One must wonder if the whale heart is so big only to pump blood through a massive animal, or also to feel the biggest love for us, human fellows. Los Cabos whale season is one of the attractions that invite travellers around the globe to spend some time here, and February is the peak season to see whales in the Baja lagoons. During whale season, all you need is an ocean view and taste for patient contemplation, or as belief has it, a blessing from good fortune. In Baja you will see a Whale, breathing or jumping in all its grandiosity. If you don’t own your yacht, there are 2.5 hour tours leaving from the Marina in Cabo San Lucas three times per day dedicated to the whales.
One of the great migrations on the planet occurs along the Pacific Coast of North America as the magnificent Pacific Gray Whales migrate from the frozen Arctic, all the way to the isolated lagoons on the Pacific Coast of Baja California, Mexico. Gray whales migrate farther than any whale — or any mammal. Their 18,000-kilometer round trip (11,200 miles) takes them from the Bering Sea down the Pacific Coast of North America to Baja California and back to the Arctic. The whales may travel so close to the coast that people can see them, of course, those who venture for a close encounter will find that it’s quite common for mother whales to bring their babies right up to the boat for a closer look. Babies play together and they swim close to the tourist boats. There, again, one must wonder about the Universe and who we are in relation to each other, don’t you think?
Where is the Whale? In February, more babies are being born, and courting and mating continue. Late arrivals are completing their southward migration, but their southward migration starts in early October, when the days grow shorter and northern waters begin to freeze. By December, whales may be seen courting and mating, many are on the migration route, some may be arriving in the lagoons of Mexico. Pregnant females are in a hurry to get to Mexico, so they arrive first. Other whales might take their time getting there. When January comes, more gray whales arrive in the warm lagoons of Mexico and begin to give birth to their young. Whales continue the courting and mating along the migration route and in the lagoons. By March, mother and baby pairs dominate the lagoons and it’s time for males and newly-pregnant females to start their journey north. New mothers are doing “spring training” for the babies so they’ll be ready for their own first migration and they swim with babies against the currents near the mouth of the lagoon, helping them build strength and endurance. In April, most of the adults and older juveniles are heading north while the first northbound whales may already have reached Alaska. The arctic sea ice has melted and open seas mean huge food supplies are again available, but mothers and babies stay longer in the Mexican lagoons. The babies need time to build up strength, as well as blubber for energy and warmth when they reach colder waters. In May, most of the mothers have started the long journey north with their babies. They travel close to the coast where waters are shallower. They stop often to nurse and rest. Meanwhile, most hungry older whales are completing their long migration north to their summer feeding grounds. In June the hungry whales are well into the northern waters where they find plenty of food and where they feast and start to gain back weight they lost during migration and breeding/calving season. A few whales stop out along the Oregon and Washington Coast and stay all winter, but most whales keep going to the cold, food-filled waters off Alaska and Siberia and many mothers and babies complete their journey north. By July the arctic waters are teeming with food for the hungry whales, feeding and fattening is a whale’s main goal. With ice melting further north, whales can now reach the northern limits of their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chuckchi Seas. Baby whales will nurse for six to eight months, but mothers teach them to scoop up and eat tiny amphipod off the ocean floor. By the month of August, migration and mating are just weeks away, and whales keep feasting in order to be ready. They must gain blubber enough to sustain them during the months ahead. A 30-ton whale will expend so much energy on the migration to the Baja lagoons that it may lose up to eight tons of its blubber. Little or no whale food is available in the breeding grounds, so this is their time to eat! The whales feast on the arctic feeding grounds from about June through September or October, and the cycle starts again.
Whales are revered in places like Alaska, Canada, Peru, New Zealand, as creatures of spiritual wisdom, and their history is closely connected with their culture, but it is here, in the Sea of Cortez, where the Gray whale have gathered in Ojo de Liebre and the inlets of Bahía Magdalena for centuries to mate, calve, and relax.
Like us, most marine animals rely on sound for survival and depend on unique adaptations that enable them to communicate, protect themselves, locate food, and navigate underwater. Animals change the rate of sound production and the structure of the sounds to send different messages. Communication over long distances is usually associated with reproduction, territoriality, and maintenance of group structure. Communication over short distances is used in social interactions involving aggression, individual identification, and to maintain mother-offspring contact. Most marine mammals use sound to regain contact when members of a group are separated. Similar to sonar systems on navy ships, some whales use sound to detect, localize, and characterize objects, including obstacles and other whales. By emitting clicks, or short pulses of sound, these marine mammals can listen for echoes and detect objects underwater. Some whales and dolphins use sound to locate food. They send out pulsed sounds of high intensity and frequency that are reflected back when they strike a target. This echo helps the dolphin or whale identify the size and shape of an object, the direction in which the object is moving and enables them to estimate how far away the object is. Echolocation is a very sophisticated way of locating prey and can even be used to find prey that is hidden in the sand. For them, as for us, listening is of key importance to maintain peace and balance in their world.
Whales have long captured the imaginations of people around the world, who have hunted, revered, and passionately protected them. According to science, the ancestors of whales lived on land. Once whales adapted to the water about 50 million years ago, they diversified and came to inhabit the world’s oceans. Almost 80 species are alive today. How do skeletons of the whales that lived on land compare to those that were fully aquatic? In aquatic whales, hind limbs are smaller or absent, nostrils move towards top of head, forelimbs evolve into flippers, vertebrae in tail flatten. Today, whales are identified either as Mysticeti (these ones have baleen), and the Odontoceti whale who have teeth. Mysticeti tend to be larger, have two blowholes instead of one, and emit low- frequency sounds than the higher frequency produced by odontocetes. In addition to sight, whales rely on the ability to produce and perceive different sounds in order to navigate, find food, and communicate. The whale finds its prey through echolocation, the process of emitting sound waves and listening to the echoes to locate food and avoid obstacles. Different whale species make a variety of sounds, ranging from throaty rumbles and melodious phrases to squeaks, whistles, clicks, and buzzes.
What are some causes of whale stranding? Parasites, pollution, disease, disorientation, accidents with boats, entanglements with fishing gear. Weakened whales may swim into shallow water where it is easier to breathe. How have humans responded? They have tried to rescue whales, collected meat and bones, taken samples for scientific research. How have behaviours and attitudes towards hunting whales changed over time? Beached whales were passively gathered; development of commercial whaling reduced some populations to brink of extinction, a global whale conservation movement has emerged.
The lives of many people around the world have been inextricably linked with whales. Whaling traditions in America are seen through artefacts such as a the whale oil lamp, a log book from the New England whaling ship William Rotch that describes two whaling voyages in the 1830s -one across the Pacific Ocean and another to the South Atlantic- or an early edition of Moby Dick. Whale imagery is incorporated into architecture and body art, and whale bone weapons and ornaments are prized. In the Americas, native people have long utilized and honoured whales, relying upon their meat for food, bone for tools and building material, and oil for fuel — and upon the majestic animals themselves as source of spiritual inspiration.