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Typifying the rivalry between two islands, separated by a thirty-minutes ferry sailing, the islanders of Pico rather cheekily say the best thing about the neighbouring island of Faial … is the view back to Pico!

Ferry from Pico to Horta, Faial Ferry from Pico to Horta, Faial

Well, with no disrespect for the islanders of Faial, I have to say they do have a point. After 36 hours with its head buried in the clouds, as soon as I boarded the ferry, the clouds briefly lifted, and Pico showed its magnificent form.

Looking back on Pico from Faial Looking back on Pico from Faial

But, Horta, the docking harbour town for Faial, is extremely picturesque, with lots of cafes around the waterfront and historic churches. Yet, I have little time to explore because this is my final morning of whale-watching on a trip I have cut short due the government’s unfathomable delisting of Portugal from green to amber. I had to shave a day off my itinerary to avoid the 10days of home-isolation once back in the UK, because I have active work and social commitments.

Nonetheless, this did little to dampen another wonderful morning at sea, where once again I spent time with the Azores iconic species – the sperm whale, or cachalot.

Pedro, the owner of Azores Experiences - whale-watching Pedro, the owner of Azores Experiences - whale-watching

Sea conditions were a little boisterous but once again I enjoyed excellent sightings, made all the more interesting by the presence of conservationist, Lisa Steiner, of Whale Watch Azores. The way to differentiate the individual whales, says Lisa, is by recognition of the whale’s tail-flukes, exposed when they dive. Lisa has some 3000 record. And a photographic memory!

Because with one of many tail dives we witness during another wonderful hour surrounded by the whales, she screams with excitement … “It’s 19”. It turns out she hadn’t seen sperm whale number 19 for some years. “She is one of the oldest resident whales. We know she has had at least 6 calves and we have been seeing her since 1987,” says Lisa

This seemed a tremendously poignant way to end my whale watching because it was in 1987 that the last sperm whale in the Azores was hunted.

Sperm whales off Faial Sperm whales off Faial
Tail fluke dive of sperm whale Tail fluke dive of sperm whale

I had one final afternoon on Faial – which felt woefully inadequate as the scenery here, and the hiking trails, felt ripe for exploring with more time.

Two blinding coastal views Two blinding coastal views

The combination of ocean-jutting lava flows, towering cliffs, the occasional lunar landscape of recent eruptions, and black sand beaches, is exhilarating. But the farewell parting shot before I returned to Horta to fly back to São Miguel was of the most recent volcanic eruption in the Azores – Capelhinos.

In 1957, it began rising from the ocean abruptly, as steam leaked from the sea. The eruption carried on for another year, until forming the brownish ash cone that can be seen today, although the waves have been steadily eroding its base. The damage of the volcano’s spewing ash caused great economic hardship and sparked a wave of emigration to the USA from Azoreans. 

Volcanoes and Whales. The two endearing images I would take away from this glorious mid-Atlantic archipelago.

Mark Stratton

Capelihnos Volcano Capelihnos Volcano
The Sunvil Family

By The Sunvil Family

17th June 2021



The Sunvil Family
The Sunvil Family
The Sunvil Family

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