This is a radically different scenario from the movie Free Willy because killer whales are rare here (and when they come swimming by, they are already free and happy). What we do see here, and indeed quite often, are sperm whales, pilot whales, Bryde’s whales, common dolphins, painted dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. The waters of Madeira are a paradise both for cetaceans and those who love wild marine life.

Photo by Rota dos Cetáceos

The archipelago reveals itself as one of the best places in the world for observing the largest and most intelligent marine mammals. Of the 78 known species, 27 pass through these waters, sometimes only 50 meters from the coast. It is no coincidence that the “Madeira Cetacean Site” is a candidate for “Site of Community Interest” on the Natura 2000 Network. The project focuses on the conservation of marine resources and highlights the oceanographic and ecological characteristics of the sea around the island of Madeira, which is becoming a mandatory point of passage for scientific tourism.

A very Zen moment

It is in this very sea around Madeira that Pedro Mendes Gomes, CEO of Rota dos Cetáceos (The Cetacean Route), found his second home. The company is a pioneer in marine life observation in the archipelago, setting an example in terms of good practices, and partnering with the regional government in the regulation of this activity.

Photo by Rota dos Cetáceos

Despite belonging to a family that were once whalers, the only thing that Pedro shoots these days is photographs. This passionate whale-watcher confirms that in 2017 there were 349 days of sightings, while 2018 has so far seen an increasing number of sperm whales and even a blue whale.

The sperm whale is the largest of the cetaceans with teeth, which in turn can be larger than a Madeiran banana. However, this whale’s great size does not impede its graceful movement, nor does it detract from the veritable awe shown by observers in its presence.
How to travel in Madeira?

Swimming with dolphins

Of course, there are some rules to follow when observing these fascinating and enormous creatures. The team of marine biologists on the Cetacean Route always gives a briefing before each trip, explaining the rules on safety and good coexistence with cetaceans. Not feeding the species, making sure you’re further than 100 meters away from them and reducing noise to a minimum, are just some of the recommendations. Pedro adds one more: do not leave whale watching until the last day of your holidays. Despite always guaranteeing a free trip if there are no sightings (which is rare, since the observation rate is 99.9%), it is always better to prevent such an occurrence if possible.

Photo by Rota dos Cetáceos

As well as watching the dolphins, you can also swim with them. “This does not involve swimming freely as such; we are the first company in the world to offer swimming with dolphins with the swimmer tied by a cable to the boat.” This ensures a safe environment for both species. “Personally, I prefer to be among the first to get to the sea in the morning, when the animals are calmer.” Common dolphins and painted dolphins “are curious and affable”, which makes them the most suitable animal for humans to approach. “Just bring a bathing suit and a towel. The company provides masks, snorkel tubes, insurance, and a thermal wetsuit in winter. Marine biologists explain the procedure for entering the water and interacting with the animals”, explains Pedro.

The company also offers private charters. These can take up to 10 people, aboard a 16-meter Princess V50 – 3 M’s yacht, to explore the archipelago.

More to do in Madeira!
Prices:

Whale Watching: Adults: €49.90 | children – 6 to 11 years old: €34.50 | up to 5 years old: Free of charge

Swimming with dolphins: Adults: €65.00 | children – 6 to 11 years old: €43.00 | up to 5 years old: Free of charge

Charters: on request

Contacts:

Rota dos Cetáceos

Marina Shopping – Centro Comercial Infante, Avenida Arriaga, 75, loja 247 | rotacetaceos@gmail.com

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