Whaling was a major source of income for Azoreans. Whalers used the traditional, 18th century hunting methods, using hand-thrown harpoons and lances well into the 20th century. Whaling was a very large part of the economy in the archipelago and almost everyone has a whaler in their family. The European Union formally adopted a ban on commercial whaling in 1982 and Portugal was obliged to implement the ban when it joined the EU in 1986. The whale factories were closed and in 1987 the last sperm whale was caught in the Azores. Now the Azores is one of the best places in the world for whale-watching and many of the old lookouts, once used to spot whales for hunting, are now used to spot whales for whale-watching tours.
We pass the Museo du Baleeiros (Whalers’ Museum) in Lajes do Pico. The museum was officially opened in 1988 and contains three original nineteenth century boat houses, many original tools and a whaling-themed library.
We continue our tour of the island and head to São Roque do Pico. This is the main town on the north of the island and consists of two distinct parts; São Roque itself and Cais do Pico, named after the long quay. Cais do Pico has become the island’s most important container transhipment harbour and second most important fishing port after Madalena.
We take a wander along the old quay which is still used by local fishermen. In front of the quay is the old whaling factory and nearby is the island’s second whaling museum, Museu da Industria Baleeira. Along the main street in front of the quay there are various local businesses offering whale-watching tours. Whaling has now been replaced by sustainable tourism dedicated to the observation and research the 28 species of marine mammals identified in the Azores.
In the town we pass the Convento de São Pedro da Alcântara and its adjacent church that was built during the first quarter of the 18th century. The church is beautiful and hosts an almost completely guilded main altar. The town is very quaint and we wander through the narrow streets until we find somewhere to stop for lunch.