Las Ballenas de Huatulco

Huatulco Travel Blog

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the size of adult humpbacks is simply astounding

    One day this winter, some Canadians who I was practicing my tour guiding skills on - something halfway between clients and friends - told me one of them had fallen ill and there was an open spot I could take on an all day snorkeling excursion with Hurricane Divers. I'd snorkeled most of the bays on my own over the past year, but had never done a proper tour of the bays by boat yet. After doing some snorkeling at the most distant bay in the Huatulco chain, San Agustin, we were motoring back toward our lunch stop at Bahia Chachacual. I saw an unmistakable sight ahead and called out "whale!" We slowed the boat and saw that a mother and calf were occasionally coming to the surface near a submerged rock outcropping.

whipping the fluke
They never seemed to leave the area, suggesting that maybe they were using it as a scratching post.

    Before long the calf seemed to realize it had observers and began to demonstrate its breaching skills. One time after another it went sailing out of the water, to land with a colossal splash. Even a very young humpback whale calf is a large creature, but the size of the adults defies belief up close. They go from about 40-50 feet long and can weigh around 40 tons!!! I had seen humpback whales on a whale watching trip in the Dominican Republic, but had never stumbled across them up close like this by accident. The mother could have smashed our 25' panga to pieces effortlessly with a mere flick of her tail. Some of our passengers began to worry about that when our observation began to verge on outright harassment, as the local driver chased after the whales every time they surfaced.

the Battleship Potemkin

    Humpbacks pass through Huatulco every winter, but the locals know very little about them and even the Canadian divemaster was too absorbed with getting video for the business to recognize that we were starting to seriously piss off the mother. At first most of us were caught up too in how incredible it was to be so close to such magnificent creatures. But when we got so close at one point that the mother inserted herself between the boat and her calf and started bodily pushing the calf away from us, we got concerned at the trauma we were causing. Humpbacks don't feed during the winter in their tropical calving grounds. The mother has to depend on all her reserves stored away from the rest of the year up north to nurse the calves through the winter.

momma and junior
A calf requires about 50 to 100 gallons of milk a day, which is a bit taxing for a momma! While nursing, calves grow at an amazing rate. They add another inch and 100 pounds ever day. Humpback whale milk is one of the richest milks in the world, nearly 50 percent fat. Not for the diet conscious! In any event, the last thing you want to do is cause a mother extra exertion during the calving time, nor cause a possibly weak calf any stress. To my surprise, I had learned that killer whales show up occasionally in Huatulco in the winter as well, and they like nothing more than ambushing humpback calves during their journey back up north.

    It finally took a minor mutiny among the passengers to convince our boat to back off and leave the whales be.

jumping for joy
I had learned in the Dominican Republic from a whale expert there how difficult a time she'd had educating the locals and establishing rules for the whale watching boats. It's one thing to sit there at idle and let humpbacks play up close to the boat if they choose to, but you should never hound them by chasing them all over. In this case, it was all our responsibility who knew better to speak up, and we were less annoyed with the driver than the divemaster who should have told his driver to back off.

    We had a spectacular lunch at Playa India, an isolated little beach in the heart of the National Park, with some great snorkeling. Pauline, the English wife of the Dutch owner of Hurricane Divers, makes gourmet lunches for all their snorkeling tours and the food is far beyond what you'd normally expect of a picnic lunch.

calf
Our next stop was one of my favorite bays, Cacaluta, which I normally hike into. This is the bay the trio ended up at in the great film Y Tu Mama Tambien. It's also home to one of the best coral reefs of all the Huatulco bays. We thought we'd had as perfect a day as one could desire, but one more surprise was in store. Coming near the cliffs by the Santa Cruz lighthouse, a mile from the marina, a juvenile humpback whale was cavorting happily. It put on its own aerial display that we enjoyed from a more respectful distance, before finally motoring home.  I told my friend Rolf who had to bow out of the trip that I normally would never wish sickness upon anyone, but I had to admit that his misfortune was my fortune and I wouldn't have missed this day for the world!

nomaden says:
great blog.. i love the picture but i guess ill get pretty scared if i'll get close to one.. or be amazed watching 'em to ever think of snapping a pic.
Posted on: Nov 21, 2008
Hurch says:
hopefully I´ll have my boat then and we can run all over the Pacific til we find them!
Posted on: Jun 22, 2008
hirondellenhi says:
a little? how about jumping up and down!!! i'm crossing all my fingers, toes, for early migration. you never know, may be I can communicate with these whales like dory! Last year at the beginning of Sept., we spotted a whole bunch of blue whales of Southern cali. So, i'm still hoping and wishing!!!
Posted on: Jun 20, 2008
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the size of adult humpbacks is sim…
the size of adult humpbacks is si…
whipping the fluke
whipping the fluke
the Battleship Potemkin
the Battleship Potemkin
momma and junior
momma and junior
jumping for joy
jumping for joy
calf
calf
breaching sequence 1
breaching sequence 1
breaching sequence 2
breaching sequence 2
breaching sequence 3
breaching sequence 3
humpback calf
humpback calf
momma
momma
momma
momma
momma and calf
momma and calf
momma
momma
momma protecting junior when our d…
momma protecting junior when our …
calf at play
calf at play
calf at play
calf at play
calf at play
calf at play
calf
calf
calf
calf
Bahia Chachacual
Bahia Chachacual
Playa India
Playa India
Playa India
Playa India
Playa India
Playa India
setting up lunch
setting up lunch
Playa India
Playa India
waving a fluke
waving a fluke
juvenile near Bahia Santa Cruz
juvenile near Bahia Santa Cruz
juvenile
juvenile
splashing around
splashing around
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photo by: tiffanyteresa