Title graphic Azores webpage
Common dolphins
Atlantic spotted dolphins
Humpback whales
Bottlenose dolphin
Risso's dolphins
Sperm whales
Fin whales
False killer whales
Short-finned pilot whales
Horta
The location of the Azores archipelago, close to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and the complex underwater topography around the islands makes them one of the world's cetacean hotspots. A visit to the Azores had been on my list for a while, and in 2014 I spent nine days based in Horta on Faial Island with six days at sea looking for whales and dolphins.
On the first two days the sea was quite rough, but for the rest of the trip we had blue skies and (relatively) calm seas, and saw no fewer than 10 species of cetaceans from huge fin and sperm whales to baby common dolphins. As well as the species listed here, we also saw a sei whale but I I didn't get a picture - it surfaced close to four fin whales and a mixed group of bottlenose dolphins and false killer whales, and it was difficult to know what to watch and what to photograph!
On my 'shore days', I went walking in and around Horta, and I've included a few photos taken from the hills above the town.
Common dolphins
Although the Azores are best known for the resident sperm whales, my favourite animals on this trip were the common dolphins which we saw every day. This species loves to bow-ride and is extremely energetic. Lots of mothers brought their calves to the boat, and we also had a mating group right in front of the bow one day.

Common dolphin Common dolphin
Common dolphins
Common dolphin Common dolphin
Common dolphin mother & calf Common dolphin mother & calf
Common dolphins Common dolphins
Common dolphins
Atlantic spotted dolphins
This is another dolphin species that likes to join boats to bow-ride. The animals in the Azores aren't actually spotted and can look like small bottlenose dolphins.
Atlantic spotted dolphin
Atlantic spotted dolphin Atlantic spotted dolphin
Atlantic spotted dolphin Atlantic spotted dolphins

Humpback whales
There was an unusually high number of humpback sightings whilst we were in the Azores, perhaps because of an unseasonal distribution of their food. I hadn't expected to see humpbacks at this time of year, so it was a treat to see the characteristic tall, bushy blow in the distance and to be able to home in for the spectacular dive and a good view of the unique fluke pattern on the underside of each animal's tail
Humpback whale blow
Humpback whale
Humpback whale
Humpback whale

Bottlenose dolphin
The behaviour of the bottlenose and Risso's dolphins in the Azores was the exact opposite of what we usually see in the UK - the bottlenose dolphins kept well away from the boats and certainly showed no interest in bow-riding, whereas the Risso's dolphins were much more relaxed in our presence and one friendly group actually joined the boat to bow-ride.

This is the only clear photo I managed to get of a bottlenose dolphin. We did see some more later in the week, in a mixed group with some false killer whales, but again the bottlenoses weren't interested in the boat at all. 
Bottlenose dolphin

Risso's dolphins
Risso's dolphins are usually heavily scarred - firstly because their favourite food (squid) tends to fight back, and secondly because although the dolphins are extremely gregarious and form huge groups, they also fight with other quite a lot. Older animals such as those in the first photo below have so much scar tissue that they are almost completely white apart from their fins. A group of younger individuals which came to swim in front of our boat gave us unusually close views.
Risso's dolphins
Risso's dolphin Risso's dolphin
Risso's dolphin Risso's dolphin

Sperm whales
Our whale-watching operator was also involved in a long-term photo-identification study of the Azores sperm whales. Individuals of this species are identified from the distinctive shape of the tail fluke (rather than the skin pattern as with humpback whales) and most of our views of the sperm whales were therefore from behind, but we did get lots of fluke shots!
Sperm whale Sperm whale
Sperm whale Sperm whale
Sperm whale
Fin whales
At up to 22 metres long, this is the second largest whale (after the blue whale), and it is unusual to see one surface with the head (and blow) and dorsal fin both visible at once as in the first photo below. As with the humpbacks, there were more fins whales around than would normally be expected for the time of year (again suggesting more food). Whereas the humpbacks we saw were all lone animals, we encountered a group of four fin whales one day with lots of feeding activity, and the huge animals chose to swim really close to our 13 metre long boat.
Fin whale
Fin whales Fin whale
Fin whale
Fin whale
Fin whale
False killer whales
This was a new species for me, and the animals we saw were in a mixed group with some bottlenose dolphins, which is apparently not uncommon but is a bit unexpected given that false killer whales sometimes eat smaller dolphins!

The species is surprisingly active for such a large animal (adults can reach 6 metres in length), and a few of them joined our boat to bow-ride, including a mother and calf. 
False killer whale
False killer whales False killer whale mother & calf
False killer whales
Short-finned pilot whales
This was another new species for me. I've seen long-finned pilot whales in the temperate seas further north, but the short-finned species is found in more sub-tropical and tropical waters. This group didn't hang around for long, so only a couple of photos.
Short-finned pilot whale
Short-finned pilot whale
Horta
The first five photos below were taken in and around the small Monte da Guia nature reserve in Horta, which projects into the Atlantic at Faial Island's south-eastern tip and includes the amazing Caldeira do Inferno of which there is a spectacular view from the Senhora da Guia church
.
Monte da Guia
Monte da Guia
Mount Pico from Monte da Guia
Mount Pico from Monte da Guia
Porto Pim from Monte da Guia
Porto Pim from Monte da Guia
Senhora da Guia church
Senhora da Guia church
Caldeira do Inferno from Monte da Guia
Caldeira do Inferno

The Monte Carneiro view point above Horta was well worth the challenging walk (I chose to do the climb in the early afternoon heat!) for the panoramic view of Mount Pico on neighbouring Pico Island, and the whole of the Bay of Horta from Ponta da Espalamaca in in the north to
Monte da Guia in the south. The upper part of Mount Pico is often completely obscured by low cloud, but I was lucky and saw it with just a 'halo' of cloud round the peak and a backdrop of blue skies.
Horta from Monte Carneiro
Mount Pico, Horta and Monte da Guia from Monte Carneiro
Horta from Monte Carneiro
Mount Pico and Bay of Horta from
Monte Carneiro
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Last updated 13 December 2014