One of the true joys of being out on a boat or diving in the sea is seeing dolphins and whales out in their natural habitats. Majestic whales glide through the ocean waters, while playful dolphins love to frolic amongst the waves.
While you might associate whale watching and dolphin spotting with the tropics, the Arctic Sea, or the coastline of British Columbia, you can actually engage in some spectacular sightings in Europe.
Some of the best whale watching in Europe (and some would argue the best, full stop) can be done in Spain. The Canary Islands, Bay of Biscay, and the Mediterranean Sea is home to more than 30 different species of cetacean, perfect for whale watching trips and diving expeditions.
While there are many delphinids in captivity in Spain, you should avoid these aquariums and instead attempt to see dolphins in their natural habitats.
There are more then enough amazing spots to sightsee this majestic creature in Spain and thankfully there are many organisations which help to protect Dolphins and keep our seas healthy. Recently, two dolphins where repatriated to Spain from a dolphinarium in the Netherlands.
Canary Islands – Whale and Dolphin Watching
The Canary Islands are located off the coast of Morocco, but they are a political entity of Spain, so we are including them on our list! They sit on a part of the Atlantic Ocean where the cold waters of Europe meet with the warmer waters of Africa, and so the sea life is very diverse and unique.
The depth of the sea around the Canary Islands is incredibly deep, averaging 1,000 meters between islands, and up to 2,500 meters in some areas! Puerto Colon in Tenerife is known for its daily sightseeing and whale watching schooners that depart constantly, with more than 500,000 travelers embarking on a trip here each year.
In the waters of the Canary Islands, you can view more than 30 species of cetaceans, including the delightful Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis), and the common dolphin (Delphinus dolphin)
Mediterranean Sea – Whale and Dolphin Watching
While you might have luck spotting whales and dolphins from the Cape de Creus to the Balearic Islands and Columbretes, you will have more opportunities in the Costa de la Luz and the Alboran Sea.
You will usually see loads of whales and dolphins in Tarifa and around the Strait of Gibraltar, including the chance to see Orcas (also known as killer whales) in the wild. The most common time to see orcas is close to the port of Tarifa, where they come in order to eat huge bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) that can weigh up to 500lbs.!
In the Mediterranean Sea, you can also spot the long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas), bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncates), the common dolphin, and the striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba). You might also see sperm whales (P. macrocephalus), and rarely, fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) and the common minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata).
The Bay of Biscay and the Cantabrian Sea – Whale and Dolphin Watching
If you are heading to the Iberian Peninsula for whale watching, make sure that you prioritize the Cantabrian Sea. At least 27 cetaceans live in these waters, and you can almost be sure to see beaked whales, as 7 of their 22 species are known to visit this area. Do remember that beaked whales tend to spend up to 70 minutes beneath the waves at a time, so spotting them can be a challenge.
Off the coast of the Basque Country, you will find a deep sea pit at Capbreton. With incredible depths of more than 2,000 meters, dolphins, pilot whales, and playful harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) come here to feed in the depths. Some less common Bay of Biscay species include minke whales, fin whales, the Northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus), and the Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris).
If you catch sight of Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), Blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus), Sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis), or the Sowerby's beaked whale (Mesoplodon bidens), consider yourself very lucky indeed! These whales are rare in these waters, but do pop up now and then.
Spain is a fantastic place to go whale watching
Combining a Spanish holiday with a whale-watching excursion (or two, or three!) allows you to really experience the best of both the cultural and natural worlds. Enjoy tapas and wine while you watch flamenco dancers in the evening, and then spend the next morning on a boat, watching the whales glide and jump past your boat.