OVERVIEW

The Azores is a Portuguese archipelago in the Atlantic ocean about 1000 miles west of Lisbon.  There are 9 major islands that make up the Azores and all have volcanic origins.  Whale Watching Azores run their tours from the Island of Faial in the town of Horta.

Azores are actually the tops of some of the tallest mountains on the planet, as measured from their base at the bottom of the ocean and it is because of these deep waters that this area attracts many whales.

I went on a 5 day tour with Whale Watch Azores (WWA) which is run by Chris and Lisa who are very experienced whale watchers and passed on their knowledge which made the tour one of the best Wildlife Photography Tour I have been on.

GETTING THERE

I took a flight from London Heathrow to Lisbon in Portugal and then a flight from Lisbon to Horta.  The airport at Horta is just a short 10-15 minute taxi ride to Horta itself where I stayed in the Azores Eco Lodge which was part of the tour costs.  The lodge was basic but quite adequate for my stay.  The Azores are 1 Hour behind UK time and Lisbon (Portugal) time is the same as UK time, so there was not much need to adjust the body clock.

Every 2-3 days there is a shore day meaning that you do what you want and Chris and Lisa (WWA) will look a few days ahead to pick the best weather days for Whale Watching

PHOTOGRAPHY

On ‘sea’ days we went to sea in the WWA Catamaran named ‘Physeter’ (Whale) this was big enough for everyone on the tour to get good views with plenty of space so that nobody got in anyone else’s way.  A Catamaran is a good choice for photography at sea because it is more stable that a single hulled boat.  Having said that it can still be challenging getting sharp pictures from a moving boat.

There is a network of lookouts on the shores of a number of the Azores Islands and they directed us to the areas when they spotted Whales and Dolphins, Chris also has a hydrophone so that he can locate the ‘clicks’ of the whales and he knows from experience if a whale is diving or surfacing just from these clicks,  by a bit of skill and pointing the boat in different directions he can also determine where the whale is so making spotting the whales when resurfacing  for photography a lot easier.

I used only 2 lenses, a 100-400 which I think is probably the longest lens that I could hand hold (tripods are no good on a boat) and get at least some good pictures, I tried to use a shutter speed of 1/1600 most of the time with this lens but also went upto 1/2000 whenever possible.  I took pictures of Whales, Dolphins, Leather-back Turtle, Jelly fish, Corys Shearwater etc.

When a Sperm Whale deep dives you get a chance to get what I think is ‘the’ whale photograph to get…

Sperm Whale deep diving

Getting the above typical whale shot is quite easy after Chris has expertly manoeuvred the boat for you (you are not allowed to approach a whale to less than 50m) , but getting a good photograph of Dolphins jumping out of the water is a completely different matter and be prepared to delete an awful lot of images where you catch the Dolphins with their heads re-entering the water and just their tails out 🙂  Here I got a little lucky as this is full frame…

Dolphins

I also managed to get a few sharp pictures of Corys Shearwater,,,

Cory's Shearwater

The other Lens I used was a wide angle and this was used mainly for photographing

Dolphins when they were riding the Bow Wave when there were so close….

My Feet and Dolphins 🙂

Yes those are my feet with Dolphins just a couple of feet below them – amazing experience.

I did not have my GPS on at all times especially going out and back to port, but this gives you an idea of where and how far we went on the 3 days at sea…

Where we went

Where we went

CONCLUSION

Would I go again.. you bet I would… would I go with Whale Watch Azores again… you bet I would.  As you can see I thought that this trip was wonderful from Chris’s organisation to the Whales and Dolphins I do not think it could have been bettered. HOWEVER please remember that the Whales and Dolphins etc are WILD animals and you can NEVER say with absolute certainty that they will turn up, in fact I was told that the tour before mine didn’t see as much as I saw, however Chris and Lisa came to the rescue and arranged a 2 day extension to that trip which I think just shows Chris and Lisa’s dedication to WWA. What made my trip very enjoyable also was the fact that all the people on the trip were very friendly and easy to get on with. Our last dineing together…

Last Supper 🙂

‘Pico’ lit up in the background and our boat ‘Physeter’ is arrowed.

Pico and Physeter

Here is one last image…

Sperm Whale - There she blows...

…and a video slideshow..