One of the interesting things about living in Puerto Vallarta is we have this big, beautiful bay we see, play on, swim in and enjoy. I realized that I knew next to nothing about the Whales we get in the bay. So, I decided to write this to my fellow “Locals” that may be interested …
If you know anything about Puerto Vallarta, you most likely know we’re world famous for the whales that come to our beautiful Bay of Banderas. Every year we have thousands of whales come to court, mate and give birth from early to mid-November until mid-March. Most Whale watching tours begin in December to insure tour operators have whales to promote.
But let’s start at the beginning. First off the Bay of Banderas is a virtual “heaven” for several Whale species for a couple of reasons. Number one there is a massive amount of food. With Krill Squids and Krill Shrimp in the bay it’s like a “Fish McDonalds”. Just swim on by and open your mouth, no fuss, no chasing and the supply of Squids and Shrimps is never ending. With monstrous amounts of Krill and smaller fish, the bay has much to offer whales.
Another nice “Whale” feature is the fact the bay is a closed area with many shallow and deep areas they can enjoy. In the winter the bay’s water temperature will get as low as 68 degrees. Very warm and comfortable for these heavily insulated mammals. Notice I did not say “fish” as Whales have lungs as all Mammals do and have a very large brain, at least as large as a human brain. So Whales are not dumb animals and do communicate, we just don’t know what they’re saying.
There are two different types or categories of Whales that Visit our Bahia de Banderas (Banderas Bay). The Mysteceti or Baleen Whales (Whales that filter food through what could be described as a screen of sorts). These Whales can eat Plankton, Whale Sharks are an example of this as well, and smaller fish, Squid and Shrimps. Krill are a favorite food and is just another reason they love the bay as there is abundant levels of these types of food. The “Odontoceti” types are toothed whales. Whale watchers will have the chance to see both types of species during the winter months in the Bay of Banderas. There are several species of Whales that visit us and the major players are listed below:
A majority of Whales you’ll see in the bay are Humpback Whales. It’s estimated that two thousand Humpback’s will visit the bay. Migrating down the western coastline from the colder waters of the Bering Sea. Humpback Whales will range in weight for a mature adult from 30 to 40 tons and can be up to 19 meters or 50 ft in length. Scientists can visually identify each Whale by their Dorsal fins which are distinctive to individual Humpback Whales as fingerprints are to humans. Humpbacks can be identified because of their black dorsal pigmentation with mottled black and white underbellies. Humpbacks usually eat at least a ton of krill and small fish every day and are one of the best Whales to vie while Whale Watching as they often are seen leaping out of the water and tail slapping. Which of course is part of the “Courting” process. . Each year between 300 and 500 Humpback Whales are registered around the Banderas Bay.
Another common whale that can be sighted along the Pacific coast of Mexico during the winter is the Gray Whale and can measure a remarkable fifty feet in length and forty tons in weight as well. The most distinctive aspect of the Gray Whale is the species eating habits as they are the only known whales to feed on the sea bottom. These bottom-feeders filter tiny crustaceans from the silt scooped from the ocean floor. Which makes the Bay of Banderas a perfect feeding ground. Gray Whales are spotted along the coast lines many times because they prefer to give birth and nurse in sheltered lagoons.
The biggest animal on the planet, the Blue Whales were very close to being extinct due to whale-hunting which is still practiced by Japan. Blue Whales be as much as one hundred (100 ft.) in length and weigh hundred and fifty tons. You can see why this is the largest “Animal” on the planet!
Like Blue and Humpback Whales Bryde´s Whales have prominent ventral groves on their undercarriage and dorsal fins on their backs. The Bryde’s Whales are a “baleen” whale which means they feed on Plankton, Krill and smaller fish. They migrate thousands of miles to the warmer climates which include our bay of Banderas to mate, calve, and nurse. Fin Whales, named for their signature rear dorsal fin, are only surpassed by the Blue Whale in size. An adult will reach lengths up to ninety feet. The Fin’s massive size, v-shaped flat head, and back markings make it easy to identify.
The characteristic square shaped head of the Sperm Whale has been depicted many times in art, literature, and film, including Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick. Sperm Whales are found in all the oceans of the world and will dive deep to feed on Squid and Crabs. Because Sperm Whales are a “deep water” feeding whale they tend to stay away from the coastlines favoring deeper waters. Females and their young tend to remain in tropical and sub-tropical waters. Which is why the Hawaiian Islands have so many in their surrounding waters.
The Orca or Killer Whale, is known for their pack-like predatory nature. Rather than following regular migration patterns like the other Whales listed, Orcas remain in an area until the food supply is exhausted. At which point Orca’s move on to hunt prey in more abundant waters. With their recognizable black and white markings and high dorsal fins are easily identified. Males can grow to thirty feet in length and weight nine tons. Orcas don’t only feed on fish and squid, but also hunt Harbor Seals, Sea Lions, Porpoises, Elephant Seals, Belugas, and even adolescent Gray Whales.
Naturally Whale watching tours are big business in Puerto Vallarta. So naturally there are many tour companies looking to provide this once in a lifetime experience. Share this article your Whale Watching Friends so they will be better informed and appreciate the experience with a little knowledge in the “back pocket”.