Whale Watching in Pico - Azores

The island of Pico features an unparalleled diversity and abundance of cetaceans.

Over 20 species of whales and dolphins either inhabit or pass by our waters along their migratory routes, so that Pico is one of the very best spots in the world for Whale Watching, arguably second to none.

Known in the past as an important ground for Sperm whale hunting, since the mid 80's the Azores have become one of the best case studies of how the presence of whales and dolphins can be turned into an ecologically sustainable business, with great educational value and full protection granted to the animals.

CW Azores operates all year round. However, since weather/sea conditions in the Azores can be a significantly poorer in winter, we only sell holiday packages and special programmes from mid-March to the end of October. From November to February we are happy to run Whale Watching tours whenever conditions allow.

  • WHALE WATCHING SUCCESS RATE 97%

    (Refers to actually seeing whales)
Sperm whale fluking up - Photo by Justin Hart
Sperm whale fluking up - Photo by Justin Hart

Whale Watching Video

Why choose us

We found out what krill species our baleen whales feed upon in the Azores. We did that by analyzing prey samples and, more recently, we succeded in identifying baleen whale prey by performing genetic analysis of faecal samples.

In collaboration with other research groups, we discovered that at least some of our Humpback whales breed in Cape Verde and then use Pico as an opportunistic foraging habitat on their way to high-latitude foraging grounds.

We contributed to shed some light on poorly known animals such as the True's beaked whale (Mesoplodon mirus) and the mysterious blue-fin whale hybrids.

Learn more...

We are based in Madalena, on the North-Western corner of Pico Island.

This provides us easy access to the waters South of Pico, all around Faial and to the S. Jorge channel.

For Whale Watching, having so many options enables us to counteract the odds of strong winds and/or locally adverse weather and sea conditions, as we almost always have access to a reasonably sheltered area for our boat tours.

Furthermore, for those who wish to join multiple Whale Watching tours, having the opportunity to see different areas and enjoy the coastline diversity is an extra, big plus!

Every Whale Watching trip is preceded by a briefing, to let you know more about the biology and behaviour of the whale and dolphin species we are most likely to meet at sea, along with their conservation status.

Hints on how to tell species and individuals apart are provided to furtherly enhance your experience on the boat.

Our multi-day special programmes feature a series of lectures on the physiology, ecology, behaviour and conservation of cetaceans.

A wide collection of books and scientific papers is available to our guests at the CW Library.

Mother and calf Common Dolphin - Photo by Justin Hart
Mother and calf Common Dolphin - Photo by Justin Hart

What Our Customers Think

My Choice in Pico Island. Great staff, spotter, skippers, guides all of them excellent professionals but never forgetting the fun side. They will always go for the extra mile to show us the best of the Azores waters. Luis Sarmento
One of the best experiences of my life, hands down! The trip surpassed all my expectations - the staff at CW azores is extremely enthusiastic & competent. Learned so much and had lots of fun out at the sea! Will be back as well :-) Sonja Benz
So much effort to make the trip fun, engaging and memorable. Thank you for a wonderful day! Cathy Eva
What a great team! Sign up to watch dolphins and whales, and they deliver! Great respect for both animals and the ocean. The crew was amazing! 10/10 Humberto Silva

A whale of a time for every season

Our Whale Watching season officially starts at mid-March with the Blue Whale Migration, a special Whale Watching and research programme that focuses on the biggest animal ever to live on our planet - the Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

The second seasonal event takes place in April and May, when many other great baleen whales pass by our waters during their migration to the northern feeding grounds.

Along with the Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), among them is the Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), the Sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis) and the Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae).

It is such a magnificent spectacle of nature that we have created a special program for it: Giants of the Sea.

Along with the baleen whales, encounters with the Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) and many species of dolphins are plentiful.

The Swim with Dolphins season is already up and running at this time of the year.

Among the giants, the undiscussed stars are the Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus). Master of deep diving, the Sperm whale dives to depth of more than 2000 metres in its search for squid, among which is the legendary giant squid.

It is a great time of the year to join our Realm of the Sperm whale special programme.

We still see the baleen whales at this time of the year, though with a lower frequency.

Then, one day around mid-to-late June, we witness another exceptional event - the arrival of the Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis) with their newborn.
These dolphins are well known for being very sociable and playful!

Once they join, the magic number of 5 is reached: it is the number of dolphin species the Azorean Law allows us to swim with, the other 4 species being the Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus) and the Striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba).

It is a special time of the year for the Sperm whale. Females give birth and their calves are "only" about 4-metre long when they are born!

Dolphins have babies too and we keep encountering all 5 species.
Due to the very comfortable water temperature, the Swim with Dolphins season is at its peak.

We try not to miss any chance to spot baleen whales, since most of them have already reached their northern feeding grounds by this time of the year.

How could we ask for more? Yet Nature holds another surprise. Between July and August some of the most elusive and least known cetaceans reach our waters - the mysterious beaked whales.

With no teeth in the upper jaw and only 2 in the lower one (often erupting just in males), these suction feeders can dive as deep as the Sperm whale or even deeper!

Among them is the Northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus ), which can reach a length of 9 metres, the Sowerby's beaked whale (Mesoplodon bidens) and the Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris).

High season is over for humans but not so for whales and dolphins! The Sperm whale is still encountered on a regular basis and dolphins are plentiful.

Indeed, September is one of the favourite months for professional photographers and film crews. They join us under a special permit to enter the water with the Sperm whale and other cetaceans.

All 5 species of dolphins are still with us and the water temperature is still near its seasonal maximum.

September and October are often chosen by the travellers who want to avoid the very high season for their holidays and still get the very best out of their holiday in Pico.

We still see the Sperm whale and lots of dolphins.

While the weather in the Azores can be good and even extremely good any time of the year, the frequency of bad weather significantly increases starting from November.

The advice is to set the expectations according to this and allow for longer stays.

At this time of the year we do not sell packages, but we continue to operate our boat tours whenever we reach a minimum number of passengers, usually 5 or 6.

Sometimes baleen whales are sighted, as they take on their southbound migration towards the breeding grounds, though we do not see nearly as many as in spring, though. Since our waters are not as productive in autumn as they are in spring, sthe motivation for baleen whales to come close to shore is lower. Furthermore, being already well fed, they are more focused on reaching the breeding grounds to mate and reproduce.

Sperm whales and dolphins can still be seen, along with the occasional baleen whales.

This is very low season for us.

Often, Blue whales start to pass by our waters in February, bad weather being the limiting factor for encounters.

Such early passage of baleen whales depends on the productivity of the ocean, for which there is significant variability season after season.

Our advice for the traveller is to set expectations accordingly and, at this time of the year, allow for a longer stay to compensate for the higher frequency of bad weather.

While strong winds an high seas hugely impact the viability of Whale Watching tours, they make watching and photographing from shore the huge waves of the mid-Atlantic a truly unique highlight.

Minimum distances and correct approaches to cetaceans
Minimum distances and correct approaches to cetaceans

Code of conduct and ethics

CW Azores is an official Whale Watch operator in the Azores and strictly follows the rules and regulations aimed to minimise the impact on cetaceans. It is both the law and our policy. We are strong believers in the idea that Whale Watching activities must be carried out in a sustainable way and we always carefully analyse the behaviour of the animals for possible cues of disturbance. Whenever disturbance cannot be excluded, we prefer to take a precautionary approach. We leave those whales or dolphins alone and go find another group.