Lajes do Pico was the first settlement on the island of Pico, in the Azores, which became an important commercial fishing port and whaling center for many centuries. Its old stone houses with their long balconies bear testimony to the village’s opulent past. Culturally, whaling was a huge deal here until it was outlawed in 1984. As I visited the area, I found it very interesting how their methods of whaling changed very little over the centuries.
Opened in 1988, the Museu dos Baleeiros is housed in three nineteenth century boathouses, a restored blacksmith’s workshop and a new section that contains a comprehensive library of books and research connected to whaling. After watching a short film on the history of whaling in the Azores, I toured the museum where I saw a beautifully restored canoe, or whaling boat, vignettes of nineteenth century life in the small whaling town, artifacts of the whaling industry and a interesting scrimshaw display. It’s fascinating to see how men in a canoe bearing only harpoons, rope and lances were able to catch those enormous whales and get them back to the shore and out of the water. The Museu dos Baleeiros is located in the center of Lajes do Pico and is open Tuesday through Friday from 9:30 to 12:30 and 2:00 to 5:30. On weekends and holidays it is open from 2:00 through 5:30. The museum is closed on Mondays.
Today, the Azores is one of Europe’s premier whale watching destinations. Of the over 80 species of whales and dolphins in the world, 24 can be found in Azorean waters. Being on the mid-Atlantic ridge, the archipelago gets deep so fast that Sperm, Blue, Right, Minke, Sei, Humpback, Killer and False Killer whales pass well within sight of land. The best time to see the whales is during the spring, when migrating whales pass close to the islands. In addition, a permanent population of Sperm whales and dolphins just about ensures daily sightings throughout the summer months.