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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Swimming with Wild Dolphins - Sao Miguel, Azores

Earlier in the week, I talked about scuba diving in Sao Miguel.  
If you prefer to snorkel instead of scuba dive, you have a few options on the island. And one, is very unique to the Azores. Whale and dolphin watching is a large part of Azores tourism. 

"This Atlantic archipelago was once renowned for hunting whales. Happily, the Azorean skill at tracking them down has been put to a much more enjoyable use, and from April-Sep these waters are now the world's whale watching capital, with blue whales passing through early in the season. Old 'vigia' lookout towers are used for sighting the creatures from land, while expert skippers cruise are joined by scientists and researchers, who not only increase the chance of sightings, but carry out important work while doing so. " source

The Azores is one of the world's top spots for sighting whales and dolphins - and this is the top selling tour. Sailing with a cetacean specialist, sightings are 99% guaranteed.”

While I did not do any whale watching on this trip, I did have a chance to swim with the dolphins. Now before you get all PETA on me, they were not aquarium dolphins enclosed in an exhibit, they were wild pods of wild dolphins out in the open ocean. 

Just seeing them from the boat is absolutely amazing but no, you jump right into the water with them. A helicopter is out tracking pods of wild dolphins, and radios to the boat driver where they are. You zoom on over to a wild pod, and in sets of two, throw on your snorkel gear and slowly slide into the water. Crystal clear open ocean surrounded by a pod of wild dolphins and their babies listening to their calls echoing through the ocean is probably a top 10 life experience for me. No, it definitely is.

Note:  the water is quite chilly and climbing in and out of the inflatable can be a little challenging.  But definitely worth the work!

To swim with the dolphins, I booked through Futurismo  and went to Ponta Delgada on the south coast of Sao Miguel.  2.5 hours was 65 euros, or $72.25.    Worth.Every.Penny.  
In the Azores swimming with dolphins is allowed with 5 different species! (Source)

Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
They are the biggest dolphins you can swim with and, in the Azores, they are bigger than in most other areas. The Bottlenose dolphin is the most targeted species by ocenaria. Maybe because of this, it will be even more rewarding to see them living free and happy.

Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis)
Despite their name, only the adults are spotted. They reach our waters with the newborn around end of June and stay till the end of the season.

Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis)
They are unmistakable, due to their hourglass color pattern on the flanks, whose anterior part is yellow. We sometimes see in large groups of many hundreds.

Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus)
Almost as big as the Bottlenose dolphin, the Risso's dolphin has a round snout which makes identification easy. Adults are covered with white scars that accumulate over time, so that the oldest individuals appear to be almost completely white.

Striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)
Similar in size to the Common dolphin, Striped dolphins in the Azores are usually quite shy, unless associated with other species. Their tendency to porpoise at very high speeds makes them a better subject for photography than for swimming!

If you rather just see the whales, you are in luck! The Azores are visited by several whale species, with the most common being the big sperm whale. Also seen in these waters are the blue whale (especially during spring and summer), the pilot whale, the false killer whale and even the killer whale. In other islands of the archipelago, cetacean watching is more seasonal, but in São Miguel the rigid inflatable boats set off all year round. Source

Make sure you check out all my other Azores posts

Lagoa Das Sete Cidades - Lake, Crater and Abandoned Hotel- Sao Miguel Azores 
Scuba Diving out of Franco do Campo - Sao Miguel Azores 
Ilheu Vila Franco Campo- Visiting the Island and Nature Reserve- Sao Miguel Azores  
Furnas Valley- Cozido Lunch and Thermal Springs- Terra Nostra Garden- Sao Miguel Azores 

Click on over to Mindful Wanderlust to check out their photos of their whale watching experience! 
If you are visiting the Azores, I highly recommend to take advantage of this unique and amazing opportunity.  You will not regret it.


  1. YESSS so happy to read these were wild dolphins, I wasn't about to go all PETA on you but this made it so much better! Looks like an incredible experience for sure

    xx -n
    Naomi in Wonderland

    1. Yes! Wild dolphins make it SO much better I agree! A surreal experience- something I have never heard of until this island!

  2. This looks like so much fun! I already love to swim around in the lake with my swim goggles on, so actually going snorkeling in the ocean for real would pretty much be a dream come true for me :)

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