You can find up to 21 different species of whales and dolphins in the waters of the island of Tenerife. From the gigantic blue whale to the fearsome orca, it is possible to spot any of them, although the most common are the Tropical Calderón and the Bottlenose Dolphin.

The crews of the boats of White Tenerife will help you to differentiate one species from another in the open sea, since at first sight it can be something complicated for people unfamiliar with these mammals, especially if they are not near the ship.

However, if you look at certain physical attributes, you can get close enough to distinguish the sighting species: size, shape of the head, dorsal fin, body and tail, body coloration and behavior.

The sighting of whales and dolphins on the south coast of the island of Tenerife is an activity that can be practiced all year round. The sea stretches between the islands of Tenerife and La Gomera, a small strip that is the point where there are more whale sightings in Europe and one of the most important on the planet. The cetaceans have chosen it as home because of the warmth (20º of annual average) and depth of its waters (up to 2,400 meters in some points) and for the delicacies found in them, endless colonies of squid, fish and organic material.

Resident species: All year round in a fixed area

Bottlenose dolphin  (Tursiops truncatus)

This is the most well-known species of dolphin and can easily be spotted just off the coast of Tenerife. Their average length is 2.7 metres (8.8 feet) for males and 2.5 metres (8.2 feet) for females, with the oldest individuals measuring over 3 metres (10 feet). They live in groups of 10 to 30 members known as pods and their backs are a dark grey colour which grows gradually lighter towards the belly.

Short-finned pilot whale  (Globicephala macrorinchus)

It is also known as the pilot whale and belongs to the Delphinidae family. This toothed cetacean (Odontoceti) owes its classification as a whale to its size: it can grow to well over 5 metres (16 feet) long and weigh between 900 and 1,800 kg (1 to 2 tons). This is the easiest species to come across on a whale watching outing in Tenerife.

Occasional visitors: All year round at unspecified frequencies

Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis)

This species can be identified by the spots that cover most of their skin once they reach adulthood. They form large pods and are very active. They are most often spotted between autumn and late spring. Weight: 60-80kg (130-175 lbs). Length: up to 2.3 metres (7.5 feet).

Striped dolphin   (Stenella coeruleoalba)

With its bluish colour and stripes that run from its eyes almost down to its tail, this dolphin is very easy to identify. They often steer clear of boats but they are fast swimmers and you might glimpse them jumping out of the water. Weight: 100-130 kg (220-285 lbs). Length: 2.7 metres (8.8 feet).

Risso's dolphin  (Grampus griseus)

Morphologically, this mammal is very similar to the pilot whale but its skin is grey in colour, or even closer to white in some adult specimens, which contrasts with the dark colour of its dorsal fin. Weight: 300-600kg (660-1320 lbs).

Rough-toothed dolphin   (Steno bredanensis)

The ridges and wrinkles on their teeth and their long heads are the most significant features of this species. They are darker than bottlenose dolphins and have light spots on their skin. They group together in pods of 6 to 10 members. Weight: up to 150kg (330 lbs). Length: up to 2.7 metres (8.8 feet).

Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera edeni)

It is similar in appearance to the sei whale, though the Bryde's whale is smaller and more robust, featuring a characteristic that is unique to this family: three ridges on the top of its head as opposed to one central ridge. Male specimens measure 13.7 metres (45 feet), while females measure 14.5 metres (47.5 feet) and can reach up to 15 metres (49 feet). Their backs are a dark bluish-grey to metallic grey colour, with slightly lighter sides and an even lighter throat and belly.

Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)

This species is the largest of the Odontoceti family and is as big as most whales. Its most notable features are its huge head, grooved dark skin and small dorsal fin. It can go for more than an hour without breathing in order to find food at depths of over 2,000 metres (6,500 feet). They are most often seen in springtime. Weight: 13,500-54,000 kg (15-60 tons). Length: 11-18 metres (36-59 feet).

Seasonal/migratory species: Visible at some times of the year

Common dolphin  (Delphinus delphis)

The common dolphin can be found in most of the planet's oceans. It is easy to identify due to the special yellow markings on its sides. They are most often seen in winter. Weight: 80-130 kg (175-285 lbs). Length: up to 2.5 metres (8.3 feet).

Sei whale   (Balaenoptera borealis)

Male sei whales can measure up to 17.1 metres (56 feet), while females reach up to 18.6 metres (61 feet) and can weigh as much as 25,000 kg (25 tons). They are similar to the Bryde's whale but bigger, darker and more slender, and with a single ridge on their head. The proportion of the head is similar to that of the Bryde's whale, ranging from 1/4 to 1/5 of its total length, but looks narrower from above and has a well-defined ridge. The overall colouring is dark grey or brown, almost black, often resembling galvanised metal, except on the belly, which has a white colouring that varies in size.

Common rorqual  (Balaenoptera physalus)

Also known as the fin whale, its most prominent feature are its markings. The top and sides of the body are black or a dark greyish-brown, which fades gradually into white on the belly. The colour of the head, however, is asymmetrical. The right side of its face is light grey with a white jaw, matching the colouring of the throat and belly. The left side of its face is darker, with a dark grey jaw and throat. It also has a series of colour markings across the width of its back, behind its head, the most distinctive being shaped like an upside-down V, which is more visible on the right side.

False killer whale  (Pseudorca crassidens)

This cetacean has a slender body and a dorsal fin that can measure up to 30 cm (a foot) high. Two of its most distinctive features are the bend and elbow-like bulge half way along each of its flippers. The false killer whale is dark grey to black all over. It can grow to up to 6 metres (19.6 feet), weigh up to 1,500 kg (1.5 tons) and live as long as 60 years. They are sociable animals who live in pods of 10 to 50 members.

Rarely-seen species

Blainville's beaked whale   (Mesoplodon densirostris)

Cuvier's beaked whale   (Ziphius cavirostris)

Gervais' beaked whale (Mesoplodon europaeus)

Pygmy sperm whale   (Kogia breviceps)

Fraser's dolphin    (Lagenodelphis hosei)

Blue whale    (Balaenoptera musculus)

Humpback whale  (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Common minke whale    (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

Orca   (Orcinus orca)

Fun facts about whales and dolphins

The way to tell a shark from a cetacean is to look at its tail: cetaceans have horizontal tails, while sharks have vertical tail fins.

The short-finned pilot whale (or simply pilot whale) and the orca (incorrectly named the 'killer whale' because it feeds on other cetaceans) are toothed whales or Odontoceti measuring over 4 metres (13 feet) long.

The short-finned pilot whale can dive down to depths of up to 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) for more than 20 minutes. Its scientific name, Globicephala, refers to the globe-like shape of its head.

The waters of south-west Tenerife are Europe's largest mating ground for the bottlenose dolphin.

Spotted dolphins form pods of hundreds of individuals. The young ones can be mistaken for bottlenose dolphins.

The common dolphin is one of the fastest cetaceans, reaching speeds of up to 45 km/h (28 mph).

The striped dolphin can jump up to 7 metres (23 feet) high – that's three times the length of its body.

The members of a pod of rough-toothed dolphins surface in synchrony to breathe.

Sperm whales can have up to 50 teeth, which can individually weigh up to 1 kg (2.2 pounds).

Blue whales are the largest animal ever known to have existed on Earth, and can grow up to 33 metres (108 feet) long. They can eat six to eight tons of food a day and their calves require 100 litres of milk a day.