The World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) is delighted to announce that Madeira has been designated as a Whale Heritage Area, sharing this prestigious title with only nine other destinations in the world!
Whale Heritage Areas are part of the wider Wildlife Heritage Areas programme, co-founded by the WCA and World Animal Protection, which recognises outstanding wildlife-friendly tourism destinations around the world.
Madeira lies between the Azores and Canary Islands in the North Atlantic. Research has found that the waters around Madeira provide an important habitat for many marine animals, including 26 species of whale and dolphin – around a third of all known cetacean species worldwide!
The archipelago’s waters are characterised by steep slopes, with deep underwater canyons and plateaus. For this reason, cetaceans that tend to occur further out in the open ocean can be encountered closer to the coast. Bottlenose dolphins and short-finned pilot whales can be encountered all year round, along with deep divers like sperm whales or beaked whales.
The maritime culture of Madeira reflects the community’s transition from a history of whaling to present-day conservation and responsible whale watching tourism. This journey is preserved in exhibits at the Madeira Whale Museum, which also accommodates a scientific department conducting long-term research on the local cetacean populations and the region’s cetacean stranding network.
Madeira has a long history of marine protected areas (MPAs), beginning with the Selvagens Island Nature Reserve in 1971, the largest MPA in Europe with total protection. This milestone paved the way for further MPAs, as well as nature reserves with restricted access.
The regional government of Madeira has also invested and is currently investing in a number of sustainable solutions and projects to protect the island’s wildlife and reduce marine plastic waste. In 2021, the regional government allocated around 40% of its budget to the environment and climate action, with special focus on the renewable energy sector, forest fire prevention and sustainable management of water resources.
Congratulations to Madeira Whale Heritage Area’s steering committee, who have made amazing progress in bringing together stakeholders from across the region to celebrate, respect and protect cetaceans!
Header photo of dolphins in Madeira by Lobosonda.