Tag: nature

The Azores: A Captivating Destination for Nature Lovers

The Azores A Captivating Destination for Nature Lovers

There are some truly hidden gems in the world. The Azores fall into this category. Located in the Atlantic Ocean some 1,500 km west of Lisbon, Portugal, the Azores are an archipelago of nine volcanic islands, with breathtaking landscapes.

About a third of the world’s cetaceans (dolphins, whales, and related animals) have made the Azores home, or call in on their way to surrounding waters. This makes the waters of the Azores one of the best locales for dolphin and whale watching.

All year round, you can watch sperm whales, bottlenose, and common dolphins as they pass through the Azores waters on their migratory crossings. And between April and June, humpbacks, blue whales, and orcas cross these waters.

The views on the Azores are stunning, incredible, and breathtaking. There are scenes of green pastures, blue lakes bordered by green laurel and cedar forests, crater lakes, caverns, and columns of molten rock.

The nine Azores islands are São Miguel, São Jorge, Pico, Graciosa, Santa Maria, Terceira, Corvo, Flores, and Faial. Each of the islands has its own charm and special features. The islands of Graciosa, Corvo and Flores are UNESCO-designated biosphere reserves.

So, what activities draw you to the Azores?

Whale and dolphin watching

You could say the Azores are synonymous with whale and dolphin watching. The larger of the Azores islands organize well-run whale watching tours. Be ready to observe a code of conduct that governs the activity. For instance, there is a limit on how long you can follow a whale and on the number of boats that can gather near an animal. The direction from which you must approach the animals is also specified.


The nutrient-rich waters of the Azores support life, and this is what draws the whales there, makings the Azores one of the best diving spots in the Atlantic. Between May and October, the waters warm up to between 62°F (17°C) and 75°F (24°C). With visibility at 100 feet (30 meters), this provides ideal diving conditions.

The waters harbor a rich mix of species. You can find barracudas, turtles, lobsters, eels, marlin, tuna, sharks, and countless other smaller species. Diving centers organize excursions and offer equipment for hire.

Canyoning, kayaking, windsurfing, and other water sports

The many waterfalls cascading into ravines in the islands present the perfect backdrop for exceptional canyoning. The islands of São Miguel, Flores, São Jorge, and Santa Maria are equipped for the canyoning enthusiast – from the beginner to the expert.

In addition, you are welcome to enjoy boarding on the water, kayaking, windsurfing, and other water sports.


The islands teem with hiking trails. Pick a clear day to hike up Mt Pico (2,350 meters [7,713 feet] above sea level), Portugal’s highest peak. Catch the sunrise or sunset from atop the mountain to crown your hiking experience.

São Jorge has exciting hiking trails, but for an exhilarating experience go hiking on Flores, the westernmost point of Europe. Even for Azoreans accustomed to the beauty of the islands, the sights of Flores are outstanding.

Exploring the volcanic landscape

The Azores A Captivating Destination for Nature Lovers

Explore the dramatic volcanic rock formations, craters, caves, cones, hot springs, and other mysteries in the topography of the islands. At Pico island, you can go down one of the world’s longest lava tubes to view stalagmites that resemble lengths of rope, benches, and balls.

At São Miguel, you might even want to witness Azoreans cooking their traditional cizido, a meat and vegetable stew, using thermal heat from fumaroles.

Horse riding and mountain biking

The Azores cater to mountain bikers and horse riders. You may choose to ride on ultra-technical tracks or go easy on scenic and gentle lakeside circuits. You can rent bikes on most of the islands, while São Miguel, Faial, and Terceira boast of horse stables.

If your visit to the Azores coincides with a paragliding festival, join in and get a panoramic view of these stunning islands.

Final thoughts

Many visitors pick the summer months of July and August to tour the Azores. The weather is good at this time but the sites may be crowded. However, since the Azores experience mild weather, you can escape the crowds by visiting in late spring (April and May) and early autumn (September). In addition, you will enjoy better discounts during these off-peak seasons.

Declining Penguin Populations Turn Heads Toward Coastal Currents

Magellanic penguins are one of the few species of penguins that live in warmer, non-polar waters. They breed along the coasts of Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands. In the winter, these penguins take to the sea and spend the colder months along the shallower continental shelf. Recent observations of river outflow have shown that oceanic winds and currents can mean good or bad winters for the penguins, but only the females.

Near Threatened

Ecologists and biologists have turned their attention toward these tiny penguins in recent years due to human threats to their breeding grounds. Although there are still millions of Magellanic penguins along the South American coastlines, oil spills pose a hazard to large breeding colonies, particularly along the shores of Argentina. Every year, 20,000 adults and 22,000 chicks succumb to oil spills.

Climate change has also caused a decline in the Magellanic penguin population. Warming oceans have displaced fish populations, driving them away from their historic ranges. During the breeding season, this means that hunting penguins have to swim up to 50 miles farther to find food while their mates sit starving on their nests.

A River Flows Through It

The Rio de la Plata meets the South Atlantic Ocean between Argentina and Uruguay, dumping nutrient-rich water and sediments into the surrounding sea. Wind patterns along the coast disperse the outflow. The microorganisms in the water attract fish. Low winds mean that the fish and their food supply stay relatively close to the mouth of the river, whereas stronger current carries them along the coast for miles, dispersing the fish.


Magellanic penguins feed on these fish during their winters at sea. When the winds are low and the food is concentrated, the penguins are healthier-looking in the springtime and more fit to have a productive mating season. If currents thin the fish populations, the penguins suffer, though scientists noted that only the female Magellanic penguins seemed to feel the effects.

Biological Differences

Like many species, Magellanic penguins exhibit sexual dimorphism, which is a visual difference between the two sexes. Male penguins of this species are larger than the females, and scientists believe that may play a key role in discovering why the males don’t seem as affected by changes in the currents. The larger male penguins are thought to have more stamina and a greater ability to hunt at depths that the females cannot reach. As a result, they have access to more food when the river outflow is dispersed than the female penguins do.

Studying the habits of these little birds has been a challenge because of where they spend their winters. Satellite technology and digital trackers are making it easier to scientists to understand what Magellanic penguins do when they’re away from land. Before biologists compared the satellite imagery of the Rio de la Plata with the penguins’ unusual health fluctuations, the reason was left to much tricker guesswork. As we continue to blend technology into all facets of science, we are better able to study the world around us and understand how we can help it as habitats change and the climate shifts.

For now, the population seems to be doing alright. That’s not the case for other wildlife in the seas, with populations decreasing by up to 50% over the past forty years.

Life Is Thriving In Earth’s Deep Sea Circle Of Hell

In one of the most hostile environments on planet Earth, life perseveres. Immense pressure, frigid temperatures, and geysers of incredibly hot fluid define this seemingly-inhospitable environment at the bottom of the world’s deepest ocean trench. How do researchers study such an ecosystem, and what could possibly survive in a biosphere like that? While getting there is far from easy, the abundance of life is truly amazing.

Flooring Facts And Figures

The Mariana Trench is the deepest ocean trench and the lowest point on the surface of the Earth, 7,000 feet lower than Mount Everest would reach if you turned it on its head. The bottom of the trench is 36,000 feet below sea level, where the last rays of light faded entirely from view some 23,000 feet above. The water down in the Challenger Deep lingers near freezing all year-round.

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In the Mariana Trench, the water is a brisk 34 degrees Fahrenheit, and the pressure of all that water is enough to crush a human being in an instant. The only sources of warmth are hydrothermal vents, which spew superheated water and minerals as the ocean meets the magma seeping up from the mantle below. These vents can reach temperatures of 750 degrees Fahrenheit, but the water cannot boil because of the incredible pressure.

Strange Creatures Of The Deep

Anything living down in the depths of the Mariana Trench must be able to withstand the extremes. Millions of years of evolution have led to the development of many strange-looking creatures that dwell in the inky blackness of the depths below the abyss. Among those creatures are fish, like the frilled shark and the deep sea hatchetfish, which make up some of the deep ocean’s frighteningly toothy predators. The frilled shark has a pale, eel-like body with a flexible skeleton and two rows of widely-spaced, needle-like teeth. While it is creepy-looking, it seems relatively normal when compared to the hatchetfish, whose body is much taller than it is wide. The incredible thing about the hatchetfish is its ability to produce its own glow, called bioluminescence, to match the amount of light filtering down from above, so that if viewed from below, it remains unseen.


Most of the creatures dwelling in the depths of the trench, however, are invertebrates. Tubeworms most famously make their homes alongside the boiling hot hydrothermal vents, feeding off of the mineral-rich liquid they spew. Another type of deep-sea worm that makes its home in the Mariana Trench is the zombie worm, which feeds off of animal detritus, including bones, by excreting acid that breaks down the food into easily-absorbable nutrients.

It’s Not All Bad

Not everything that lives at the bottom of the ocean is terrifying. Sea cucumbers are goofy little blobs that live on the ocean floor and eat plankton and whatever leftovers they can sweep up from the sand. Sea stars also make their home in the dark waters, feeling along the ground for anything good to eat. The fleshy, skeleton-less bodies of these little critters have no problem surviving in the chilly, high-pressure depths.

Finally, the cutest creatures you’ll find in the Challenger Deep is also one of the smallest. Members of the fantastic group of living things called extremophiles, tardigrades love the boiling-hot waters near hydrothermal vents. These little organisms often referred to as water bears can survive just about anywhere, including the vacuum of space. They are as resilient as they are adorable, and they don’t mind the weather down there one bit.

Check out these other strange creatures that live at the bottom of the world’s deepest trench.