A Surprise Season of Sei Whales! – 2022

Hello hello! This is Maria, I’m a whale-watching guide that travels between Baja and the Azores. In both areas, we can see Bryde’s whales and Sei whales. However, it is more likely to see Sei whales in the Azores, and Bryde’s whales in Baja.

These two species are not famous for providing great sightings on a normal basis. They are mostly solitary, they blow few times and spend little time at the surface, they swim quite fast, and when they travel in small groups, we cannot see any socializing from the boat. As you can imagine that is not the ideal whale that you want to find for a whale-watching tour, so many guides don’t stay with them for a long time.

But never say never, right? I don’t know exactly what caused it, but starting at the end of August and lasting until October 2022, we had an upwelling that allowed a lot of bait to grow in the area: huge schools of small fish were around the islands of Faial and Pico, in the Azores. This opportunity brought dozens of Sei Whales and hundreds of dolphins to feast on that fish.

I was on the boat the first time we spotted it: we went out after the directions that the lookout had given to us, as we always do. We knew that there were baleen whales around and we went to search for them. The first thing that we saw was a lot of dolphins, who seemed to be feeding. A lot of splashes, fast moves, the characteristic birds flying around…

And then we saw a blow, we approached the whale and it was a Sei whale –the third biggest whale.

As a curiosity, Sei means pollock in Norwegian. Pollock is a North Atlantic fish that competes with Sei whales for the same small prey, and in consequence, are found at the same time in the same area in Norway.

We followed that whale for a bit, and we spotted another blow far away, and then another one closer, and then another one far away… we lost count but there were more than ten Sei whales in the area, together with hundreds of different species of dolphins –Atlantic spotted dolphins and common dolphins– and –of course– Cory’s shearwaters and terns. All of them were feasting.

We were speechless because of what we had seen, I had never seen anything like that before. It was the best sighting of Sei whales ever! But it was not the last… Fish, dolphins, and whales stayed in the area.

For over a month, in almost every tour, the whales were around lunge feeding. We could see them opening their mouths at the surface and the brush-like baleen plates. Dolphins here and there, birds… Altogether in that massive feeding event, it was crazy.

At some point, most of the whales left, but I had reports that in November some of them were still around. Besides the obvious, those sightings were intriguing because we usually see the baleen whales between February and June in the Azores. It is true that for some of the species, like in the case of Sei whales, the migration patterns are not well defined yet.

But we were a bit surprised to see them around until that late.

I am sad that I left the island before the feast was over and I missed many sightings of those whales thriving, and yet I am grateful that I could witness it. It was by far the best sighting of Sei whales that I could have wished for.


This post was adapted from a voice recording in the forty second episode of the Whale Tales Podcast, listen here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.