Madeira from the ocean

The cetaceans that visit us.

Madeira islands, a privileged place for whale and dolphin watching !

Madeira is a volcanic archipelago, situated in the Atlantic ocean.

This together with the absence of continental plate causes a rapid increase in depth within short distance from the coast. A number of species of typically oceanic cetaceans do prefer deep waters, and can get very close to the coast thus become easily observable.

Over the years, there has been a significant change in public perception of cetaceans.

They were long considered a resource to be exploited but in the 1970-80’s, the anti-whaling and pro-conservation movements gained general acceptance.

The archipelago of Madeira has a wealth of wildlife which, combined with the mild climate and good sailing conditions throughout the year, make this area suitable for cetacean watching.

This is why Madeira islands are widely visited by cetaceans during their migration, although not solely.

Cetaceans are divided into two main families: the odontoceti or toothed whales and the misticety or baleen whales. This academic separation identifies whales with sharp teeth for hunting, and whales using a “sieve-like structure” in the upper jaw to filter plankton from the water.

For example dolphins belong to the family of toothed whales. Sperm whales too. The Bryde’s whale that often visits us is part of the baleen whales family, just like the fin whale and the blue whale.

We can meet up to 28 species of cetaceans in the madeiran seas. Some of them are more seasonal than others.

For instance: Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins and Pilot whales can be sighted all year round, as there are families living in our research area.

Of course, it is also possible to observe the sperm whales, Bryde’s whales, common dolphins (especially in winter) and spotted dolphins (rather in summer) on a regular basis and throughout the year.

Both the Cuvier’s and Blainville’s beaked whales can also be sighted all year round, although these observations tend to be brief and scarce due to their shy behaviour.

Several other species only pass by Madeira island, without really stopping: the blue whale, the killer whale and the humpback whale. Therefore, they can only be seen very briefly, once or twice a year.