Madeira whale watching

A must on Madeira: whale watching boat trips

By Bo, co-founder of SeaBookings, working from Lisbon: 

As you may have already read on this blog, we’ve been on a short 3-day trip to Madeira island Portugal. Our goal was to check out some of the coolest things to do on Madeira and share them with you. One thing is a true must on Madeira: whale watching

To see such a huge animal as a whale in the wild is a unique experience

To see such a huge animal as a whale in the wild is a unique experience

We went on a dolphin and whale watching tour on Madeira with departure from the Marina of Funchal. After a very complete briefing about what we species we could expect to find, about the tour itself and about respect for nature (which is very important for this tour operator), we headed down to the boat. 

The boat used for this whale watching tour is a rigid inflatable boat (RIB). These boats are known for their speed and safety, ideal for a dolphin watching trip! And another good thing is that, opposed to other boats, on RIBs, it’s very rare to get seasick. Francisco, who usually gets seasick when sailing is the proof! On the RIB, a super fast boat, he did not feel sick 😉

We had quite a laugh when boarding because some of the other passengers would put their life-jackets the other way around and one lady even decided to sit backwards on the seats! It was hard to keep our laughs! Be careful not to do this! :p

Whales are usually a bit shyer than dolphins but some come really close by

Whales are usually a bit shyer than dolphins but some come really close by

As soon as we left the marina we immediately went full gas towards the deep blue of the Atlantic. On this 2,5 hour dolphin and whale watching trip in Madeira, we were lucky enough to spot three species. Did you know that around the year, 28 different species of cetaceans (dolphins and whales) can be spotted around the island of Madeira? Some of the most commonly spotted species are common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, Atlantic spotted dolphins, sperm whales and pilot whales. And sometimes even other sea life like turtles are spotted from the speed boats.

As the Atlantic is rather big and as we deal with wild animals and they are not fed, this tour operator counts with observers on land. It may sound strange, but these observers help a lot! From the mountains, they give directions to the skippers to easily find the animals. Once the skippers track the animals on their GPS,  it’s time to speed up and head to the whales and dolphins to watch them closely. Chances of finding some species of cetaceans are, like this, very high on Madeira. However, it’s a true adventure and on some tours, it can happen that no dolphins or whales are sighted.

Common dolphins

Common dolphins

We saw common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and sperm whales very closely. Actually, we even found two pods of common dolphins and with the first spot, some of the passengers had the opportunity to get into the water to swim with dolphins. I was one of them and trust me, this was one of the experiences in my life I’m most grateful for. You can read my full experience here.

While near to the mammals, this tour operator respects a certain distance to not disturb the animals and give you some time to observe them. But not too long, also to respect the animals. The marine biologist onboard will keep you updated about what’s going on. As we found the species, we were informed about them and their behavior. Feel free to ask any questions. The guides love to tell about our favorite animals!

Bottlenose dolphins

Bottlenose dolphins

We had a great time onboard. The boat ride itself is really worth it. The sights over the coastline of the island, like Cabo Girão and Ribeira Brava, are stunning. And the speed is a lot of fun!

Swimming with wild dolphins is a very special experience that we recommend to all you sea-lovers!

Swimming with wild dolphins is a very special experience that we recommend to all you sea-lovers!

To watch whales and dolphins (and maybe even other marine life) in their natural habitat is a truly unique experience for the whole family in the middle of the Ocean. This experience is more than just watching these magical creatures. You’ll get to know a lot about cetaceans and particularly about the ones around Madeira Island. Feel free to book your dolphins and whale watching trip on Madeira online and feel free to contact us about any questions you may have.

We went Whale Watching in São Miguel

Our friend Cristina, blogger at The Choice of Magic, shares her unforgettable experience Whale Watching in São Miguel:

Welcome to São Miguel!

Welcome to São Miguel!

The island of São Miguel is certainly one of the most breathtaking places in Portugal. With eternally green hills, blue-green water, spotted cows and delicious cheese, it’s the perfect getaway for a long weekend. There are obviously plenty of things to do in a place where nature is so overwhelmingly beautiful: from hikes and baths in the island´s many hot springs to eating all the “lapas” you can find, and to finally going on a most amazing adventure: Whale Watching in São Miguel. 

When planning our trip, we positively knew we wanted to venture into the sea and try our luck at Whale Watching in São Miguel. Something else we knew was that we had to do it with an agency that had consideration, respect and love towards the animals and their ever endangered ecosystem. After thorough research, we decided to ask SeaBookings for help and they promptly booked us a tour with a local whale watching tour agency of extremely kind and passionate people.

Lourenzo, the Marine Biologist

Lourenzo, the Marine Biologist

The tour started on a sunny day, at 8:30 am from Vila Franca do Campo’s marina. We got there early and having followed the advice of the tour operator, with some milk in our bellies to combat the seasickness. The tour started on land with a touching video about our oceans. Minutes later, adults and children alike were embarking along with Tiago, the boat’s captain and Lorenzo, our charming Italian marine biologist. Waterproof jackets on, scarves around our faces and sunglasses firmly secured, the boat started towards the great unknown.

The views over the shore are stunning!

The views over the shore are stunning!

Not even 10 minutes in, we encountered our first colony of bottlenose dolphins. Now, I’ve only ever seen dolphins in aquariums and this was a completely different experience. Seeing these wonderful creatures in the wild and hearing Lorenzo’s stories about the dolphins of New Zeeland, we felt utterly overwhelmed and grateful for being able to experience this. The colony was a big one, over 100 animals, jumping around our boat and giving us the welcome to their island. The boat had stopped for us to admire the animals, take some blurry pictures and recover from the first batch of seasickness.

This tour operator works with whale spotters who from the island’s shore, oversee the sea with powerful binoculars and warn the boat captain of where these wonderful creatures are lurking. After seeing two colonies of bottlenose dolphins, the whale spotters excitedly warned our captain that a group of sperm whales was nearby. We rushed in their direction and it wasn’t long until we found the beautiful animals resting in the water and soaking up the sun. Lorenzo explained that it was a matriarchal group formed out of three adult female whales and their calves. I cannot even begin to describe the feeling of smallness one feels when seeing a baby whale expelling water through its blowhole. Remember all the cartoons you’ve seen with whales doing this? Well, it´s even better in reality.

It's hard to catch the animals on camera!

It’s hard to catch the animals on camera!

Three hours flew by unbelievably fast and as we were circling the beautiful islet of Vila Franca do Campo, the site for the Red Bull Cliff Diving competition, we wished we could do it all over again. We returned to base for a final cup of tea and chat with Lorenzo and learned more about the island’s effort in preserving the oceans and helping these animals. We left smiling, thankful and just a tad more mindful about how wonderful nature is.

Many thanks, Cristina, for describing your experience Whale Watching in São Miguel so beautifully. For more details about this tour or bookings, please have a look here.

Whales in the Algarve: minke-whale in the Ria Formosa

Every year, we spot several species of whales in the Algarve. In 2016 we found 8 species of dolphins and whales in the Algarve. Dream Wave, a tour operator based in the Marina of Albufeira, revealed that in the course of 2016 they spotted 8 species of dolphins and whales in the Algarve. This February we had a nice visit of a minke-whale in the Ria Formosa in Faro.

Whales in the Algarve

The whale needed support by the Maritime Police of Tavira and Olhão and the Portuguese Institute of Conservation of Nature and Forests

Normally, whales in the Algarve are often sighted further offshore, along the entire coast. In this case, the animal decided to explore the Ria Formosa, a natural park in the Algarve.

The whale was swimming around the Ria Formosa for the whole day on February 1st. Pedro da Palma, captain of the Marina of Vila Real de Santo António and Tavira reported that the animal entered the Ria in the morning near the marina of Tavira. The minke-whale swam to Fuseta, where it left the marine park at the end of the day. However, “due to the fact that the tide was low, the whale was stranded in a shallow spot and needed support to be able to swim again,” said Pedro da Palma.

Fortunately, the whale was not injured and its route to the sea was supported by the Local Commands of the Maritime Police of Tavira and Olhão, in collaboration with the Institute of Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF – Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e Florestas in Portuguese).

Dolphins and whales in the Algarve

In 2016, the most observed species of dolphins and whales in the Algarve were Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and the Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis). Other species of cetaceans of less frequent sighting are the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), the risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus) and the orca (Orcinus orca).

Regarding whales in the Algarve, Dream Wave recorded the sighting of three species:baleias no Algarve SeaBookings

  • Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus);
  • Sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis);
  • Minke-whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata).

The minke-whale can be distinguished from other whales by a white band on each flipper. They have a length of up to 9m, with females being larger than males.

If you are interested in meeting the whales in the Algarve in person, we invite you to come on board one of our whale watching tours.

(Original article in