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Ponta Delgada

Azores, privileged place to watch whales

Specimens from various cetacean species have been sighted in the Azores, some which are rare. In addition, some of the animals rescued here are also sighted in different places of the planet, which, for the Directorate for the Environment, is a rare opportunity to understand the major migratory routes and to link them to the environmental factors that determine these migratory routes. 

According to Lisa Steiner, from the company Whale Watch Azores, a sperm whale was sighted in the Azores in 1990. The same specimen was sighted in the Canary Islands in 1993 and in 2008, after 18 years of the initial sighting; it was sighted again in the Azores by Jasmine Zereba, from the company Futurismo. Three male sperm whales that were sighted for the first time in the Azores, one in 1993, another in 1999 and another in 2003 were observed for the second time in Norway in 2008, 2007 and 2008, respectively. Since little is known about the movements of male sperm whales in the North Atlantic, it is considered that these sightings are rare opportunities to increase the knowledge about the ecology of these animals.

A humpback whale was sighted in Cape Verde in April 2009 by Fred Wenzel. The same specimen had been previously observed in the Azores in June 2006. The sighting was confirmed using the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue, which is kept by the College of the Atlantic. The Individuals of this species that have been sighted in the Azores belong to the wider population of the North Atlantic. Despite the nonexistence of reliable estimates of their actual current population, the over-exploitation has resulted in the massive depletion of the population in some of the former hunting areas, including the North Atlantic. For that reason, the observation and the attempts to verify the source will provide scientists with crucial data, so that they may determine whether the population is still declining whether this tendency has reversed.

According to researcher Monica Silva, biologists from the Department of Oceanography and Fisheries of the University of the Azores (DOP / UAç) and company Whale Watch Azores observed a North Atlantic right whale south off the island of Pico in January 2009.This is the most threatened cetacean species in the North Atlantic, with an effective population of nearly 400 individuals; therefore the observation of a specimen is an extraordinary phenomenon. The whale sighted in the Azores belongs to the Northwest Atlantic population, which lives in the coastal waters of the United States and Canada. It was first observed, as a youth, in the Great South Channel, about 100 km from Cape Cod, in June 2002.The whale was named after Pico, the Azorean Azores where it was first observed. Before being observed in the Azores, the Pico was last sighted in the Bay of Fundy, Canada, in September 2008, which means that Pico travelled at least 3320 miles in 101 days. Pico was found again in the Bay of Fundy in September 2009, 237 days after being observed in the Azores. The sighting of this whale was widely publicised on the webpage of the PDO / UAC (IntraDOP) and by the regional, national and international media.

According to Lisa Steiner, from the company Whale Watch Azores, “these stories are amazing and show us the importance of creating long duration data bases, which may be relevant in monitoring the movement of animals from a long range. They also show how important is the collaboration between researchers, especially when the animals under study move between different areas.”

For Frederico Cardigos, the Regional Director for the Environment, “these sightings are, for some species, a rare and extraordinary occurrence, which has revived the debate on the migratory routes of these species and their ecology in addition to demonstrating that the commitment of the Azores in the protection of the marine environment has been effective.”

For these reasons, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper has recently identified the Azores destination as the third best place in the world for whale watching, after Alaska and Norway.



Official government press-releases presented in all foreign languages interfaces of the Azorean Government Portal (Portal do Governo dos Açores) are a sub-set of the government's official press-releases daily output and are chosen for translation and publication on the foreign language interfaces based on audience segmentation criteria. The entire collection of the Azorean government press-releases is available in portuguese, here, from the GACS Press Office site.

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