It can be frustrating to live on an island like Tenerife which is remarkable for many reasons, yet which more often than not is only viewed in how many sunshine hours there are in a day. There are any number of experiences which still cause excited butterflies in my stomach to flutter frantically. Every time we enter Teide National Park is one of them. The first sighting of a sleek black or silver shape breaking the surface of the water is another.
Sun-kissed holiday resorts are ten a penny, but going on a whale and dolphin safari is one of those extra special travel experiences that doesn’t come as standard on sun, sea and sand holidays.
I used the title ‘thar she blows’ on the first article I ever wrote about taking to Tenerife’s high seas for a bit of cetacean spotting, cetaceans being the posh word for whales, dolphins and porpoises. My editor at the time, not knowing it was a reference to the whalers’ cry when they spotted a big one during the age of Moby Dick, changed it to ‘there she blows’.
Which whales and dolphins can you see around Tenerife?
Anyway, being able to shout ‘thar she blows’ or ‘there she blows’ is commonplace in the seas around Tenerife, especially in the south west passage between the Los Gigantes cliffs and our neighbour, La Gomera. The area is a cetacean magnet with 21 different species enjoying Tenerife’s temperate waters.
These are made up of resident species, which include bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales, as well as frequent and occasional visitors. Among the frequent visitors you get various types of dolphins, the impressive Bryde’s whale which can reach up to 49 feet in length, and Herman Melville’s favourite, sperm whales. Less frequent and the Holy Grails of the lot include the giant of the ocean, the blue whale, humpbacks and even orcas.
The whale and dolphin watching experience
The whale and dolphin watching experience comes in varying forms. I’ve been out three times and no two times have been the same, either in terms of what we’ve spotted or even in the type of vessel.
The first time was in the Katrin out of Los Gigantes harbour. I’ve a soft spot for the Katrin, a former North Sea crabber with an oak hull. It chugged its way around the south west coast looking splendid below the cliffs, standing out from the cookie cutter boats. The highlight was when a bottlenose dolphin streaked towards the hull like a torpedo cutting through crystal clear waters, diving slightly at the last second to avoid impact. It was so close I couldn’t focus my 200mm camera lens – spectacular photo opportunity lost.
The second time was on the sleek and fast Gladiator U whose crew were impressively knowledgeable about the life in the water around Tenerife. It also sailed from Los Gigantes, the boat able to eat up the water to get to ‘sightings’ rapidly so there were loads of mouth-drops-open moments watching pilot whales and dolphins at play. The biggest thrill was seeing a huge Bryde’s whale. The big cetaceans had been hanging around the coast of Los Gigantes for a few weeks and it was a wow to see a creature which did spout fountains into the air. Like the Katrin, the Gladiator U wasn’t a big craft, so there was no vying with an excited mob to try to get decent views.
My third experience was probably my favourite from a sea-going experience as it was in a Roulette Charters yacht from Puerto Colón and there was only six of us. Being a yacht it felt as though we were a lot closer to the sea and therefore the dolphins. That time shiny black pilot whales were the main feature with families of them comfortably swimming close to the silent yachts.
Although each experience was different there were essential elements which were the same – all the craft treated the whales and dolphins with respect, following an ethical code of conduct and an international set of rules designed to protect cetaceans.
An ethical way to watch whales and dolphins in the wild
When it comes to whale and dolphin watching we’re basically guests in their big, wet living room and should treat it with due respect. Reputable whale and dolphin watching trips should stick to the code – not sailing closer than 60m (the dolphin or whale will come closer if it wants to), turning off engines, sailing slowly around whales and dolphins, not hanging around too long (30mins max) and leaving the creatures in peace at the least sign of anxiety or distress. If a boat has a barco azul certificate then it’s a stamp of ethical approval from the Tenerife authorities. Personally I’d give a body swerve to any company offering a partying booze cruise combined with whale and dolphin watching as unlike a JD and coke, the two simply don’t mix.
In the end it’s all about having, forgive the pun, a whale of a time and an experience that will burrow itself deep in your memory banks. Whale and dolphin watching in Tenerife ticks those boxes and then some.
Of all the special travel moments we’ve accumulated over the years, seeing animals at play in their natural environment is the most precious.
Most Tenerife whale and dolphin watching safaris sail from Los Gigantes and Puerto Colón. Prices and length of time at sea vary, but can start from as little as €20 – a steal for such a special experience. If you’re not a natural sailor or have never experienced being on the ocean in a small boat it might be worth picking up some sea sickness pills at a pharmacy before taking up a temporary life on the ocean wave; there’s always been someone with green gills on the trips I’ve been on.