the poor-quality photos. It was difficult to capture good pictures when being bumped around all the time! But, note this set of photos. Here, the dolphins are riding the waves! They look like they are having fun 🙂
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Snorkeling with the dolphins is one of the most surreal things I have ever experienced. On the boat, it’s noisy, bumpy and chaotic. But, the moment I dropped into the sea, it was serene. The waves were choppy, but I stuck my face into the water and, with the snorkel peaking above the water, didn’t notice the waves anymore. I kicked and I floated, not paying attention to the cold that surrounded me. I didn’t notice my snorkel partner, and I didn’t notice when the boat left. Suddenly, there I was, the deep blue of the ocean on all sides- I couldn’t see the bottom. But, that didn’t matter because the dolphins were swimming all around me.

The dolphins never touched me. But, they were curious. They came and swam right by me, some even mothers with their young. They looked me in the eye. And they talked- like you hear on the TV shows. But, it’s always different when you hear it with your own ears. The guide told me to talk to the dolphins, with this squeaking sort of noise. So, I tried it. And the dolphins talked back. Every time I made the squeaking noise, they dolphins made the same noise in reply. I was talking to the dolphins.

Two snorkelers, out in the open deep blue ocean, with the dolphins.
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In the course of about an hour, I was able to swim with the dolphins three different times- each being an experience I will never forget.
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Complete List of Honeymoon Trip Reports:
Barcelona
Gaudi
Spanish Pyrenees
Climb of Tosa d’Alp
Cardona Castle
Montserrat
Five hours in Lisbon
Horta Part I
Horta Part II
Island of Faial
Island of Pico, Day 1
Portugal and The Azores Highest Point: Montanha Do Pico 7,713′
Watching Whales & Swimming with Dolphins
Pico Adegas, Gardens, and More
Island of Pico

Brittany Walker Konsella

Aside from skiing, biking, and all outdoorsy things,Brittany Walker Konsella also loves smiles and chocolate 🙂 Even though she excels at higher level math and chemistry, she still confuses left from right. Find out more about Brittany!

Latest posts by Brittany Walker Konsella (see all)

Brittany Walker Konsella

Aside from skiing, biking, and all outdoorsy things, Brittany Walker Konsella also loves smiles and chocolate :) Even though she excels at higher level math and chemistry, she still confuses left from right. Find out more about Brittany!

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