Afonso Castanheira is an artist, conservationist and surfer known for sculpting life-size whales and dolphins from ocean-dejected plastic under the artistic name Sea-Groove.

In his latest exhibition, which opened on 31 March, he celebrates whales, where once it was a centre for their extinction.

When he was two years old, strolling along Baleal beach with his father and older brother, Afonso Castanheira came upon a majestic whale washed ashore. The local authorities were called; they dragged the whale and threw it in the trash. Afonso’s father, journalist and author José Pedro Castanheira took a picture of the scene and wrote an article about the sad way the authorities treated the whale. Thirty-three years later, Afonso is carrying the torch, devoting his activism, music and art to the preservation of marine wildlife on the central coast of Portugal.

Author: Daniel Espírito Santo;

“My music and my art are all about the human connection with nature, that’s why my artistic name is Sea Groove- the energy and the pulse of the sea- and also when I create my music, all my lyrics are about that, about the connection between us and the nature,” says Castanheira.

Afonso grew up in Lisbon, and since he can remember, he would regularly visit his family’s house in Baleal and surf its beaches. He studied music (double bass and jazz) at the University of Évora, which took him inland and away from the ocean. This made him understand just how vital the ocean is for his well-being. “I could not stay there, Evora is in the middle of Alentejo, and I could not stay there for more than five days because I need the sea,” Castanheira recalls, “so every weekend I’d come here (to Baleal) and go back to Évora.”

Natural beauty

Drawn by its natural beauty, the sea and the surf, Afonso settled in Baleal after graduation eleven years ago. “I came here to create a studio. You have nature, you have the sea, you can breathe, I love to surf- you have inspiration everywhere,” says Castanheira.

On his daily beach walks in Baleal, Afonso would increasingly see waste washed ashore, and- as the region protrudes into the Atlantic- he sometimes found injured migrating birds, turtles, or dolphins. Gradually his beach walks became beach clean-ups and a scan for stranded marine creatures. His actions for injured birds and the establishment of the NGO Mestres do Oceano (Masters of the Ocean) have made him known locally and nationally. “It is already over five or six years since I started helping birds. Most of the time, people call me, ‘We have an injured bird’. This is why I created Mestres do Oceano. To create a centre for maritime birds and maybe in the future for turtles and dolphins. We need to do that because there are a lot of injured birds, and the closest place to treat them is in Aveiro, which is more than two hours away,” Castanheira explains.

Most of Castanheira´s daily acts of care towards the wildlife of Baleal go unnoticed by those who do not know him. However, the national media has covered some of Castanheira´s activities over the last few years. Most recently (January 2023), he discovered a flock of hundreds of puffins stranded and dying on the beach and was able to save many of them, working together with local authorities. In another remarkable instance caught on video, Castanheira saved a beached dolphin- shepherding it back to the water where other dolphins await. Yet, despite the increasing awareness, according to Castanheira, there is still a long way to go. “What we need is to educate people to respect the place and to help the authorities to do their work,” says Castanheira.

Artistic nature

Casanheira’s artistic nature and aspiration to promote awareness for the cause of marine wildlife preservation resulted in his project to sculpt and exhibit life-size sea mammals. A project realised under his artistic name- Sea Groove. “I do this kind of sculpture with only plastic we collect from the ocean, and most of it is fishermen’s gear,” says Castanheira.

This ongoing project began with his ten-metre whale sculpture exhibition in Lisbon two years ago. Since then, he has been sculpting and exhibiting sea mammals in different locations in Portugal. This project reached an important stepping stone with the latest exhibition of his most recent sculpture of a five-metre Minke whale in the parish of Atouguia da Baleia. A parish within the Peniche municipality, formerly known for hunting whales for commerce and industry.

Author: Yariv Kav;

“Atouguia da Baleia was a big point of hunting whales; even some houses there were built with whale bones, so it’s very nice for the first time they made a (whale) museum there,” says Castanheira. His latest exhibited sculpture, Baleia Desminke, reflects his call to awareness of human actions’ impact on whale conservation.

“It's a message about the connection of community and nature,” Castanheira concludes.

The Sea-Groove Minke whale sculpture exhibition takes place in the Interpretive Center of Atouguia da Baleia, the Church of São José, between the 31st of March and the 30th of May, 2023. The general whale exposition will be open until the 31st of December 2023, including centuries-old whale bones and historical artefacts and documentation.

Exposição “A BALEIA EM ATOUGUIA” | CM Peniche (


With a passion for surfing and writing, Yariv Kav moved to Portugal´s wave capital from his native Israel. He was awarded a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Manchester back when Oasis was still cool, and a diploma with distinction from the London School of Journalism in Feature and Freelance Writing. Loves travel, languages and human stories.

Yariv Kav