Orcas in Mexican Waters
by Kátia Silva, guide and Marine Biologist at CaboTrek.com
The Orcas, or Killer Whales, are a cosmopolitan species that inhabits all the oceans of the world, but are most seen in coastal temperate waters and mainly in areas of high productivity. They are the largest member of the Delphinidae family, this means that they are dolphins, not whales. Scientific studies have revealed many different populations with several distinct ecotypes of orcas worldwide.
There are three main types of killer whales: Resident, Transient, and Offshore. Each ecotype differs in appearance, diet, habitat, genetics, and behavior.
Resident and transient animals can travel 160 km in a period of 24 hours, and the range of movement for some transient orcas in the Northern Pacific extends up to 2,660 km from Alaska to California. At one point two different individuals from Peru were sighted in Mexican waters, one in Magdalena Bay in 1988 and the other in La Paz in 1994. The minimum distance between the Mexican and Peruvian match reached a total of 5,535 km.
Killer whales are widely distributed along the Pacific coast of Mexico but they are only occasionally seen in some areas. They are most abundant within 800 km from the shore. Their habitat in Mexican waters is quite variable and the true social structure of orcas that inhabit the Gulf of California is still unclear.
There is a group of orcas that has been proposed to be the oldest in the Gulf of California, based on photographic records from 1982 to 1997, and this is the only group that has shown fidelity to an area.
During humpback whale season, the migratory season of mobula rays and whale sharks also takes place. Orcas have been sighted in Baja California Sur hunting these species, a typical feeding behavior of transient and offshore orcas which prefer to feed on large marine vertebrates, especially marine mammals. Humpback whale season has ended, but this year encounters with small groups of large males, females and even calves were frequent during whale watching tours in Los Cabos. Future genetic and acoustic studies are needed to determine whether or not these animals belong to a different population of killer whales. Within Mexico, orcas are considered as a special protected species by the Norma Official Mexicana (NOM-059-ECOL/1994).
Wildlife tours are always a great and amazing experience! Los Cabos is undoubtedly one of the meccas for those who like wildlife and the next season promises to be even better.