Whales are our History
The whaling industry literally sailed to the Azores in the form of large sailing ships, called Yankee Whalers. Coming from the Americas, they were the first to explore our waters to hunt whales. They found a bounty of whales here and harvested the great creatures for their oil, used in lamps.
The American ships sought harbor in the Azores to replenish their supplies. This brought them in contact with the men of the Azores who saw whaling as an economic opportunity and joined the whalers, sailing back to the United States to learn the trade. This was their introduction to the whaling industry.
During this period in the 19th Century, many islanders learned their new craft aboard large American whaling ships. Returning to their homeland, they introduced whaling culture and industry to the Azores.
1896 – 1949
Sperm whales were so plentiful in the Azores and swam so close to the shore that hunting techniques evolved to fit this environment. The large Yankee whalers were abandoned and lookout towers, called vigias, were erected for spotters to locate the whales. Upon seeing a whale, the hunters launched oar-powered boats to quickly reach their prey.
With the rise of the environmental movement and new technologies, whaling began to decline in the late 1960s. The peak whaling years of 1896 – 1949 had taken a heavy toll – whaling records show that 12,000 whales had been captured and killed.
The protection of whales received a boost from the Bern Convention (1979), the first international treaty created to protect animal species and their habitats; and from the International Whaling Commission Moratorium (1982), which came into effect in 1986. Regulations now prohibited the capture of all marine mammals in Portuguese waters.
This was a watershed moment for hunting whales in the Azores. The last whales were pursued at Pico Island, ending hundreds of years of whaling in our archipelago.
Futurismo Whale Watching began, one of the first companies to offer tours in the Azores. This new whale watching adventure has restored the whaling culture to the Azores in an exciting and environmentally friendly way.
What has changed
Many of the old whaling artifacts have transitioned for modern use. The old whaling boats have been refurbished and are used in regattas. The former whale processing plant on Pico Island has become a Whaling Museum in São Roque, with displays of products that were derived from the whales.
The old lookout posts, or vigias, have been restored and once again are used to spot whales – although now for a more joyful purpose. Futurismo is proud to use these traditional methods for locating these beautiful sea creatures.
Watching whales and dolphins in the Azores is a thriving adventure activity – one of excitement, fun, and increasing environmental appreciation. For anyone visiting our beautiful islands, this is the must-do experience.