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Azores certified as a Whale Heritage Site

Archipelago has achieved independent international certification that represents "all sites worldwide that are considered special areas for whale conservation"

Azores certified as a Whale Heritage Site

Autor: Joana Medeiros

The Azores archipelago, through the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA), an organization that aims to make the observation of whales and wild dolphins more sustainable, was recently certified as a Whale Heritage Site.

According to Ali Bullock, president of the Ocean Azores Foundation, responsible for the application, this is an independent international certification, which represents "all the places in the world that are considered special areas for the conservation of whales".

The first steps towards this certification were taken in 2021, after the establishment of the Ocean Azores Foundation. The Azores are now the first region in Portugal to be certified as a Whale Heritage Site, with the archipelago of Madeira also awaiting certification.

This certification is also the result of the tests submitted by the team responsible for the application, led by José Azevedo, professor and researcher at the Department of Biology of the University of the Azores. Those included, in addition to the laws in force regarding whale conservation in the Azores, the events carried out by the foundation, the way the community is involved in whale conservation, and also future projects, with the commitment to submit annual reports to the WCA.

"We had to explain our relationship with whales in the past: we showed that we had a history of whaling, but that we developed a more sustainable relationship with whales, developing research and education. We had to show that we have all this activity going on for the conservation of whales and cetaceans," says José Azevedo.

For the Ocean Azores Foundation, this certification is a way to put the spotlight on the Azores and on how to achieve ocean sustainability. It also puts some pressure on the Regional Government, because, as tourism increases, it needs to be more sustainable, while its impact on the ocean and on cetaceans needs to be studied and taken care of, according to the conclusions reached by science. Therefore, this certification shows the commitment that the Azores have taken with marine conservation.

As such, states Ali Bullock, the Ocean Azores Foundation is currently working on some projects, namely "The Golfino Commission", which aims to investigate the impacts "that the tourist activity of swimming with dolphins has on the various species of dolphins living in the waters of the Azores."

Another project of the foundation is called "Whale traking app: Google Earth" and aims to record whale sightings in the Azores through Google Earth. With this information, it is possible to unveil the migratory routes that whales take around the world, also using data from Monicet, a platform that aggregates the records made by whale watching companies in their daily activity (species observed, in what quantity and in which position).

The Ocean Azores Foundation also wants to work with the University of the Azores, looking for appropriate measures to be taken to ensure the sustainability of whales and cetaceans in the Region, considering the number of whales that bathe the Azorean islands.

"About 1/3 of the world's whale species are seen in the waters of the Azores (...). We need everyone to care about whales just like we do. We have people who are passionate about this cause, but we need everyone in the Azores to be passionate like us," concludes Ali Bullock.

Ocean Azores Foundation aims to increase whale protection
The Ocean Azores Foundation was created by Ali Bullock, president of the Board of Directors, on June 29, 2021, with the objective of increasing the protection of whales and other cetaceans that live in the Azores Sea, as well as guaranteeing their long-term survival through the financing and development of projects. These include marine conservation, the reduction of plastics in the oceans, as well as education and research related to reducing their use, as stated in the foundation's management report. Among the largest contributors aligned with the values of this foundation is "Azores Getaways" and brands such as "Baleia Gin", "Medina Swimwear" and "What the Whale". 

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