Pedro Martina’s sun-worn face lights up as he grabs my shoulder and points into the distance.
“Three of them are under the water now,” he says as I scour the shades of blue. “One baby and two adultos… and further behind them I can see two more.”
It’s certainly not the first time Pedro has hunted whales, but you wouldn’t know it to look at him. Despite a seafaring tradition of more than three generations plus hauling tourists along the waves every day, he still wears that expression of childlike wonder.
It’s not the first time Pedro has hunted whales…
He’s right, of course, and I stare, mesmerized as sleek-skinned pilot whales rise out of the water. At first glance, they look like giant dolphins, with their glistening dorsal fins, curved leaps and semi-wicked glints in their eyes. Water falls off them like showers of diamonds, yet their chunky body shape still suggests that someone got their proportions wrong.
It’s only when we find a school of dolphins half an hour later that the difference becomes clear. Dolphins are sprightlier, bouncier, faster. They are also much, much smaller.
Pilot Whales, I learn, are 6 metres long at birth and can grow to weigh 3 tons. In a happy change from many whale-related stories, they are not critically endangered, nor even under threat.
Water falls off them like diamonds.
The same cannot be said for the fishing business that Pedro grew up with in Puerto de Santiago. His grandfather practiced line-caught tuna fishing, a dolphin-friendly but backbreaking method of heaving the hulk of a tuna fish onto a small boat by means of a single line. Days started at four in the morning and drove on until eight at night for all but two months of the year.
Now that tradition has gone.
“Contamination,” says Pedro, when I ask. “And trawler nets.”
We both gaze across the perfect sky and cliffs that frame the Atlantic Ocean. Would Pedro have preferred to be a fisherman?
He pauses for a moment. “Fishing is hard work, very hard work. It is also very good for the body, good for the form.” He pats his stomach and bellows with laughter.
He pauses for a moment. “Everything has to change.”
Seagulls swoop from overhead to snatch food from his crewmate’s outstretched hands.
“We have to change,” Pedro tells me. “Everything has to change. It is typical, it is life.” He hands me a whale-watching certificate, smiles and then saunters down to encourage the seagulls.
DIY Dolphin & Whale Watching
Pedro is the captain of Nashira Uno. The Maritima Acantilados group organizes Whale & Dolphin Cruises from Los Gigantes in Tenerife. For the suspicious among you, I paid for this myself. That isn’t always the case but the one constant is that I say when it’s been subsidised.