Tuesday, February 12, 2008
It’s only February, but it’s been a pretty exciting year so far. The beginning of the month was particularly rousing, as I found myself on a cruise around the Mexican Riviera, constantly keeping an eye out for marine animals! I took every single opportunity offered to me to get out on the water, as well as in the water. Every port of call brought a different snorkeling excursion, as well as the unexpected opportunity for whale watching. I had heard this was an exceptional time of year to see whales, as there are a few different species migrating from their feeding grounds in colder waters to warmer tropical waters for mating and calving. It was just off the coast of Cabo San Lucas that our snorkeling trip turned into an unexpected, yet welcome, whale-watching fiesta!
Our adventure started by hopping on a zodiac boat and heading out to El Arco, or Land’s End, which is an amazing rock formation at the very southern tip of Cabo San Lucas. One great thing about sightseeing by zodiac is that, since it’s basically a small raft, you can zip around and get fairly close to things in shallow water without worrying about running aground. The rock formations were absolutely beautiful! Not only that, but if you are on one side of El Arco, you are in the Pacific Ocean. And if you are on the other side, you are in the Sea of Cortez. This area was also the sight of our first marine mammal sighting—an entire colony of sea lions! They were all just hanging out on the rocks sleeping, barking, or sunning themselves. There were males, females, and lots of pups. One of the pups was so curious he bounded all the way down the rock and, for a second, I thought he was going to take a flying leap on to the front of our raft! After a few more seconds, we were off on our journey to Pelican Rock Cove and Santa Maria Cove, our snorkeling destinations.
However, we got sidetracked!!!
As we were making our way to the snorkeling area, we encountered whales. Lots of them! Our snorkeling excursion at this point became more of a whale watch, as there were more whales out there than I could keep track of. Again, traveling by zodiac was a great idea because once we spotted a nearby whale, our guide shut off the engines so we could just float there. Since there was no engine to startle the whale, sometimes they curiously approached the raft for a closer look. By the time we absolutely had to leave in order to get any snorkeling done at all, we had seen 17 whales up close. Nine humpbacks and eight gray whales!
I love all whales, but I think humpback whales are my favorite, probably because they are the most active and seemingly energetic of all the great whales. We witnessed these animals breaching (bringing their entire bodies completely out of the water), tail lobbing (where they smack the surface of the water with their enormous tails), and pectoral slapping (slapping the surface of the water with their long pectoral fins). These behaviors may be how these whales communicate.
Humpback whales are also known for their “singing.” Male humpbacks do the singing, possibly as a part of mating/courtship behavior. While I was in Hawai’i last year, I was on a whale watch where they lowered a hydrophone into the water after spotting humpbacks in the area so we could listen to their vocalizations. What an amazing experience! The songs lasted well over ten minutes and were absolutely fascinating!
Some quick facts about humpbacks: ~ Adult males are 40–48 feet, and adult females measure 45–50 feet ~ They are baleen whales, meaning they have baleen plates instead of teeth ~ A single humpback will consume around 3,000 pounds of krill and small fish per day ~ Each of these animals has a very distinct pattern on the tail fluke, much like fingerprints in humans
To make a long story short, our snorkeling/whale-watching excursion in Cabo San Lucas is one I will always remember. Seeing these majestic humpback and gray whales out in their natural environment only strengthened my resolve to educate folks about these amazing animals and the need to conserve and protect our oceans. The California gray whale migration is in full swing, so I would really like to encourage everyone to get out there and appreciate these animals. I’ll keep you posted on what we see (as well as going into more detail on gray whales) the next time I head out on a whale watch. Until then, happy adventuring!
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