Spain is well known for a great number of things: the food, the weather, the culture, etc. but Spain is also a natural oasis and is home to some to some of the great nature parks and wildlife reserves in Europe. One of Spain’s greatest natural treasures are the pods of whales and dolphins that inhabit that pass through the Iberian coasts. Over 30 cetacean species live or pass by Spain shores, in the Atlantic, the Bay of Biscay and Mediterranean Sea. Whale watching in Spain is something you may want to consider if you are on the right area!
This article will go over where you can find the different species and the best times of the year to find them. Finding these amazing ocean mammals is relatively simple in Spain and it is a much better alternative to see them in their natural habitat than in a a marine park. Spain is in fact one of the best, if not THE best place in Europe for whale (and dolphin) watching.
The Canary Islands are located to the south of Spain, off the coast or Morrocco. These Islands are located in an area of the Atlantic ocean where the cold water from the north meets the warmer tropical waters from the south making it an ideal place to find whales and dolphins. A convergence occurs of species that prefer warmer climates, those that prefer colder waters as well as species that migrate migrate between both climates during the year. Whale watching in the Canary islands has become a popular activity for many of the local tourists that arrive to the islands every year.
30 different species have been identified in the waters of the Canary Islands, making it one of the places with the highest diversity of cetaceans in the world. Puerto Colon in Tenerife alone attracts over 500,000 enthusiasts every year.
Another reason why the Canary Islands are an ideal place for whale watching is the depth of its waters, averaging more than 1,000 meters between islands, at some points reaching 2,500 meters. This makes for a perfect for numerous species of fish that patrol the waters in search of food, inevitably attracting whales and dolphins, in search of sustenance themselves. You will even find sperm whales who come to these waters chasing their favorite prey: giant squid. Sperm whale sightings aren’t very common but the best chance you will have is in Spring, between the islands of Tenerife and La Palma. Groups of up to 6 have been seen in this area at that time of year accompanied by their calves.
The Islands of LA Gomera and Tenerife are the best for whale watching, but if you had to choose between the two, Tenerife takes the top prize. 21 different species have been identified of the coast of Tenerife alone. There are an estimated 500 resident pilot whales in the waters of Tenerife and 250 of bottle-nose dolphins. The southern coast of Tenerife is considered one of the largest breeding areas of this species in Europe. Minke whales are also very common to see as they reach the island chasing shoals of sardines all year long. But you can also enjoy whale watching in Gran Canaria as well as in the other islands.
Tenerife and the Canary islands in general are lucky to have a resident population of both pilot whales and dolphins. This basically implies sightings are guaranteed all year round since there is no dependency on migration movements. During some times of the years the number of species on sight increase. We have all details in our Tenerife whale watching guide.
Another common species that can be found in the Canary Islands and in particular in Tenerife is the Atlantic spotted dolphin that can can be seen from autumn to early summer. The common dolphin is also easy to spot but only during the winter months.
Many other species of cetaceans visit the Canary Islands that are harder to find. Killer Whales and false Killer Whales pass through the islands chasing blue fin tuna on their way to the Mediterranean Sea. Humpback whales also visit the during the summer on their way to their breeding grounds in the Cape Verde Islands and foraging into the North Atlantic in summer. One of the most elusive species, the blue whale, has also been seen near the Islands in winter but it is one of the rarest whales to find.
Tarifa is a paradise for surfers and kitesurfers from all over the world. The winds from the Atlantic and the long beaches provide excellent conditions for water sports. Fun, easy-going and very different from the commercial coast of Costa del Sol in Málaga,
The Atlantic ocean and the Mediterranean sea meet here, at the heart of The Estrecho. Lots of varied sealife gathers here. The tunafish migration every year brings along hundres of killer whales in search for an easy hunt. You can witness this from boats that departure from Tarifa! You will be able to find more information on whale watching in Tarifa in this link.
Although whale sightings occur in different parts of the Mediterranean Sea, from the Cape de Creus through Columbretes and Balearic Islands is where you will have the highest chances of finding whales and dolphins in their natural habitat. Tarifa and the straight of Gibraltar in particular are prime places to find one elusive species in particular: killer whales.
From early spring, and especially in the summer months, pods of killer whales arrive to the entrance of the Mediterranean chasing tuna as we mentioned earlier. When they reach the straight and the coast of Tarifa that is the best time to find them. Blue fin tuna can weight up to 500kg and they head to the Mediterranean after their migration across the Atlantic Ocean, to the same place where they were born, to spawn in June and July in the western and central Mediterranean Sea. As they do so, pods of up to 18 killer whales appear as do local fishermen from Morocco and Spain. These whales need this important food source so that they can continue their migration. Later in August when the tuna leaves the Mediterranean Sea to start their migration routes across the Atlantic Ocean, killer whales follow suit
Tarifa is also home to other species such as the common dolphin, the striped dolphin, the bottle-nose dolphin and the long-finned pilot whale. All are permanent residents of these waters.
Other species that aren’t residents but have been seen passing through the straight of Gibraltar are sperm whales. These specimens have been seen mainly in spring and summer. Two other species can be seen with some frequency in this area on their way into the Mediterranean: the fin whale and the common Minke whale.
Cabo de Palos and Cabo de Gata on the Mediterranean coast of Spain are also good spots to go whale watching. In this area, the water can get very deep, reaching over 1,000 meters. Such depths make if a great habitat for all the things whales and dolphins like to eat, and they are more than happy to flock there to fill their bellies. Striped dolphins, common dolphins, bottle-nose dolphins, pilot whales, Risso’s dolphins, fin whales and sperm whales, all show up during spring and summer to gorge themselves.
Here you will find different cetacean sightings companies with interesting fleets of schooners where you can spend quite a few interesting days together with marine biologists.
The Cantabrian Sea is another excellent area for whale watching. Located of the northern coast of Spain, and spanning from the Rias Baixas (Galicia) to the Bay of Biscay, The Cantabrian see hosts 27 different species who are either residents or just pass through. In these waters you will find rarer species such as different kinds of beaked whales can more easily can be found. Out of the 20 different species of beaked whales 7 have been sighted in the Bay of Biscay in the waters off of Galicia.
In the Cantabrian sea, the best chances of finding whales and dolphins is off the shores of the Basque country. Whale watching excursions set off from Guetaria and Cape Matxitxaco towards the pit at Capbreton. Trench reaches depths of over 2000 meters deep and is rich in all of these cetaceans favorite foods. 20 miles of the coast and especially during summer and spring it is common to find pilot whales, striped dolphins, bottle-nose dolphins, common dolphins and harbor porpoises.
Less commons species that have been spotted in the Bay of Biscay are fin whales, sperm whales, Minke whales, Risso’s dolphins and two beaked whales species in particular: the Northern bottle-nose whale and the Cuvier’s beaked whale. There have been other species sighted as well but are extremely rare to see: Sei whales, blue whales, humpbacks, Atlantic white-sided dolphins and Sowerby’s beaked whale have appeared in the bay but you will be lucky if you see any of them.
The rest of the northern coast of Spain have had sightings of 10 other species but, again, sightings have been very rare. Right whales, Trues’s beaked whales, Blainville’s beaked whales, pygmy sperm whales, dwarf sperm whales, pygmy killer whales, false killer whales, pilot whales, white-beaked dolphins and the spotted dolphins have been seen but very infrequently.
So if you are traveling to Spain during the summer, whale watching is a great activity you can enjoy. There are many great things to enjoy in Spain during the summer for everyone, whether you want to just lounge on the beach or you feeling up to running of the bulls in Pamplona, there something for everyone.
Fuengirola and Benalmádena offer good spotting opportunities and tours are available to enjoy dolphins.
Lanzarote in the Canary islands also offer the opportunity to enjoy dolphins.