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Whale Watching Season Starts Off Brazil's North-East Coast

08/21/2014 - 09h32

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GUSTAVO SIMON
SPECIAL ENVOY TO CARAVELAS (STATE OF BAHIA)

With cameras in their hands and their sights set on the sea, 14 tourists crowd the stern of a catamaran, anxiously looking for a dark spot in the seawater.

The sound similar to a bored sigh is enough to change the mood aboard: cameras start snapping, eyes scan the horizon, bodies move around, shouts of "How beautiful!" and "Over there!" can be heard - even from the tour guides.

The "sigh" that can be heard is actually a water spray that is expelled by humpback whales as they reach the surface to breathe.

Folha went to the southern coast off the state of Bahia to take part in a whale watching tour.

Humpback whales can be spotted off the Brazilian coast - especially off Bahia state - between July and November every year, when they reproduce.

At this time tourists will almost definitely spot humpback whales during tours. Conservation programs and a hunting ban have had such an impact on the growth in the humpback population that, last May, this species was taken off the endangered species list in Brazil.

The month of August marks the beginning of the high season for whale watching off Bahia coast, which lasts until September.

ABROLHOS

In addition to whale watching, tourists can visit Abrolhos, a cluster of islands 70km from the mainland. It is one of the highlights among the tours that leave from Caravelas, around 880km from Salvador, the capital of the state of Bahia.

The five islands are home to every single species of corals that exist in Brazil, and they also are at the heart of the first national marine park, created in 1983, the only one of its kind in Brazil - and one that stretches out to Timbebas coral reef off Alcobaça.

To reach the park tourists must pay a fee of US$ 15 in addition to the boat trip there. Once they reach the cluster of islands the clear waters soon reveal the local biodiversity, considered one of the richest in the southern part of the Atlantic Ocean.

From the boat it is possible to spot fish, sea-turtles, jelly fish, starfish and countless birds.

They dominate each part of the cluster of islands: Sueste is where brown boobies can be spotted; yellowed-browed woodpeckers crowd around Guarita; frigatebirds stay at Redonda; Siriba, the only place where tourists can disembark, is home to masked boobies.

Birds are less common at Santa Bárbara, where there is a lighthouse and marine life centers as well as the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICM Bio in the Portuguese acronym).

On the tracks, at Siriba and Santa Bárbara - a special authorization concedes powers to visit the latter - it is important to protect oneself from the sun: there are very few trees.

Closer to the islands diving (with an oxygen tank or snorkel) is another sought after activity. This is another way of witnessing the local biodiversity from a new perspective.

If you have the time, an overnight tour on the waters of Abrolhos can be booked. Instead of returning to the continent, the tour allows more time for diving (which includes a nighttime dive) and a visit to Santa Bárbara.

Translated by CRISTIANE COSTA LIMA

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