The activity of whale watching and the compliance of maritime tourism operators to the legislation are overseen by the Instituto das Florestas e Conservação da Natureza (IFCN), to whom whale watching operators also regularly send reports documenting their activity and encounters. Park rangers from the IFCN also conduct observations from land or sea to monitor compliance amongst...
Madeira lies between the Azores and the Canary Islands in the North Atlantic and is the main island of an archipelago. Madeira’s waters, which include Marine Protected Areas, are characterised by steep slopes, deep underwater canyons and plateaus attracting cetaceans that normally occur in the open ocean close to the coast. Year-round whale watching has become an important part of Madeira’s tourism industry, with tourists attracted to the region’s mild climate and continuous abundance of cetaceans.
Species and habitats
So far, researchers have confirmed 26 species of cetacean in the waters of Madeira, which is equivalent to almost a third of the planet’s known species! Bottlenose dolphins and short-finned pilot whales can be encountered all year round, along with deep divers like sperm whales and beaked whales. Seasonal visitors include Atlantic spotted dolphins and the occasional blue whale, with orcas and humpback whales rarely seen.
This diversity makes Madeira an incredible whale watching destination and, above all, underlines the region’s importance as a habitat for cetacean populations in the Atlantic.
The threats faced by cetaceans in Madeira include global issues such as rising ocean temperature, in addition to localised threats such as harassment, ocean plastics, noise pollution, and entanglement in fishing nets. A rise in tourists visiting the island's waters and a growing local population has resulted in increased harassment from boat traffic and noise pollution. Resident short-finned pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins are particularly vulnerable to coastal boat traffic, whale watching vessels, and fisheries.
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Visitors to Wildlife Heritage Areas can take part in outstanding wildlife watching experiences that put wildlife first. Staying in a Wildlife Heritage Area helps local communities invest in animal welfare and wildlife conservation, benefitting community well-being and driving forward sustainable practices.
Designated for excellence
Communities achieve Wildlife Heritage Area designation by playing a central role in protecting wild animals and their habitats. With support from responsible travel organisations and wildlife experts, these communities are committed to help turn the tide on biodiversity loss and the climate crisis, adopt a zero tolerance for wildlife suffering in tourism, and advocate for positive change through a willingness to collaborate.
Madeira’s history of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) began with the Selvagens Island Nature Reserve in 1971, the largest MPA in Europe with total protection. This milestone paved the way for further vital decisions to preserve the region’s wildlife.
Over the past decades, the region saw the creation of further protected areas, as well as nature reserves with restricted access....
One of Madeira’s most iconic educational initiatives about cetaceans is the Madeira Whale Museum (Museu da Baleia da Madeira) in Caniçal. While acting as a testimony to Madeira’s whaling history and the region’s transition to protecting cetaceans, the museum also accommodates a scientific department conducting research on cetacean ecology in the Macaronesian region and the...
Apart from the exhibits at the Madeira Whale Museum, the presence of cetaceans in the region is demonstrated in urban art pieces around the island, including the well-known baleen whale mural in the capital Funchal by artist Marcos Milewski and the colourful pilot whale mural in Calheta, a collaborative piece by artist Piera Mattioli and the local community in the district....
Whaling in the seas of Madeira, associated crafts and activities, and the transition from hunting cetaceans to protecting them form a central part of cetacean-related culture in the region. Whaling, particularly for sperm whales, was introduced in Madeira in the early 1940s and the decade saw the construction of the first lookout post, whaling stations, and the Madeiran Whaling...
The regional government of Madeira has invested and is currently investing in a number of sustainable solutions and projects to protect the island's precious terrestrial and marine wildlife. In 2021, the regional government allocated around 40% of its budget to the environment and climate action, with a special focus on the renewable energy sector, forest fire prevention, and...
Collaborations for the sake of wildlife include interregional and multidisciplinary research networks such as MARCET, a Macaronesian-wide project with the aim of transferring knowledge between the participating regions (Madeira, Azores, Cape Verde and the Canary Islands) to better understand cetacean habitat use and movement and promote the sustainable development of whale...
Responsible whale watching
Whale watching began about two decades ago on the archipelago and is a regulated activity where guests can expect to experience the diverse marine life surrounding the archipelago with our beautiful island as a backdrop. Madeira’s mild climate and the constant presence of different species of cetaceans makes it an all-year-round destination for the experience.
The Madeira Whale Museum is a testimony to the history of whaling in Madeira and the activities associated with it as well as an informative centre on the cetaceans visiting Madeira’s waters. Exhibits can be experienced in person at the museum in Caniçal or via a virtual tour online. The museum also accommodates art exhibitions related to marine life and hosts workshops or presentations related to cetaceans.
ARTE.M Artistic and Cultural Association
ARTE.M is an art association that brings together art managers, social workers, artists, creative individuals, and professionals from the artistic and creative industries. The association is committed to fostering collaboration and synergy among these diverse fields. ARTE.M actively engages in local environmental initiatives, leveraging its expertise in creative and artistic tools to complement ecological endeavours.
Art Center Caravel
Art Center Caravel is a contemporary art gallery in the historic heart of Funchal. By maintaining an ongoing dialogue and artistic exchanges, both locally and internationally, it advocates for environmental and ecological issues. Its commitment includes shedding light on ecological issues through art, presenting thought-provoking art installations, and showcasing ECO artworks.