Whales can be seen off the coast of Huatulco generally from mid-December through March. While the majority of whales that can be observed are humpbacks, blue whales, gray whales and orcas can also more rarely be seen.
The humpback is a favorite among whale watchers because of their spectacular movements of breeching (jumping out of the water) and slapping the surface.
Most noteworthy, humpbacks have the longest migratory voyage of any mammal, commonly traveling over 10,000 miles from feeding grounds in the north to calving grounds in subtropical or tropical waters.
The humpbacks passing through the waters off the coast of Huatulco belong to a distinct population segment classified as “threatened” by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). As a matter of fact, several population groups exist throughout the world in all major oceans.
Humpback Whale Populations
Huatulco's Population Segment
The humpbacks seen off the coast of Huatulco are from a population group originating in California/Oregon/Washington.
During late fall and early winter, the group travels south to warm, low-latitude tropical waters of coastal Central America and Mexico to breed and give birth. On their way, they can be seen traveling in this direction off the coast of Huatulco from mid December through February.
Then, during March and April, the humpbacks can be observed traveling back north to the coast of California to southern British Columbia. They spend summer and fall in the northern, cooler waters to feed to build up fat stores (blubber) to live off of in winter consuming up to 3000 pounds of food per day!
Humpbacks are baleen whales feeding by filtering plankton and small fish. They feed as individuals or in groups, sometimes “herding” small fish and plankton by encircling them with a bubble wall. This movement can sometimes be observed off of the coast of Huatulco.
Mating activities take place in the warmer waters during winter and the gestation period lasts up to 11 months. Newborns are between 13-16 feet long and are weaned between 6-10 months after birth. Females have babies usually once every two years. 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.
Especially known for its beautiful song, the male humpback can sing for up to 20 minutes at a time. Recent research has captured baby humpbacks whispering to their mothers. You can learn more about that here and listen to a baby's song.
Megaptera or Big-Winged Creature
Primarily dark grey with some white, the humpback whale's scientific name, Megaptera novaeangliae, means “big-winged New Englander. ” (Europeans first observed the whale in New England.) Their long fins or “big wings” allow them to maneuver their big bodies with ease; the fins allow them to slow down or even go backwards.
Whales can frequently be seen from the shore in Huatulco. If you’d like to get a closer look, take a marine boat tour. Maybe you will be lucky enough to see one close up!