Tenerife-La Gomera


Europe’s first Whale Heritage Area

With its unique resident population of pilot whales that can be found alongside a high diversity of other whales and dolphin species, all within a designation Special Area of Conservation, it’s no wonder that the Tenerife-La Gomera Whale Heritage Area has become a thriving whale watching destination.

Tenerife’s whale and dolphin watching industry is already one of the largest and most famous in the world, estimated to directly generate €42 million revenue annually from 1.4 million tourists.

After seeing this rapid rise in recent years, there is now a recognised need to cap that growth to ensure that the local marine mammal populations are not overexploited or negatively impacted by excessive tourism, as well as continuing to improve standards and encouraging further collaboration between operators. The Tenerife-La Gomera Whale Heritage Area designation is a recognition of the incredible work being done by a diverse range of engaged stakeholders doing just that. The collective efforts of not-for-profit organisations, government departments, whale watching operators, the scientific community and many others, is a true example of how collaboration and cooperation is making great strides towards the unified goal of protecting whales and dolphins and their habitats.

Tenerife-La Gomera Marine Area became a designated Whale Heritage Area in January 2021.



    • Region – Europe
    • Country – Spain
    • Area/State – Tenerife
    • Area size – 2000 km2

Cetacean species

      • Short-finned pilot whales
      • Bottlenose dolphins
      • 21 other species

    The Destination


    The site itself encompasses approximately 2,000 km2, of which 90% is marine area. The geographical area begins 2 kms inshore along the west coast of the island of Tenerife – from the village of Las Galletas at the southern corner, to the village of Buenavista at the northern corner. The area then extends west, 7 nautical miles past the west coast of the island of La Gomera. The site excludes most of the land of La Gomera itself, only including a 2 km wide strip along the coast where whale watching tours depart from.

    Cetaceans regularly seen

    As well as being famous for short-finned pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins, Tenerife-La Gomera is also an important migration stop for 21 other cetacean species:

    Risso’s dolphin, Sperm whale, Killer whale, False killer whale, Short-beaked common dolphin, Striped dolphin, Atlantic spotted dolphin, Rough-toothed dolphin, Fraser’s dolphin, Cuvier’s beaked whale, Blainville’s beaked whale, Gervais’ beaked whale, Northern bottlenose whale, Humpback whale, Fin whale, Sei whale, Blue whale, Bryde’s whale, Common minke whale, North Atlantic right whale, Pygmy sperm whale.

    Achieving Whale Heritage Area status

    Each Whale Heritage Area has a unique route to meeting the Wildlife Heritage Area criteria. Check out some of the highlights from the Tenerife-La Gomera Whale Heritage Area:

    Encouraging Respectful Human-Cetacean Coexistence

    There are several national and international regulations and laws that protect cetaceans at the site, including two mandatory permits for every boat involved in commercial whale watching activities . The Ministry of Ecological Transition has also established a two-year moratorium limiting the number of whale watching permits that can be granted.

    Research groups, associations and naturalists regularly use land and sea observation stations to monitor cetaceans and the human impacts on them and their habitats. Bad practices are recorded and included in reports that are presented to the authorities.

    Responsible whale watching operators at the site have been making great efforts towards best practice standards:

    • The Whale Watching Association of South Tenerife (ACEST) is formed of an increasing number of whale watching companies that are committed to preserving whales and dolphins living in the region. ACEST has demonstrated the importance of collaboration when growing the whale watching industry in a sustainable and responsible way, and in putting pressure on the authorities (regional and national), for the better management of Tenerife’s whale watching activities.
    • When responsible operators witness bad practices at sea by other operators, they radio them directly to inform them of regulations and try to educate them to improve their practices.
    • Responsible whale watching operators have also been working to eliminate single-use plastics; have trained personnel on board, including a certified guide, to talk about local conservation needs; collaborate with conservation initiatives and wildlife rescue organisations.
    Celebrating Cetaceans

    The communities within the Tenerife-La Gomera Whale Heritage Area are host to a whole range of education centres, events and festivals that celebrate whales and dolphins and the wonderful local marine life.

    Arona Son Atlántico is one such event. This large annual festival is a chance for residents and visitors to learn about the importance of protecting the environment on land and in the oceans. It is a celebration of music, film and photography, supported by a programme of educational workshops, marine experiences and conservation events, including as beach cleans, and turtle and bird releases.

    Working Towards Sustainability

    Whale and dolphin watching is a hugely important industry for Tenerife’s economy; it is the second most popular activity for tourists visiting the island.

    There are several stakeholder groups within the Whale Heritage Area who are committed to reducing environmental impacts, and protecting the habitats and the welfare of the animals upon which the industry depends.

    The members of the Whale Heritage Area steering committee are working to develop an Action Plan with clear plans to address the current and future threats that the cetaceans in the region face.

    Individuals, groups, businesses and governments within the Whale Heritage Area have been dedicating themselves to developing this area as a sustainable destination.

    Stakeholders within the tourism industry have been adopting sustainability tools and practices to help reduce their environmental impact and the Tenerife Sustainability, Environment and Safety Council has introduced the Tenerife Más Sostenible Project (Tenerife More Sustainable). This initiative encourages sustainable practices across a wide range of areas, from reforestation, to zero waste, a circular economy model, clean transportation, and the use of renewable energy.

    Developing Research, Education and Awareness Programmes

    The Tenerife-La Gomera Whale Heritage Area is a location of an impressive range of environmental education, conservation-based research and citizen science programmes. These initiatives are vitally important and help gain a better understanding of the whales and dolphins in the area, and bring the marine environment to life for residents and visitors of the site.

    Comprehensive photo identification catalogues is one example of a brilliant development to monitor the cetacean populations found within the site. These catalogues are also adding value to whale watching experiences by providing fantastic data to tell tourists, with several whale watching companies are even contributing their sightings to grow these data sets.

    Key Information

    Who is leading the process locally?

    The Steering Committee members are:

    • Sara Pombard & Aida Cedres, Turismo de Tenerife (Tourism Tenerife Council)
    • Mirna Piñero, Calderones de Canarias (Pilot Whales of the Canaries, NGO)
    • Francis Pérez (Freelance wildlife photographer, Hope Spot from Mission Blue)
    • Natcaha Aguilar & Chloe Zyoard (La Laguna University)
    • Felipe Rabina, Especies de Canarias (Species of the Canaries, NGO)
    • Marc Fernandez, MARE (Research group)
    • Kathaysa Ugido; Peter Hoste & Mercedes Reyes (ACEST)
    • Representant from Asociación Tonina
    • Volker Boehle from Ventana al Mar (Conservation NGO)
    • Tomas Azcarate (Marinas of Tenerife)

    Actions and Recommendations


    As part of the designation process, the Independent Review Panel (IRP) set out a series of actions and recommendations for the area to complete before or by the end of Year 1 of WHA designated status.

    Action 1

    As a priority, mechanisms must continue to be put in place to ensure the reduction of illegal whale watching operators and to further encourage tourists and the travel industry to use legal, responsible and sustainable whale watching businesses at the site.

    1. Provide an action plan with measurable actions to achieve the goal of eliminating unlicensed whale watching operators; (COMPLETED)
    2. Publish and maintain an up-to-date list of licenced whale watching operators online in the public domain. (COMPLETED)
    3. Continue to engage the relevant government authorities on the issue of illegal operators to encourage compliance with the law. (ONGOING)

    Due 30 June 2021

    Action 2

    Annual report. Whale Heritage Area will take place at the end of Year 1 WHA designated status. This will include opportunities to discuss progress with local stakeholders on actions and recommendations.

    Due 23 January 2022

    Recommendation 1

    The judges recommend that further research be undertaken to fully understand historical and contemporary links between people and cetaceans at the site, with a particular focus on indigenous communities that certainly would have been present at the site and are likely to have had connections to the marine ecosystem.

    Due 23 January 2022

    Recommendation 2

    The judges recommend that the Steering Committee develop a marketing strategy that clearly links WHA status to Steering Committee members, ACEST members, and other stakeholders working in line with the values of Whale Heritage Areas, with strict control on who is able to use the logo branding (see logo licence agreement for details).

    Related Documents


    Tenerife-La Gomera
    Action Plan

    Click to download

    List of Boats Licenced for
    Commerical Whale Watching

    English | Español

    Governmental regulations 

    on whale watching

    Click to download (Español)

    Images credits: First header (Francis Pérez); Second header (unknown); Third header (Wolfgang Zimmel); Fourth header (Nici Keil); “Who is leading the process locally” image (Francis Pérez).  Gallery: unknown, please get in touch to provide image credit.