Several species of whales and dolphins may be sighted in Madeiran waters all through the year.
The sperm whale is frequently found in Madeiran waters. Lone adult whales may be encountered year-round with more small family groups, sometimes including young calves, being seen in summer. This great whale was once the basis of Madeira's historic whaling industry. The island's whalers hunted their quarry from small open boats using hand-held harpoons and lances and it was because of this that the whaling scenes from John Huston's classic film version of Moby Dick were shot here back in 1956.
Whaling officially ceased in 1982 and from 1987 Madeira's territorial waters have been a designated marine mammal sanctuary. Today Madeira offers some of Europe’s best whale and dolphin watching, and even exceptional rarities such as beaked whales can be sighted with a reasonable degree of consistency here.
Fin whales are the other great whale regularly seen in Madeiran waters. Unlike the sperm whale, which is feeds on large prey such as squid, the fin whale and its close relatives, the Bryde's and sei whales, feeds on small schooling fish such as (in Madeiran waters) mackerel and scad, engulfing great scoops of water which is filtered through baleen plates to leave the whale with a mouthful of prey. When we are marlin and tuna fishing, the presence of fin, Bryde's and sei whales is a sign that there are substantial concentrations of baitfish in the area.
Of the many species of smaller ceteceans that frequent Madeiran waters, Atlantic and Pantropical spotted dolphins are probably the most familiar to those who venture out to sea.
Most often sighted during the summer months, spotted dolphins can often be found in groups ranging from small family groups of less than a dozen to pods of a hundred or more. They are normally keen to associate with boats and will often bow-ride for minutes at a time. When the mood takes them these extremely fast and agile swimmers can exhibit spectacular acrobatic displays.
On request and at your own risk Balancal can stop the engines and let you swim with some of these magnificent creatures. Here you can see a group of guests on Balancal enjoying their own close encounter with a group of very friendly and very rare ‘ Rough toothed dolphins’.
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