The Canary Islands

Another Whale and Dolphin watching paradise ~ La Gomera
March 2012

The Canaries are situated at the Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of Africa. It is part of Spain and consists of 7 islands. My trip to the Canaries this time was to join Oceano Whale Watching, a Germany based whale watching and education institution, for eight days at La Gomera (Oceanic Weeks Classic). The diversity of cetacean at La Gomera waters is fascinating, with 21 species sighted so far, including some rarely seen species. Every trip is to expect the unexpected.

Here are my sightings in 8 trips in 5 days:

Rough-toothed Dolphin - my target species

Juveniles and adult Coming close to boat
Breaching - to scare fish?  
  (please click)  

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin - my target species

Porpoising - spotless juvenile in between adults A jumping juvenile
Emerging from mirror like sea  
Just next to our boat Adult with lots of spots
(Please click)  

Bottlenose Dolphin

Short-finned Pilot Whale

About 30 pilot whales at sunrise A juvenile with mother

Common Dolphin

(Please click)  

Cuvier's Beaked Whale

Occur mainly in deep waters, the rarely seen beaked whales are usually shy from boats

Seasons: Spring time from March to May for highest diversity

Sightings of each trip:

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Sunrise from the sea  
Garajonay National Park - the original forest plays an important role in maintaining fresh water supply to the island
Coastal landscape and other scenery  
Outside Oceano  
The boats of Captiain Jose  

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Why are there so many different types of whales and dolphins in the Canary waters?

Both resident and migratory species can be found in the Canary waters. Resident species including bottlenose dolphins, short-finned pilot whales and female sperm whales, etc. can be found all year round there. Migratory species like the rough-toothed dolphins, striped dolphins, common dolphins, etc. pass through the Canary waters during spring and autumn, with the diversity of species highest in spring time.

Food source is the major factor that attracts oceanic species to the area. Ocean upwelling by oceanic current brings up nutrients from the deep. And during spring time, rapid growth of plankton (phytoplankton and then zooplankton) in the Canary waters attracts fish and hence whales and dolphins.

Besides, the prevailing north-easterly wind give rise to calm waters in the leeward side, which provides an ideal nursery ground for juveniles to learn the necessary skills for survival. And indeed during my trip, quite a lot of juveniles were observed. The Canary waters plays an important role in the sustainability of cetaceans in the Atlantic and hence should be preserved.

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Possible Threats:

While the Canaries may seem to be quite a remote place to many people, it is a very popular vacation destination in Europe. Tourism does have adverse impacts on whales and dolphins there. As tourists that love whales and dolphins, the following two points deserve our attention:

•  Too many whale watching boats

Although there is a set of code of conduct in cetacean watching in the Canary, it is merely voluntary. The number of whale watching boats in southwest Tenerife is particularly high. Cetaceans had been recorded reacting negatively to boats. Hence, it is very important for tourists to choose a responsible operator that respect cetaceans and provide educational information to passengers.

•  Collision by Ferry

The collision rate of cetaceans had doubled since the launching of fast ferry from Los Cristianos to San Sebastian. Although it is always impossible to draw a causal relationship between the two, the drastic increase in collision does require our attention. It is also worth noting that dolphins are always observed on the slower and cheaper ferry. As a smart tourist, I am sure you know how to make a wise choice. As tourist, we can also write to the ferry company asking them to slow down the ferry and telling them that we really don't mind if it takes longer to get to our destination.

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Transportation from Hong Kong:

Hong Kong → London (Heathrow Airport → coach to Gatwick Airport) → Tenerife → taxi to Los Cristianos (about 25 Euros) → Ferry to San Sebastian (La Gomera) → bus (5 Euros)/ taxi (about 55 Euros) to Valle Gran Rey (La Gomera)

(Journey time from flight departure to hotel: roughly 30 hours)

There are many other airlines that fly from different European cities to Tenerife South Airport. Please check the airport website for details.

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The mobile network had become unavailable ever since it was damaged, transmission signals can still be available occasionally though. And not all hotel offers internet access. If you need internet access, you would need to go to cafes for food or drinks to use their internet.