The whale industry in the Azores was introduced by the new North American generation. Big sailing ships, called Yankees, were the first to adventure in the Azorean waters to hunt whales. They captured and then they melted the meat that originated the oil used for lighting.
Because of this American influences, a lot of North American ships stopped here in search for shelter and supplies. In order to run away from the Azorean crises many men left the islands to move to the USA in the pursuit of a brighter future.
In the end of the XVIII century a lot of emigrants came back from the USA to start the whaling industry in Azores. On board the Americans developed better skills on hunting whales.
1896 – 1949
The big ships were substituted by a more coastal whaling. There were a lot of sperm whales close to our shores. The lookouts – vigias – were added to this tradition to help locating the whales from shore. Smaller wooden boats leave the shore in the direction of the sperm whales.
The whaling tradition in Azores started to fade away in the end of the 60’s. Even though the whaling hunting methods were traditional many animals were killed. Between 1896 and 1949, around 12 thousand whales were killed.
This was the last year that Azoreans captured whales in Pico Island. Finally, the whaling chapter in the Azores was over.
During the convention on the conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitat in Europe, in September of 1979, an agreement was created. The rules that stopped all kind of marine mammals from being killed in Portuguese waters were created then.
The first whale watching company was created in Lajes do Pico, in Pico Island. A year later Futurismo Azores Whale Watching started its activity in São Miguel Island. The whale watching expertise from the Azorean companies kept alive the whaling history until nowadays.
The old whaling boats that were recovered are now used in boat racings. The old whaling factory in Pico Island is now a Whaling Museum located in Sao Roque village. The old lookout spots are now being used still to locate the animals from land to send the whale watching boats into their location.
Whale and dolphin watching in Azores is more and more rooted in the Azorean culture. The sperm whale is still the gem of the Azorean waters and there are more and more living here, this is why it’s the cultural and tourism Azorean symbol.