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The BBC’s critically acclaimed Blue Planet II hits our screens this month, and we’ve gone wild for… well, wildlife. Our favourite destinations to get up close and personal with the natural world are the mythical Azores
An archipelago of volcanic, sun-soaked islands off the coast of Portugal, the Azores are home to a wide spectrum of rare and fascinating creatures waiting to be discovered on one of our Canaries and Azores cruises. Here are five reasons why wildlife lovers are bound to fall for these islands.
Thanks to its unique eco-system, the Azores archipelago is home to no less than 26 species of whales, making it one of the world's largest sanctuaries for these majestic creatures. From sperm whales to humpbacks, the Azores is one of the most dependable places to watch whales in the wild. The best time to witness whales in the blue Atlantic waters around the islands is between April and October when the weather is most dependable (although they can be spotted pretty much all year-round).
Similarly, the islands have a rich whaling history, the traces of which can still be seen in its quaint towns today. Whaling as a practice was only stopped in the 1980s – images of whales line the pavements, jaws appear suspended over bars – but the local perception of whales has long since shifted from resource to wonder.
While out on the ocean on your whale watching adventure, don’t forget to look up – the Azores are a bird-watchers paradise, and are particularly well-known for their wealth of seabird species.
Cory’s Shearwaters, also known in Portuguese as Cagarra, are a brown/grey colour and breed during the summertime. They can often be spotted diving for fish (as deep as 15m!). Another seabird to look out for is the Monteiro’s Storm-petrel, an endemic species to the Azores. They’re a little harder to spot due to their small size and preference to hide in remote rock cavities, but eagle-eyed watchers will be rewarded by spectacular swooping displays. Your best chance of spotting Monteiro’s Storm-petrels is on the islets of Graciosa.
Don’t be surprised if you’re treated to a turtle sighting or two during your Azores cruise. Leatherback and Loggerhead are the two most common turtle varieties to see here. Leatherback turtles are the largest variety in the world, growing up to seven feet long and weighing over 2,000 pounds.
Loggerheads are the more frequently sighted, with juveniles drifting to the island's coasts along with the Gulf Stream and returning to their nests on the west side of the Atlantic only when they reach 10-12 years of age. Loggerhead turtles can hibernate in deep water for weeks, and come ashore every two to three years to lay their eggs. You may just get lucky to spot some on land during your visit.
Dolphin-lovers rejoice – the Azores archipelago is the ideal place to spot up to eight different species of dolphin in their natural habitat. In fact, it’s home to the widest variety of dolphins anywhere in the world. The most frequently sighted are the Atlantic Spotted, Common and Bottlenose, in large pods of 50-200. Get that camera ready!
Some species of dolphin are more curious and willing to show off than others, but behaviour to look out for includes jumping, spinning and flipping. If you’re lucky enough to swim beside dolphins, you might even hear them calling out and communicating with each other. The summer months give you the best opportunity of seeing these playful creatures – but they can also be very busy. We recommend trying early or late summer when sightings are just as reliable, but the crowds are smaller.
As well as an impressive collection of seabirds, the Azores are internationally recognised as a notable bird-watching destination. During your time on these Portuguese islands, look out for the Azores Bullfinch. Spotting this small bird is a truly special experience, as the species is highly endangered. In fact, the only place in the world it can be found is on the Azores island of São Miguel. It’s recognisable thanks to its grey/brown plumage, plump body, and long tail.
Other endemic species to look out for include Chaffinch, Goldcrest, and the Azores Woodpigeon. If you're trying to decide which Azores island to choose for bird-watching opportunities, bear in mind that São Miguel and Graciosa are known for their rare breeds while Terceira Island is a haven for gulls and waders. The islands of Corvo and Flores are ideal for finding American Passerines.
Feeling inspired to explore after Blue Planet II? The Azores provide the perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with rare species. Cameras and binoculars at the ready: you can discover the wild side of these Portuguese islands on one of our Mediterranean cruises.
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