Cabo Whale Watching Behaviors Guide
The whale watching season in Cabo San Lucas marks the arrival of many species of whales to their winter mating and birthing grounds. The Pacific coast of the Baja peninsula and the Sea of Cortez become home to thousands of whales for approximately 4 months every year. Humpback and Gray Whales can be encountered with guaranteed regularity. During the mating season, whales are often observed performing magnificent feats of physical prowess to impress their potential mates. It is into this amazing spectacle that Whale Watch Cabo offers tours for visitors in Cabo San Lucas each year. We hope having a better understanding of what they whales are doing will enrich your whale watching experience.
Whale Watchers Guide to Whale Behaviors | Cabo San Lucas | Mexico
A whale breaches when it jumps with 40 – 100% of its body leaving the water. They shoot up almost vertically and turn in mid air, usually landing on their side or back. Breaching whales produce large splashes upon reentry into the water, which can be seen from miles away. This is the ultimate maneuver to watch a whale do, and is regularly seen during the whale watch season in Cabo San Lucas.
As whales are mammals they must surface for air to breathe, the strong exhalation from its blow hole comes out with a blast, clearing all seawater and creating a cloud of mist. The cloud can be seen for miles and the sound is quite loud as well. Some whale species have a very distinct spout, which makes it easier to recognize the different species. Gray whale spout a V-shaped pattern. Humpback whales have a bushy spout pattern.
This display of the fluke up during a whales dive makes distinguishing between different species of whales much easier. It is the best way to identify an individual Humpback whale as the markings on the underside of each Humpback whales fluke is unique. Seeing the fluke up in a magnificent display depends on the species and the whales state of relaxation with its environment.
A fluke down dive is much like the fluke up only the underside surface of the tail (fluke) is less exposed and folded over. A common misperception is that this means the whale is diving deep, which may not be the case. A peduncle arch is more indicative of a deep dive for a whale. Fluke up and down dives are usually made for smaller shallow dives, the raised fluke adds gravitational speed to their movement.
During a pectoral or flipper slap, which is seen mostly by humpback whales, the whale will lie on their side or back at the surface and repeatedly slap their long fins on the top of the water. This is one of the many behaviors that we commonly see here in Cabo and may be a female Humpback signaling her interest in mating.
Lobtailing or tail slapping consist of forcefully slapping the tail onto the surface of the water, creating a loud cracking sound. The whale hovers at the surface, often belly up, with the tail standing up vertically over the ocean while slapping their tail fluke repeatedly against the ocean surface. It’s common to see whales lobtailing dozens of times in a row.
Would you like to see what the whales are doing while they are underwater? It seems the whales may feel the same about us. This is called a ‘Spy Hop’. In performing a spy hop the whale will maneuver vertically and slowly extend its fore body from the surface, lifting its head out of the water often to the level of the eyes. At times it may rotate its body to turn its head slowly ‘spying’ on the surrounding air environment.
A head slap or Lunge is performed while the whale is moving forward, it brings its head up out of the water and then forcefully brings the head down on the surface making a large splash. This behavior is often seen in the midst of a mating competition. The males often inflate their mouths with sea water to look bigger or may even drop their head down onto a competing rival as a show of aggression.
One of the more powerful and aggressive behaviors a whale may perform is a ‘Peduncle Throw’. This is when the whale powerfully throws the lower portion of its body, including its tail flukes sideways above the surface of the water. A particularly impressive thing to see, commonly associated with male Humpbacks vying for the attention of a female during mating season, it says ‘back off’ to other potential suitors.
This is seen just before the whale makes a deep descent. The whale will force its back out of the water in order to make use of gravity and perform a more vertical descent. This is often a sad thing to see when whale watching because they can stay down for 20 minutes or more at a time. Fortunately, during whale season in Cabo there are so many whales here during the cabo whale watch season that we can easily find other whales nearby.
Read more about responsibly encountering the Humpback Whales and Gray Whales with Whale Watch Cabo’s two tour options in Cabo San Lucas on small group Whale Watching Tours and Private Boat Whale Watching Tours. We hope to have you join us soon on our whale watching tours here in Cabo San Lucas.