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Tenerife: The conservation of cetaceans makes it Europe's first UNESCO Whale Heritage Site

The Canary Islands’ deep water and mild climate attract whales, dolphins and porpoises year-round, making it one of the world's best places for whale watching, and now recognised by UNESCO

The Canary Islands is one of the world’s best spots for watching whales, dolphins and porpoises – known collectively as cetaceans.

The marine strip between Tenerife’s west coast and the east coast of neighbouring La Gomera has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for cetacean conservation. The recognition makes the islands’ Europe’s first Whale Heritage area with the Responsible Watching certification, a distinction granted by the World Cetacean Alliance.

For the last two decades, sightings of cetaceans have been regulated thanks to legislation promoted by the Council of Tenerife. Mercedes Reyes, a biologist and co-president of the Association of Entrepreneurs for the Sighting and Conservation of Cetaceans of Tenerife, says, ‘In Spain, cetaceans are protected by law, but in Tenerife we have a pioneering code of conduct for cetacean-watching. In fact, there is an official surveillance boat for this sporting activity since the boats that carry it out need a permit.’

This code of conduct encourages responsible whale watching as it creates a protection zone of 500m, where only three boats can be at a time. It also prohibits boats getting closer than 60m to whales.

See bottlenose dolphins, whales and loggerhead turtles

A loggerhead turtle (Shutterstock)

A loggerhead turtle (Shutterstock)

Throughout the year, 26 of the world’s 79 species of cetaceans, such as dolphins, orcas or blue whales, pass through the islands. Ten species are unique to the Canary Islands, including the bottlenose dolphin and loggerhead turtle, while a colony of more than 500 pilot whales live year-round off Tenerife’s west coast, between Faro de Rasca and Punta de Teno.

Chloé Yzoard, a research biologist at the Department of Bioecomac of the University of La Laguna, says, ‘In just one day we’ve seen nine species of cetaceans (around Tenerife and the Canary Islands) and that’s incredible. You can’t see that many in one day anywhere else in the world. These mammals are carnivores and only feed when there is a guarantee of a healthy environment, indicating that it is a well-preserved marine area wherever they are.’

As well as being a whale watching spot, Tenerife also has two other UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Teide National Park and the city of La Laguna – as well as 60 km of waking trails.

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