Whale watching in the Azores: by Serge Viallelle

Serge Viallelle is the cofounder of Espaço Talassa, the Azorean Whale Watching Base dedicated to the observation and research of cetaceans on Pico, and we work closely with him on our Whale Watching in the Azores holidays.

Serge on PIX DS
Serge (left) in front of his whale watching base on Pico


Our partnership with Serge enables us to offer our week long residential whale and dolphin watching holidays at the Whale’come ao Hotel on Pico.  We also offer morning and afternoon whale and dolphin watching trips that you can join if you’re staying on the island.

We interviewed him about his whale watching in the Azores experiences…

Interview with Serge Viallelle

Espaco Talassa 1
Humpback whale seen from Serge’s rigid inflatable boat

How long have you been whale watching from Pico?

I discovered the Azores in 1987 during a sailing trip from France where I’m from.   On the island of Faial I met Alexandra who is now my business partner, my wife and the mother of our 2 children, Julia and João.

In 1987 only a few people were thinking about tourism in the Azores and the economy was based on farming and small scale fisheries.  For the first three years we took clients out on our yacht “Tyl le Mutin” and, whilst sailing the Azorean sea, we discovered the impressive community of whales and dolphins living around the archipelago, especially off the south coast of Pico island.

When João Vigia, an old whaler, showed me my first sperm whale (the most famous and numerous whale in the Azores) it changed my life forever.  From this experience the first whale watching project ‘Dolphins, whales and men’ was born.

Since 1991 we’ve officially based our activity in the village of Lajes on Pico and our work is dedicated to research, education, conservation and sustainable tourism.

Hotel Whale'come
Hotel Whale’come

What is the best time of year to visit the Azores to see whales?

Our whale watching trips operate between April and October and the best time to visit is during July and August.  In the winter the weather conditions make seeing the whales more difficult and the actual numbers of whales and dolphins in residence is less.

What species of whale do you see most and least often?

Generally we see sperm whale most often, but if you visit between April and June there is also a great chance to meet the blue whales, fin whales and humpback whales.  Last summer (2014), the encounters with these species were spectacular.

In the Azores there are officially 28 species who visit throughout the year- this is one of the most impressive varieties of whale species found in the world.

You can see a list of the whales and dolphin species we’ve seen on each outing since 1996 by clicking here

whale watching in the azores - Fluke cropped
Serge photographs whale flukes and this collection of images enables researchers to identify individuals and monitor their behaviour and movement patterns

What’s been your most unusual whale sighting?

The first one, which I saw with João’s help from the lookout post at Queimada.  Following the directions he gave me from his lookout post onshore, I orientated myself into the ‘whale zone’ on my very old and small dingy.  He positioned me in the middle of nothing!  I wasn’t very comfortable and the gasoline level – and my hopes of seeing the whale – were low!  I asked him by radio where and when I would see a whale.  His answer was ‘where you are in about 10 minutes’.  Crazy guy I thought, how could this be?  But the whaler’s technique was terribly efficient and 10 minutes later I had my first sperm whale encounter….the deep noise of the blow…  Yes, my first encounter was acoustic but I still remember this magical moment 25 years later.

Today our boats are equipped with a hydrophone but we still use the whalers’ unique and unsurpassed techniques.

Espaco Talassa 2

What you do you think is the biggest threat to marine wildlife in general, and whales in particular?

Human demography and consumption is the biggest challenge that humanity is facing and we are beginning to see some negative impact on the whale’s and dolphin’s home, the ocean…over fishing for instance!

Do you think that climate change is having an effect on whale behaviour?

I really don’t know, and I don’t believe that anybody can seriously answer this question, but we have seen strange things.  For instance, in the past we’ve seen Fraser dolphins, which are considered a sub-tropical species, off the island of Pico.  That summer the sea temperatures in the Azores were 27° when normally they are an average of 24°…is that to do with global warming?

Espaco Talassa 3

What’s the most important thing we should know about whale watching in the Azores?

It is important to always remember that whale watchers choose to travel and the animals don’t ask to be watched.  As everywhere in the world, choosing the right operator is essential.  We say to our guests (about the whales) ‘we are here for them, they are not here for us!’.

Why is whale watching in Pico so special?

Statistically it’s in the south of Pico that you have the most chance of seeing dolphins and whales, and the biggest diversity of species in the archipelago.

Through our daily whale and dolphin watching trips, we open a window to the ocean’s diversity and our biologists help people understand the marine environment through our open question and answer sessions at the end of each afternoon.

But for me, the most special thing about Pico is the fantastic scenery that the island, and specially the mountain, offers. When you are at sea, Mt Pico- the highest mountain in Portugal – imposes her beauty and volcanic energy.  It’s a magical mix of water, land and fire!

Our base at Espaço Talassa is located next to the harbour and there is no need for a car here.  The whaler’s museum is just next door and in the quiet village of Lajes our guests have the privilege of sharing the ambience of daily life in the Azores.  Here, time is other.

dolphins by serge 1
Bottlenose dolphins with Mt Pico in the background

Thanks Serge!

Find out more about our Whale Watching in the Azores holidays

At Archipelago Choice, our small friendly team of island holiday specialists has been organising tailor-made holidays to the Azores since 1998 and more recently to Cape Verde, Saõ Tomé and Príncipe. Over this time we have developed the most comprehensive, flexible and fairly priced holidays to these beautiful islands.

All the holidays we organise are put together with great care using our extensive knowledge of the islands and our experience of travelling around them. We try very hard to give the most choice and flexibility possible combining activities, accommodation and island hopping so we put together holidays that best suit our clients.

So whether you want to go whale watching, walking, canyoning, kite surfing or just relaxing on the beach, you can be sure our team of island holiday specialists will be able to help.

Contact us today and we’ll help put together an amazing whale watching holiday for you!