Humpback Whales off the Ecuadorian Coast
Every year during the austral winter (June-October), humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) migrate from the Antarctic to tropical waters off Ecuador and Colombia for breeding. The reason why these whales look for Ecuadorian waters to breed is because the calves need to be born in a warm environment, since they are born with a thin isolating layer.
Humpback whales are dark with a great variety of white areas on the ventral part and flippers. They have the largest flippers of all the whales, almost a third part of their body’s length. With 12-15 meters in length and more than 30 tons of weight, humpbacks are the most acrobatic and spectacular of the bigger whales. They like to breach out the water or hit repetitively the surface with their flipper or flukes. It is believed that the sound produced in this form could be used for communications purposes. Humpback whales are also well known as the singer whales during the breeding season. Males take a vertical position head down and “sing” a complex sound repertory. These songs are structured in themes and can last 20 minutes or more. Singers can repeat the song once and again for hours. All the whales around sing a similar song, although the song is changing as the season progresses. The meaning of the songs is probably related to the reproduction process.
The whales that can be found off the Ecuadorian coast belong to one of six Southern hemisphere stocks that were severely exploited during the first half of the XX century. However, recent studies at the central coast off Ecuador show that the southeastern Pacific humpback whale stock, to which Ecuadorian whales belong, is recovering significantly.
During the breeding season it is possible to find these whales almost in every site along the central and northern coast of the country. Since 1994, whale watching has become a popular activity among the tourists that visit the Machalilla National Park and other sites of the Ecuadorian coast. The activity is steadily increasing, as well as the concern about the whales’ welfare.