Facts about the Humpback Whale
Whale migration from the cold waters of Alaska when they swim to warmer climates in Mexico occurs during the fall months and then back north again in the spring. Known for their beautiful songs, Humpbacks are black or gray with white areas on the underbellys, chest, tail (also known as a fluke), and their long flippers that resemble wings. Addtionally, each whale has a unique pattern, markings and other features on their fluke which allow them to be individually indentified.
They belong to a group that is known as baleen whales denoting an anatomical feature supporting their feeding method in which water is taken into their pleated throats and expand to accommodate the volume of water. Baleen plates filter their main diet: small fish and plankton. With several different feeding methods, which, in some they work as a team encircling schools of fish with bubble walls and then swimming through the middle of the area where the fish have been herded. They're found in all oceans but the group we see in Puerto Escondido spends their time during the summer in the North Pacific off the coast of California.
As the most endangered whale, they have not become extinct as happened in the 1600's due to hunting of Gray whales in the North Atlantic. There are other areas such as Korea and Japan where the Gray whale population has come close to extinction. Thankfully, due to conservation and protection efforts mainly attributable to the international agreement of 1946 to stop hunting whales. The Blue whale, due to its speed and size, escaped extinction before modern harpoon cannons were invented. In 1966 they too gained international protection and remain on the endangered species list. It is estimated that the current worldwide population has increased to approximately 15,000. For perspective, it is estimated that 29,649 blue whales were taken at its peak year of 1931. Approximately 2,000 blue whales migrate from California to Mexico and Costa Rica in the autumn months.
Interestingly, in 1998 the Native American Group, the Makah Indians had a treaty, dating back to 1855, reinstated whereby they are able to take 20 whales over the following 5 years. They are an integral part of the Makah culture but the reinstatement has caused controversy with environmentalists who fear this will encourage the hunting of other marine mammals.
Blue whales and gray whales are also known to winter in the Pacific off the coast of California and Mexico. Gray's typically have the longest migration routes of all whales as their favorite feeding grounds are far north in Artic areas. Blue whales are the largest mammal in the world with reported sightings 100 feet long though the average seems to be between 75 and 85 feet long with a heart that is as big as a volkswagen bug. They are baleen whales with grooves extending from the throat to the navel.
As mammals, they nurse and provide milk to their young typically for one to two years depending on the length of time it takes to be able to survive on their own.
Recent news about whales
The New York Times recently reported about the relationship and interactions between whales and humans. The first part of the article discusses how modern sonar, seismology tests and other noise pollution in the water are causing strandings, beached whales and unnecessary deaths. Results of the examinations showed bleeding around the brains and ears of the whales and it's speculated that, in an attempt to avoid the noise the whales rapidly ascended or descended resulting in the bends. Research from Baja's western coast indicates that gray whales are attempting to socially interact with humans. It is known that they teach and learn, can recognize their family and friends miles away with their unique communication and they demonstrate an ability to cooperate whether it is to catch food or defend themselves from predators and enemies such as orcas and pilot whales. In Baja, it is said, the gray whales will "come right up to boats, let people touch their faces, give them massages, rub their mouths and tongues."
Video of whales from our living room in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca Mexico- QuickTime req'd