Whale & Dolphin watching in Madeira

Madeira Dolphins and Whales

The Madeira Archipelago has always been visited by different species of whales and dolphins, and they presently support a fast-growing whale-watching industry that attracts a new generation of eco-friendly whalers. The Madeiran waters are very rich in cetaceans, with at least 22 species recorded. 

There are approximately 75 species of cetaceans worldwide. Within 5 kilometers of the shore, the ocean floor reaches a depth of more than 3,000 meters.  On most days these ocean going creatures are swimming by right on your door step! In some years, oceanic species of dolphins, along with very rare Beaked Whales and Orcas, are also seen in the waters of Madeira.  The periodic migration of various species of cetaceans frequent the waters of Madeira in search of food, as an area of reproduction and, for at least one species, as its habitat.

The most common species of these massive dwellers of the sea that can be spotted on the Madeira coast are:

Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis):

This specie can be identified by its yellowish spot on the sides, very common in these waters, specially in Spring and Winter, where it develops a set of activities as the feeding, the socialization and reproduction. 

Common Dolphin

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Stenella frontalis):

These dolphins can be identified by their spotting (white in the back and grey in the womb) of which the first spot develops after the first year . It is an active and very sociable specie with the boats, and we can normally see them in big groups. 

Spotted Dolphin

Bottlenose Dolphin
Tursiops truncates):

These grey colored dolphins with their distinct beak and rounded forehead measure is the biggest specie of dolphins that you can find on the island, measuring around 2 to 4 meters in length. We find them normally in smaller groups, and is possible to watch them all year around, as there are indications of a resident family in the island. 

Bottle Nose Dolphin

Madeira Whale & Dolphin Documentary


Sperm Whale
Physeter macrocephalus):

Seen regularly in these waters, being possible to see just an individual or groups up to 30 individuals. Its blow has the particularity of being oblique (in contrast of the majority of the other species) about 45˚ forward and slightly to the left, and it has a rounded-shape head. 

Sperm Whale

Pilot Whale
Globicephala machrorhynchus):

This black or dark grey whale reaches a body length of 3.5 to 6m. It has a very distinguished round, bulbous forehead. Despite not being very sociable, usually allow boats to approach them closely.

Pilot Whale

Beaked Whales
(Mesoplodon europaeus):

There are several species of Beaked Whales to be observed in Madeiran waters. Their size varies from 5 to 10m. Their colors can vary from each other. These are very shy animals and measure in between 5 and 10 m long.

Beak Whale

Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalis):

During the last few years, Fin Whales have been sighted migrating along the Madeiran coast. The Fin Whale is a baleen whale and after the Blue Whale, is the second biggest Whale with sizes up to 26m. They are very fast swimmers.

Fin Whale

Bryde’s Whale (Balaenoptera edeni):

Specie that is seen mostly on Summer, usually as one individual alone or in pairs, when there is a creat. It can be distinguished because it has three longitudinal ridges on its head, instead as three, as in other species. 

Brydes Whale

Mediterranean Monk Seal
(Monachus monachus):

One spectacular sea mammal can be seen along the Madeiran coast, the Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus). Once, these seals were so numerous the town of Câmara de Lobos (west of Funchal) was named after them: the name translates as "bed of wolves". In Madeira the species is commonly named "Lobo marinho" (which translates as "sea wolf") due to its barking and howling voice.
However, this natural behavior made the species vulnerable to human pressure,and the number of individuals decreased exponantiantly and finally disappeared from the island. The Desertas Islands became the last part of the Madeiran archipelago with suitable conditions for Monk Seal survival. 

Turtles in Madeira

Five species have been recorded in Madeiran waters, of which the Loggerhead is the commonest, while Green and Leatherback are scarce but occur regularly.

Turtles in Madeira

Madeira Bird Watching

The birds of Madeira hold particular interest to bird watchers as the islands' ecosystems support a wide variety of land and sea birds, including endemic, unusual and endangered species such as Zino's Petrel or the Madeira Firecrest. There are 42 breeding species or subspecies of birds in Madeira.

Madeira Bird Watching

Zino's Petrel (Pterodroma madeira):

Resident breeder on Madeira. This endemic species is near extinction, but it’s situation has improved for the last years and the population is now estimated between 65 and 80 breeding pairs. In April-May they lay their single egg in self-made nesting holes in several ledges at the peak of Pico do Areeiro.

Madeira Zino

Fea's Petrel (Pterodroma feae deserta):

Resident breeder on Bugio, the southernmost island of the Desertas. The species use the rabbit burrows on a small plateau for nesting. The Fea's Petrel breeding season in Bugio is roughly two months behind schedule in comparison to Zino's Petrel. So laying goes from mid July to early August and the chicks fledge in December. The population on Bugio is estimated at 150-200 pairs and the nominate race which breed on the Cape Verde Islands (500-1.000 pairs).

Madeira Fea´s Petrel

Cory's Shearwater
(Calonectris diomedea borealis):

A migrant breeder, which breeds from June to October on mainland Madeira as well on the Desertas and Porto Santo. The breeding population is estimated to 3.000 pairs 

Madeira Cory´s Shearwater

Bulwer's Petrel (Bulweria bulwerii:

Migrant breeder and only seen between early May (although it is not until June that large numbers can be seen) and mid September. The breeding population is estimated at 7.500 pairs. During the breeding season it could be seen in the whole archipelago. 

Madeira Bulwers Petrel

Madeiran Storm-petrel
(Oceanodroma castro):

Resident breeder (one population in the summer and another during winter), however, many migrate to unknown areas outside the breeding season. The breeding population is estimated at 2.000 pairs, of which 1.000 breeds on Salvages. Without any doubt the most difficult of the breeding seabirds to see, no matter whether you watch from land or on pelagics.

Madeiran Storm Petrel


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