The whaling 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 the giant cetaceans and then they melted the meat that originated the oil used for lighting.
Because of this American influence, a lot of North American ships stopped here in search for shelter and supplies. In order to run away from the Azorean crisis, 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 left the shore in the direction of the sperm whales, guided by the vigias.
The whaling tradition in the Azores started to fade away in the end of the 60s. Even though the whaling hunting methods were traditional, many animals were captured. Between 1896 and 1949, about 12 thousand whales were killed.
This was the last year that Azoreans captured whales in Pico Island. The whaling chapter in the Azores was finally 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 Whale Watching Azores started its activity in São Miguel Island. The whale watching expertise from the Azorean companies kept alive the whaling history until nowadays.
What has changed
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 São Roque village. The old lookout spots are now being used to locate the animals from land to send the whale watching boats towards their location.
Whale and dolphin watching in the Azores is more and more rooted in the local culture. The sperm whale is still the gem of the Azorean waters and there are more and more living here, this is why it is the cultural and tourism Azorean symbol.