New Year is a time for diet resolutions, fitness, and reflecting on the year just gone. So in a bid to achieve one of these by February I bring you one of my most memorable moments of 2014.
Spring and the waters surrounding the islands of Sao Miguel, Pico and Faial in the Azores are teeming with whales, most notably the Blue Whale – the world’s largest creature which migrates through the waters of this breath-taking volcanic archipelago at this time of year.
I strap on my life jacket (a few sizes too large for my liking, hence the resolutions) and climb into a RIB boat with my group of journalists. We’re on a press trip for the 30th anniversary since the last commercial whaling factory closed here, and the practice of hunting whales for their oil ceased. These islands, which once depended on the practice for their economy, have turned their fate around and now thrive on a different kind of whale hunting – the type done by sightseers eager to capture a glimpse of a tail flip, a body roll and the jets of a blow hole.
The RIB boat is the most adventurous way to do this, chopping through the waves on an ocean safari in search of as many of the islands’ 25 cetacean species as we can find. We find a lot, including a Sperm whale, an Orca and a Fin Whale. An hour in and our guide gets excited, not because of the dolphins which swim alongside us, but because she spots the blow of a Blue Whale.
The engine turns off and we go silent, waiting until finally our guide shrieks “this is your National Geographic moment!” and the eye of a Blue Whale emerges just metres away on our right hand side. Literally on the edge of our seats, this magnificent creature (a teenager we are told) captures our undivided attention as it performs rolls, flips, blows and plays with another.
After perhaps ten minutes they submerge, but if we thought the show was over we were wrong. They haven’t retreated back into the Deep Blue just yet, emerging minutes later (and just as close as before), now on our right hand side.
The rest of the trip provides many more unforgettable experiences from canoeing in a crater lake to descending into a magma chamber, but none of them quite eclipses the Blue Whale. Later in the week our guide explains just how lucky we were to have such a close encounter. It’s certainly an experience I will never forget.