Monday, July 30, 2007

Vigias (onshore lookouts)


The method used to find the sperm whales during the whaling time was simple but efficient - onshore lookouts or vigias in Portuguese. The vigias were sitting on high points around the island and used powerful binoculars to look for the blows of the whales. When the whales were spotted  they  used smoke signals to indicate the position of the animals and the whalers would go out to the area. They used traditional small canoe-like boats equipped with sails and oars, and used handheld harpoons to kill the whales. The boats were only 11 meters in length, that's about the same size as an adult female sperm whale. Male sperm whales can reach up to 18 meters, almost twice the length of the boats that the whalers were in. 

The whaling ended in 1986, just a few years before Futurismo began whale watching. Since then we have kept the tradition of using vigias to spot the animals from shore. Nowadays only the south lookout huts are used, as this is where we focus our whale watching tours. Our experienced vigias start scanning the oceans early in the morning, usually already finding animals for us before we leave the marina. Our skippers are in radio contact with the vigias, getting information about where to go to find the animals. 

The vigia can, on a clear day, see as far as 45 km of the coast, and they can tell by the movement and the blow of the whales, which species we are approaching. They search for the blow of the whales, splashing and movement on the surface or large groups of birds indicating that dolphins might be feeding in that area.
We have several lookout huts on São Miguel. 
The ones we use the most are Relva and Água de Pau on the south coast.

Our vigia Roberto

Close up of the hut called "40" in Água de Pau

Ocean view of our vigia in Água de Pau (lookout hut circled in red)

Photo from inside

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