Spectacular Whale Watching in Jaltemba Bay
©Tara A. Spears
Gazing at the dazzling blue ocean is relaxing but seeing a water ballet being performed by massive whales just takes one’s breath away. The exciting thing is that there are countless opportunities to enjoy whale watching in Riviera Nayarit. Each town along the coast usually offers water tours with options to fit everyone’s budget and time frame. I try to whale watch every February and I have never been disappointed touring Jaltemba Bay. This is a great activity to share with family and especially with grandchildren!
The whales are typically in local Mexican waters from December through March. In December there is a whole lot of lovin’ going on as indicated by the masculine displays. At this time the breeching and slamming of the body into the waves is amazing. The two main species that move along Riviera Nayarit are Humpback and Gray Whales. These whales migrate south along the shores of North America from the Bering Sea to the warm waters off the Mexican coast. The humpback will produce loud melodic tones often referred to as songs because the sounds seem almost musical. These whale songs occur mainly during mating season. Scientists believe the sounds are used to attract female whales for mating. But when one singing male comes into close contact with another it can often lead to anger and aggression.
An interesting fact from Riviera Nayarit.com is that during the colonial rule in the 16th and 17th century so many whales visited what is now known as Banderas Bay, home to Puerto Vallarta, that at that time it was named ‘Bahia del Jorobado’ (Humpback Bay). An estimated two thousand Humpback Whales visit Banderas Bay annually. This means that the whales cruise by Jaltemba Bay en route, and many stop here for the winter months.
Humpback whales are known to make one of the longest migration trips of any known animal and will travel up to 16,000 miles or more in a single year at an average speed of 1 – 3 mph. These whales are found near coastlines, feeding on tiny shrimp-like krill, plankton, and small fish. Humpbacks usually eat at least a ton of krill and small fish every day.
Once the mating season is over the whales will migrate back to their feeding grounds in the northern and southern polar hemispheres where they will eat and restore their energy reserves for the next seasonal migration. In some cases the adults will leave the mating grounds first to guide the way. The female whales that have just given birth leave last with their newborn offspring. Humpbacks nurse for more than a year and do not stop growing for ten years.
The dorsal fins of the Humpbacks are used by scientists to visually identify singular animals. Dorsal fins are as distinctive to individual Humpback Whales as fingerprints are distinctive to humans. Humpbacks can be identified because of their black dorsal pigmentation with mottled black and white underbellies. In order to navigate the ocean these whales possess a large fluke and unusually long pectoral fins (about 1/3 the length of its body) which it uses for swimming, turning and propelling itself through the water.
Because the humpback is a baleen whale it has baleen plates instead of teeth. The baleen plates have bristles attached to them that act as a net for capturing various small prey. During the humpbacks feeding season these whales hunt using a technique known as bubble net fishing. This process involves a group of humpback whales swimming around their prey in a circle and blowing bubbles around their prey in order to herd the fish into a tight ball. Clearly the Humpback can communicate in order to accomplish this task.
During reproduction cycles female Humpback whales will bear a single offspring once every two-three years while they are fertile. The average gestation period lasts 11 – 12 months. This long gestation period allows the female whale to return to its warmer, safer mating environment where it can bear its young, nurture it, and prepare for the long migration trip back to its feeding grounds.
Another common whale that can be sighted along the Pacific coast of Mexico during the winter is the Gray Whale. This species can measure fifty feet (15.4 meters) in length and forty tons in weight. The most distinctive practice of the Gray Whale is its eating habit; 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. These streamlined gray-colored whales are often seen near the coast because they prefer to give birth and nurse in sheltered lagoons.
Gray whales generally reach sexual maturity when they are between 6 and 12 years old. After that they begin mating and calving. A female Gray whale will give birth to a single calf every 2-3 years, on average. Gray whales mate during the winter or early spring. The
gestation period is between 12 and 13 months, but scientists believe the calf does not grow any more in the last month before it is born. The calves are born in winter and will become independent of the mother after only
Whether you are visiting Jaltemba Bay for a week or the season, plan on taking a whale watch tour. It is such a beautiful experience to come face to face with this magnificent ocean mammal!