By Kátia Sylva, Guide and Marine Biologist at Cabo Trek
Whales travel enormous distances between the tropics and poles, following migratory routes as they feed and breed in different areas. These ocean giants fertilize the ocean with their waste as they travel, providing nutrients at remote destinations that would otherwise be nutrient poor. When whales die, their huge bodies sink to the bottom of the ocean and perform another surprising climate management service: their carcasses store a vast amount of carbon, which provides food and habitat for deep sea species. Dozens, if not hundreds, of species rely upon these whales. This deep ocean carbon storage removes carbon from the atmosphere produced by humans and also helps prevent the impacts of climate change. In addition, the great whales bring nutrients up from the ocean floor during their lifetime when they dive and surface, which helps even more phytoplankton to grow and absorb carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.
In Baja, Humpback Whales steal the show during the whale watching season. Despite being one of four separate breeding grounds in the North Pacific, Baja is a popular destination for Humpbacks all year. Humpback whales also frequent Baja during the winter months for mating and nursing. They are known for their frequent acrobatic behaviour and their occasional tendency to approach vessels. Male humpback whales sing to attract the female in the winter. All whales in a given population sing essentially the same song. They also coordinate changes to their song over time, however, there is little information about this practice. Males usually remain in the area for a longer period attempting to obtain repeated mating.
Humpback Whales are a species of Baleen Whale. This means they have baleen plates for filtering food from the water rather than teeth. An adult Humpback Whale measures around 16 meters in length and can weigh approximately 40,000 kg. These animals are also known as conscious breathers. This means they actively decide when to take a breath, unlike humans who are involuntary breathers. Cetaceans can “shut down” one side of their brain at a time, resting at the surface, while the other half of the brain is alert to keep them breathing. They will rest for just a few hours at a time and switch between the two sides of their brain.
Researchers believe that these animals have their own culture. They share values and behaviors passed from generation to generation – something that is often thought to be an exclusive human trait. But researchers have discovered evidence of culture in many cetacean species, ranging from complex social structures and communication, to learned behaviors. There are many examples, such as the humpback whale songs and the bottlenose dolphins using sea sponges as foraging tools.
The world’s whales are at risk, impacting their ability to help us tackle climate change. Although commercial whaling has been officially banned since 1986, more than 1,000 whales a year are still killed for commercial purposes, and they are also at risk from ship strikes, fishing nets and plastic pollution. In good news, as the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down international shipping and has kept cruise ships docked, scientists are finding measurably less noise in the ocean, which could provide momentary relief for whales and other marine mammals that are highly sensitive to noise.
Whale watching season begins as early as mid-December and ends in April, with February being the peak month.