top of page


Whaling on Pico island in the Azores was important for the economy of the island. The Azores are a little string of islands in the middle of the Atlantic ocean created by volcanic eruptions so that the islands are steep. The ocean depths are perfect for deep sea-creatures including whales. Whaling was usually practiced by a handful of men, young and old. Whaling started in the 18th century and ended in the late 1980’s. The whale that they mainly hunted was the sperm whale.

The whalers used big open-air row boats filled with equipment such as ropes, harpoons and lances. The boats and equipment were always prepared and ready in case of a whale spotting. The spotter was one of the most important people in the group. He spent his days scanning the horizon for whales in one of the many watchtowers posted around the island. Once he spotted whales with his binoculars, he would quickly light a flare to alert the whalers. After lighting the flare, he would use a radio to inform to captain about the whales’ position.

Once they were alerted, the whalers would stop everything they’re doing and rush to the boat. When they arrived at the boat in the docks, they all boarded and then pushed the boat out into the vast ocean. The men would paddle out to a motor boat that was waiting for them just outside the docks to tow them. The motor boat would then pull them near the whales’ location and drop them off. The whalers would paddle to be quiet and not startle the whale. When they were close enough, one of the sailors would bring out the harpoon and throw it into the whale. The harpoon had a special tip that swiveled when it hit the whale becoming stuck. The whale would usually dive down to try to break free but to no avail. When the poor animal resurfaced, the men were waiting for it with the death weapon, a lance. The whalers repeatedly hurled the sharp lance at the whale until it pierced the heart and killed the unlucky whale. In the end there was a lot of blood.

After the whale was killed, the men would plant a big red flag in the floating carcass so that the motor boat could find it and drag it back to shore. When the dead animal was pulled to shore, the whalers wasted no time getting the whale out of the water. They would hook large chains onto the whale and would use a machine to drag it up a long ramp. Once they dragged it up to the warehouse, they started to harvest the resources.

The reason whale hunting was important was because of commercial purposes. Almost all parts of the whale could be used for commercial purposes. The resources the whalers harvested were used for candles, oil, soap, perfume, and of course whale meat. Pico island used to export the whale resources only once a year to a variety of countries around the globe.

Whaling ended in 1987, when the International Whaling Commission (IWC) made it illegal to commercially hunt whales. But an interesting event happened on Pico island. Serge Viallelle, a Dutchman, came and saw a business opportunity with the fall of whale hunting. He started a whale watching company with one of the actual whalers from Pico Island. His company’s name is Espaco Talassa and it is still operating today. The company still uses the same watchtowers that the whalers used. Except now they take out tourists on boats to see the whales and dolphins rather than hunt them.

bottom of page