In collaboration with Ventura – Nature Emotions we did a Whale and Dolphin Watching tour.
The best time to spot whales and dolphins
More than 25 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises have been spotted in the waters around Madeira. You have the opportunity to see these special animals all year round, but it depends on the season which species you encounter. The chances of spotting whales are the best from April to October. The most commonly spotted whales are Brydes’s whales, pilot whales, sperm whales and fin whales. The chance to spot dolphins is high all year round. There are permanent residents such as bottlenose dolphins, who live around the coast of the island all year round. Other dolphin species that are often spotted are the common and spotted dolphins. Some species are very rare to spot, such as orcas, they only pass Madeira during their transit to other waters. So the chance of seeing them is very small.
How do I find a tour that is ethical and responsible?
The opportunity to see whales and dolphins in the wild is amazing, but we don’t want to participate in activities that have a negative impact on animals! To keep the beautiful wildlife, the rules in Madeira are strict. The boats are monitored from land and warned if they do not follow the rules. If you still want to be sure that you book a tour with an organization that really respects the animals and does not use them for entertainment, make sure that an organization has knowledge about the animals and takes several measures to protect the animals and do not disturb or chase them.
Expertise and experience
We booked our tour with Ventura – Nature Emotions. They organize sustainable tours, guided by an experienced and professional crew. There is a marine biologist on every tour who is very passionate and loves to share her knowledge with you about the different dolphin and whale species. When dolphins or whales are spotted, she will help identify them and provides more information about the species. This is how we learned everything about the species we spotted.
Respect for wildlife
You notice in several ways that Ventura – Nature Emotions treats wildlife with respect in their natural environment. If dolphins or whales are spotted, the boat will only stop for a few minutes to admire the animals. The animals experience no stress and can continue their natural behavior. The crew also knows for each species how close they can get or whether they should keep their distance. If a group of animals swims away, they are left alone and certainly not chased, because then they can feel rushed.
RIB boat vs catamaran
If you ask us, a RIB boat tour is the best option to search for whales and dolphins. It is adventurous and definitely gives you an adrenaline rush as you fly over the waves. With a RIB boat you can cover greater distances in a shorter time, so that you can reach a new group of whales or dolphins faster. This increases the chance that you will spot multiple species per trip. You will also come face to face with the animals with this small, lower boat! Another advantage is that you will travel with a smaller group (maximum 18), which in our opinion makes the experience more unique.
Prefer a more relaxed experience? Then choose to go on a catamaran trip. On a catamaran you have several comfortable spots to relax and enjoy. There are often sufficient facilities on board, such as a bar with drinks and snacks, a toilet and snorkeling equipment for when the catamaran drops anchor. Another advantage is that catamaran tours are often cheaper than trips with a RIB boat, but the chance of spotting wildlife is smaller.
What to expect from the boat trip?
The tour starts at the meeting point in Funchal harbor where you will receive a short informative briefing about the wildlife and the boat trip. Then you put on your life jacket and you are ready to go on this adventure! With a RIB boat you sail for 2.5 hours over the open sea. Along the way, you can fully enjoy the views of the island and partly sail along the impressive coastline and see caves, waterfalls and colorful villages from a unique perspective. The boat trip is already a great experience, but the animals you spot make it extra special.
Also read: 16 Best things to do & see on Madeira
Our Dolphin and Whale Watching experience
We went out to sea with Ventura – Nature Emotions twice and spotted four different species of whales and dolphins on these tours. For us this felt like a dream and it is pure magic!
Tour 1 – Our first encounter with wild dolphins
After an hour we spotted the first group of about 20 bottlenose dolphins and there were also babies swimming among them. They normally do not swim around the boat for long, but they were calm now and even came very close. The marine biologist told us they were probably resting from lunch. When bottlenose dolphins rest, only one half of the brain rests while the other half remains active. This keeps the dolphin swimming upwards to breathe, preventing them from drowning.
Soon after the meeting with the bottlenose dolphins, we spotted another species, the common dolphin. It was a group of about 10-15 dolphins and a few young dolphins swam among them. The common dolphin is much smaller than the bottlenose dolphin, has a pointed nose and a white belly. They are more playful and curious about the boat. Every now and then they made a jump and they also swam under the boat. So special! The common dolphin leaves in April or May and returns to Madeira around December.
Tour 2 – Watching dolphins and two (!) whales
During the second tour we already spotted the first whale, a sperm whale, after half an hour. Wow, this moment is so magical! He swam right in front of the boat. His fin was sticking out of the water and he occasionally showed his head. After a few minutes he dives under water and shows his tail. Sperm whales can grow between 11 and 18 meters long and weigh up to 57,000 kilos! They can also hold their breath for an hour, so we were very lucky to spot him. And the luck didn’t stop there, because later we spotted another sperm whale.
Right after the whale we spotted another large group of bottlenose dolphins and we were able to enjoy their company for a few minutes. Not much later we came across a group of spotted dolphins. They are normally a lot more playful, but there are many young dolphins swimming among them that they like to protect. The young dolphins are gray and do not get their spots until they are about 3 years old.
Wildlife spotting guaranteed
Because Ventura – Nature Emotions works together with spotters on land, there is a greater chance that you will encounter multiple animal species per trip. The spotters have special binoculars and can monitor a much larger area. The skipper keeps in touch with them throughout the trip. If unfortunately you do not spot any species, you can join again at no extra cost.
How do you prevent seasickness?
Do you know that you quickly suffer from seasickness? Then it is better to sit in the back of the boat. Here you are least bothered by the waves. The crew is involved and checks several times if everyone is feeling well and comfortable.
Tips for a suitable outfit
Wear layers! On a warm and sunny day it can be hot when the boat stops, but during the trip to the whales and dolphins it can be very windy, it is good to have a windbreaker or sweater with you.