Pilot whales and dolphins in Tenerife: cetaceans’ sighting tour

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Travelling to faraway countries, exploring new cities and discovering foreign lands is often the tourist first choice. We tend to leave behind all that is geographically close to where we live, our own town, the region we live in.

One thing that the 2020 pandemic taught us, though, is that there are tons of “close to home” possibilities. We’ve found once again the curiosity of visiting the nearby village, the downtown museum and the natural park we’ve never thought could be as interesting as the ones at 2000 km from home.

Cliffs of the south coast of Tenerife
Cliffs of the south coast

Tenerife for tourists: the south coast

I’ve been working in Tenerife since the beginning of 2020. As soon as the lock-down ended, when moving around the island was permitted once again, I took advantage of the almost total absence of international flights to Canary Islands to try a couple of adventures that locals don’t usually do because “those things are for tourists”.

I left behind my well-known destinations (but definitely more niche-style when compared with south beaches), like climbing Teide and hiking in Anaga Park. And I went to the south where tourism plays such a dominant part in Tenerife’s economy that it can happen to find waiters and clerks that don’t even speak Spanish! English, German, Italian… but not Spanish, because “here there are no Spaniards”.
I’m talking about those coastal areas between Los Cristianos and Costa Adeje. It is indeed a bit different compared to the rest of the island. Without tourists, like when I was there after the pandemic, it looks like an abandoned theme park, a ghost town. Most of the hotels, restaurants, car rentals and information points were closed. There were only a few people around and no traffic. The beach was the only place with some actual life, crowded with all those whose touristic activity was not yet running. After all, if everything is closed, there’s not much better to do on a sunny day than go swimming in the sea!

Costa Adeje: a Ghost town during the lock-down of 2020
Costa Adeje at the end of the 2020′ clock-down

Sighting of cetaceans in Tenerife: whales and dolphins

Since I moved to Tenerife, I dreamed of seeing whales. In these parts of the world, specifically, live pilot whales. They are cetaceans fairly similar to dolphins with flattened snouts (I hope the marine biologists can let my heretical description pass!), dark grey, with a fin on their back and 5-6 meters long.

These whales swim in the waters between Tenerife and La Gomera. Between November and February, they are supposed to be easier to spot because they migrate. But in the Canary Islands they can be seen all year round. The same for dolphins, that live not too far from the south coast of Tenerife. With a bit of luck you can even meet sea turtles!

One of the advantages of going looking for these animals just after the lock-down was that there were really few boats in the water. Whales and dolphins were left alone for a while and they were naturally more confident getting closer to the coastline. They became apparently even a little more curious about the movements of the boats that, as soon as the animals come close, switch the engines off and stay there without doing anything. In reality, during those close encounter moments, I was very busy! Take the camera, keep the mobile phone ready, listen to the guide that tries to figure out if these two are Sierra and Tango or another couple of friends, enjoy the moment without technology, try to not fall in the water when you lean out to see those wonders passing underneath the boat….

Three pilot whales swimming in the south sea of Tenerife
Three pilot whales came around to say hi!

Other water activities

I choose a speedboat because I generally prefer being close to the water and having only a few travel companions. I must say back then the hygiene covid-rules were fairly rigid and catamarans and bigger boats were basically never used.
But usually the choice is pretty wide. There are amazing boats with glass bottoms, for instance, to see what swims underneath you. You can rent sailing boats that take you out for lunch in sandy coves you can’t reach by road, closer to Acantilados de Los Gigantes.

You can also rent water motorbikes with friends. My guide, though, was pointing out that they are very noisy and might annoy the cetaceans.

Besides the sea, I suggest visiting the beaches in this area, even for a simple sunset walk.

Sunset over the sea at Fañabé beaach
Fañabé beach

Whales and dolphins in Tenerife with Bonadea II

There are plenty of companies that organize cetaceans sighting. I’ve chosen Bonadea II because it offered the best package with what I’ve valued the best combination of length and price. We left with Sergio and his speedboat from Puerto Colón and the pilot whales found us within a few minutes! They came close as soon as we turned the engine off and they swam around us for some time, spouting water and passing under the boat in small groups.

Dolphins have been more shy and difficult to spot. The lack of tourists means less coordination between sighting boats. The captains usually talk to each other or follow other boats to the areas where animals were last seen. When no one else is at sea, it’s each on their own, doing all the hard work alone. We moved around longer than we planned to until, on the way back to the harbour, we saw dolphins close to a fish breeding area. The smart and lazy dolphins often take advantage of this easy hunting place!

We also stopped to pick up some plastic garbage pieces and, surprise surprise, there was a sea turtle!!! It went underwater and hid away very quickly. But it’s been a first for me, so I ended up definitely satisfied by this sighting tour!

A group of dolphins jumps in and out the water of Tenerife
Credit: Sergio, Bonadea II

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