Bay of Biscay, Madeira and the Canaries

Venturing to the Eastern Atlantic

January 2017

Nothing is better than starting a new year with whale watching. While we sailed north last time from the UK to the northern part of the Atlantic, this time we sailed south from Southampton of the United Kingdom on a cruise ship to Madeira and the Canaries via the Bay of Biscay. These places and the deep waters between them offer very good chances of a wide variety of whales and dolphins. But of course, good sea condition is the key to spot any activities at the sea.

During our 12 days’ journey (with 4.5 days’ shore time), we were blessed with very good conditions in the first few days. We spotted Common Dolphins, Striped Dolphins and Fin Whales on our way to Madeira. Approaching the Canary Islands, we encountered a mixed group of Pilot Whales and Bottlenose Dolphins. A Bottlenose Dolphin even came over briefly for a bow ride.

However, the wind started to pick up for the rest of our journey, with wind of Beaufort 6-7 and sea state 6 (wave height of 4 to 6 metres) for most of the time. This had made spotting very difficult. Yet, we still managed to see some Common Dolphins or Striped Dolphins swimming towards or near to the ship to ride on the waves.

Common Dolphins

Striped Dolphins

Fin Whales

Pilot Whales

Bottlenose Dolphins

While my friend went on almost the same but longer route roughly a month ago and saw many interesting things (about 10 cetacean species), we had been quite unlucky with the weather and hence the sightings. We spent most of the time out on the open deck, with days seeing no or very little activities or just white caps. This may due to the weather which made it difficult to spot anything or the change of seasons. More observation along this route at different times would be needed to gain a better understanding about the differences in sightings.

Whale watching at Madeira and the Canary Islands
Formed by volcanic eruptions, these islands are surrounded by very deep waters. This had made these places good for whale watching. During our shore time at Madeira, we went whale watching for twice in the morning and in the afternoon. Each time, we encountered Common Dolphins, probably belonging to the same group. It was choppier in the afternoon but the dolphins came over for a bow ride for quite some time, with a mother trying to show off her baby dolphin.

Common Dolphin feeding among sea gulls off the harbour

Common Dolphins next to our boat

During our shore time at Tenerife, we joined the whale watching tour organized by the cruise company. It was a sunny but windy day. On an open catamaran under high waves, it was a splashy ride. It took us quite some time before we could find a group of Short-finned Pilot Whales. But taking photos under such conditions was basically impossible. We stayed with the whales for some time on a rocking boat before the tour operator decided to head back to the pier for lunch. On our way back, we came across a group of Bottlenose Dolphins briefly. No chance to take photos of course.

In general, whale watching in both Madeira and Tenerife were only mediocre. The whale watching tours go out to search for whales or dolphins for about an hour and then spend the rest of the time sailing slowly along the coast and let participants go for a swim when it is warm. My whale watching trip at La Gomera of the Canaries seemed to be much better. Yet, my friend who went there a year after me said it had become whale watching and coastline watching.

Other Animals


Sea Gull

Kittiwake (1st winter)

Jelly fish from ship


La Palma, the Canary Islands

Beautiful Dusk

Lisbon - Monument to the Discoveries

Lisbon - Jerónimos Monastery

Lisbon - Belém Tower

Lisbon - Statue of Jesus Christ

Dolphin Decoration and Paintings