HUMPBACK WHALES IN CABO SAN LUCAS
Humpback Whales are the species most commonly encountered during the Cabo San Lucas Whale watching season. These Humpbacks are members of the North Eastern Pacific Population. This population has been estimated to now be over 18,000 whales and their annual growth rate estimated between 6-7%. The population is still considered vulnerable to extinction and is threatened by entanglement, ship strike, marine environment degradation, sound pollution, environmental pollution and more. Many of these threats are present here in Cabo San Lucas and Whale Watch Cabo is working with the Los Cabos Whale Conservation Society to improve conservation practices for the Humpback Whales.
CABO SAN LUCAS HUMPBACK WHALE MIGRATION
Humpback Whales migrate through the Cabo San Lucas area from November through April. Cabo’s location at the tip of the Baja peninsula provides a unique opportunity for both watching and studying Humpback Whales. There is a resident population of females that return each year to mate and calve, spending the entire winter season here. Cabo San Lucas is also the bottleneck for Humpback Whales that winter further to the south or in the Sea of Cortez. So we also see many whales migrating south in November and December, and north in March and April.
Humpback Whales are found in all oceans of the world and are a highly migratory species, the longest migration route measuring almost 7000 kilometers! The Humpbacks we see here migrate in spring to their summer feeding grounds which are spread between California and British Columbia.
The migration route of this population typically follows coastal features. It can take as few as 40 days for a Humpback to migrate, typically transiting at about 6 to 8 kilometers per hour. In the summer feeding grounds Humpback Whales will focus their days on feeding. They feed mostly on krill and small fish, consuming up to 1400kg in a day!
During the summer the Humpback must eat so much food to create blubber which it will use to migrate and sustain itself during the winter in Cabo San Lucas. The Whales do not feed here as there is very little to eat. That is hard on the males, but imaging the demands on a female with a 600kg baby who will grow up to 3cm a day!
HUMPBACK WHALE MATING AND CALVING
The Humpback Whale population in Cabo San Lucas reaches its peak in late December through January. During these weeks we often see the most mating activity. The Humpback Whale engages in what is called a Heat Run. When a female becomes receptive males start to follow her, soon forming a group of aggressive males who physically compete for the preferred position of Escort/pack leader. Once the female has successfully mated she will usually leave the area, migrating north to begin feeding in anticipation of the pregnancy.
Cabo San Lucas has a unique topographical profile, especially to the Sea of Cortez side. There are shallow protected bays that are used by pregnant females for calving and for nursing. Most births occur in early January, the later weeks of the Whale watching season are dominated by mother and baby pairs.
Baby Humpback whales typically weigh 500-600kg and are 3-4 meters in length. The baby Humpbacks in Cabo San Lucas are born a very light gray color and quickly darken up from exposure to the sun. The pectorals can be all white but will darken on top over the first year. The baby Humpback will feed exclusively from the mothers milk, growing up to 45kg a day!
HUMPBACK WHALE INFORMATION
The humpback whale is renowned for being one of the most energetic of the large whales with its spectacular breaching, lobtailing and flipper-slapping. Its scientific name Megaptera novaeangliae means ‘big winged New Englander’ because of its long flippers that look like wings when it breaches and because it was first described in New England. The species’ worldwide popularity on whale watch tours has helped to ensure that they are the focus of many conservation efforts. These measures have an umbrella effect and protect not only humpbacks but also many other species found in their protected areas, including species that experience the same risks.
The humpback whale can be distinguished by its large size, knobbly head and 5m long flippers. Individuals found in the Atlantic Ocean have mainly white flippers, but those found in the Pacific Ocean have a darker colouration on the upper surface of their flippers. Humpbacks in the southern hemisphere are generally more lightly coloured on the flanks. The bumps found on the head are called tubercles, and each one contains a single hair follicle, which may be used in a sensory capacity, much like a cat’s whiskers. The flukes are distinctive compared with any other whale species; the black and white markings and scalloped edges are as unique as a human fingerprint, allowing experts to name thousands of individuals around the world. The wavy edged flukes are raised during dives, enabling researchers to keep track of individual whales from year to year.
More than 250,000 humpbacks were killed in past whaling operations yet they are currently recovering in many places and were recently reclassified as Least Concern (IUCN 2008), although certain populations retain an IUCN Endangered status. There is also concern about the apparently discrete, small populations of humpback whales in various oceans for which status information is lacking. The main humpback populations are found in the North Atlantic, the North Pacific and the Indian Ocean and there is some mixing between different populations. Threats to humpback whale numbers worldwide include: habitat loss; chemical and noise pollution; entanglement in fishing nets and lack of food.
- Ballena Jorobada
- Male: 17m
- Female: 18.5m
- Calf: 5m
- Male: Unknown
- Female: 40,000 kg
- Calf: 900 kg
- Schooling fish
LC (Arabian Sea subpopulation and Oceania subpopulation listed as EN)
CITES Appendix: I
CMS Appendix: I