A Whale of a Tale

I know it’s been too long since the last post. I do have several excellent excuses, but that will have to wait until the end because we had a great adventure this week.

Yesterday morning, Leslie and I got (relatively) up close and personal with some humpback whales, courtesy of Vallarta Adventures and expert guide Nikki from the U.K. Whale watching is one of Puerto Vallarta’s biggest winter tourist attractions. The humpbacks arrive in early December every year and by the end of March they migrate north again to their feeding grounds.

Northern Pacific humpback whales – we learned from marine biology Ph.D.candidate Nikki – come to Puerto Vallarta for the winter. Good choice. We did the same thing! Mexico and Hawaii are their two main winter breeding grounds.

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This is about as close as we got to the whales. Vallarta Adventures has a plane that searches for whales and let the Zodiac captain know where they are.

Our group of about 25 made the trip from the Puerto Vallarta maritime terminal to the mouth of the Bay of Banderas in a fast Zodiac (400 hp). On the way, I got a chance to see some boobies! Blue-footed boobies, that is. A kind of waterfowl. Since we were in the middle of the bay, we saw them in flight and couldn’t see their blue feet. Two of them flew right beside our Zodiac for at least a minute (see the brief video below), pacing us perfectly. Then they zoomed ahead and cut us off!

But the main event was the humpbacks. We saw several groups of two or three whales in the Bay of Banderas and just outside the mouth of the bay in the Pacific Ocean. Nikki told us humpbacks rarely travel in groups. But we saw several groups of two or three, and it was amazing!

She was excited to see the whales feeding, since they normally don’t feed in the breeding grounds. They feed like crazy on their way to the Bay of Banderas, but they usually fast during mating season. Nikki spotted a krill floating in the water and was able to scoop it up for us to see. This is what whales eat – like a shrimp and a little smaller than a honeybee. Sorry I didn’t get a photo of the krill, but I will show you – in the series of three photos below – what it looks like when the whale dives. Once you see the tail go under the water, it will be awhile before Leviathan comes back up, gathering krill as it rises. Nikki said, “The biggest part of whale watching is whale waiting.”

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You can’t see markings on this fluke, but each whale has unique markings on the underside of its tail. Nikki said the markings are like human fingerprints. Researchers can identify each whale they see.

The highlight of the morning, though, was seeing a baby whale – a calf – with its mother. “Couldn’t be more than three months old,” Nikki said. Later she added, “We believe humpbacks may live 100 years or more. So we hope this newborn will migrate with its mother, and come back to these waters next winter. And we hope he or she keeps doing that even after all of us in this boat are gone.”

Baby humpback was breeching like crazy. “It’s very playful,” Nikki said. See the video below, and turn up the sound to hear Nikki’s commentary in English and Spanish.

There was a third whale, a male, along with the mother-calf pair. But Nikki said we “should not assume that’s Daddy because that’s not how humpbacks live. That’s probably a male that wants to mate with this calf’s mother.” Humpbacks can be quite solitary, she said, noting that if we see two whales together they could be a male-female pair or more likely two males. She said researchers almost never see two females together during mating season.

If you’re ever in Puerto Vallarta, be sure to do your touristy-type stuff with Vallarta Adventures. They do a great job. The marketing people that sell for them, though, can be very aggressive. We’ve learned to say, “Vivimos aqui, amigo” (We live here, buddy. We ain’t tourists.) They leave us alone when they hear that.

Yes, it’s been awhile since the last post. I hope you think this was worth the wait. I did mention some excellent excuses.The biggest one is that the patio and small pool we have are actually magnets that attract us and keep us in place! See what you think!

Hasta luego!

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Wouldn’t you hang out here as much as possible? With an adult beverage in hand? Thought so.

 

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