Pilot whales may not be the biggest members of the species in the sea but it is still a special moment when you see them breaking through the surface of the water within almost touching distance.
In the pod that I saw last week, off the coast of Tenerife and heading towards La Gomera, there were fourteen, although there may have been others on the other side of the boat that I didn’t see.
They come to the surface in the mornings, one half of their brains asleep and the other half keeping them floating and breathing. Later in the day and at night they will dive deep below the Atlantic in search of squid, their main source of food.
On the way out to see the whales we had passed a pod of dolphins who were much more lively and at any other time would have been a highlight, but when you’ve seen the playful Fungi off the coast of Kerry his Canarian cousins seemed quite placid by comparison.
Tenerife is probably not the first place a nature lover would think of as a destination of choice as it tends to conjour up images of Brits and Paddy’s with blistered skin lying on a beach after a night out on the rip in a bar called the King George or The Dubliner.
And looking back towards land from the sea where the whales and dolphins swam much of the west coast of Tenerife is a high-rise carbuncle on a barren, rocky landscape.
However, this island, and the entire archipeligo is the result of volcanic eruptions from deep below the waves of the Atlantic and parts of the surface is still smoking and occasionally blasted open by subterranean activity.
From the sea if you look to the north of Playa de los Americas, where most of the mass-tourism activity is situated, you can see Los Gigantes – huge cliffs with gorges cut deep into them.
In one of the gorges is Masca, reached by land via a narrow twisting road that requires stamina to drive along. The village was cut off from the rest of the island until the early 1970s when the road was first built.
Terraces cut into the hillside still provide crops of figs, almonds, aubergines, sweet potatoes and onions and high on the slopes Monte de Aqua, which dominates the skyline inland, lies a rain forest with 20 different species of tree, including pine and laurel.
Masca lies 700 metres above sea level and is popular with hikers who follow a trail from the village down to the shore past darting lizards and below the occasional sea eagle.
A few kilometres north you can see how the island’s mountain range has created two distinct micro-climates that has resulted in a distinctive north south divide with lush green vegetation to the north compared dry arid land to the south where cacti thrive among the blackened contours of lava flows.
At 7,800 metres Mount Tiede dominates Tenerife and on my plane journey in was my first sight of the island as its summit poked through the clouds that covered the rest of the island.
It sits in the centre if El Tiede national park where brown, flecked with black lava flows from the recent (geologically recent in the sense of the last couple of hundred years) sprawl across the landscape.
A huge desert plain stretches out before Mount Tiede, with craggy, petrified magma and scattered cacti recalling the landscape of a thousand American westerns.
In fact this landscape did feature in the film 1,000,000 Years BC in which Raquel Welsh battled the facts of history and some dodgy special effects as placid, tongue-flicking iguanas where cinematically enhanced to make them look like enormous flesh-eating dinosaurs.
Again lizards can be seen darting between the rocks and there more than 200 other species of bird and mammal roaming the volcanic landscape including a rather sinister species of bat known in Spanish as ‘senores de la noche’ – lords of the night.