Earlier this year I completed the WCA’s first Responsible Whale Watching Guide course, and following that I was able to pick a WCA partner to work with. I have now just completed my first week on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores. My placement partner is Futurismo Azores Adventures, a company that was founded in 1990 and began whale watching in 1996, 10 years after the ban on whale hunting in the area.
I chose this partner as I wanted to be in the Azores due to the amazing diversity of cetaceans that they have. 28 species have been recorded here and it is considered a hotspot of cetacean biodiversity. I was also captivated by the transition that the Azores has seen, from an area that had extremely high rates of whale hunting, to an area that has some of the greatest biodiversity of cetaceans in the world, in just a matter of decades.
During my first few days at Futurismo, I was able to take the opportunity to go out on a few trips as a regular ‘tourist’ to experience what the area had to offer, and to learn more about the animals and the guiding process.
So far in just one week I have seen six different species, including species resident to the Azores such as Bottlenose dolphins, Common Dolphins and Sperm Whales, seasonal species like the Striped Dolphin and Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, and the extremely elusive and under-studied Sowerby’s Beaked Whale (see photo). I saw the beaked whales on what was only my third whale watching trip ever, so I count myself very lucky!
I have now started acting as a guide on some trips, going out on Futurismo’s catamaran Cetus. Guides start by giving a briefing to the passengers explaining safety as well as a brief history of whale watching on the island, as well as information about the cetaceans. They are then present on the boat to give information about the groups of animals that we see, including their characteristics, behaviour, reproduction, echolocation and more. I am not quite ready to be doing this sort of guiding, so at the moment I am there to support the main guides, help with preparing the boat for a trip, and to answer any questions that guest might have on-board the boat.
Over the next week, I will be doing some more guiding on the boats, and hopefully will see a new species!