Traveling more than 15,000 miles around the world, thousands of humpback whales are making their way from the South American coast to the ice caps of Antarctica for their bi-annual migration.
As the season turns from spring to summer, the gentle giants of the deep begin their journey which stretches from June to September as they surface to dance over the waves beginning along coast of Puerto Lopez in Manabí, Ecuador.
The waters off the Ecuadorian coast have special significance for the whales: it is their breeding grounds.
“We are the most beautiful country in the world, the favorite place for one of the largest animals on the planet to choose to procreate,” the Ecuadorean Tourism Minister Ponce de León said.
The majestic mammals which can grow up to 18 meters (60 ft) long and weigh as much as 40 tons.
According to Cherry Zambrano, a nature guide from the Machalila National Park, 10 to 15 humpback whales can be seen twice a day with each sighting lasting anywhere between two to three hours.
The arrival of the whales occurs in groups, the young males are the first to make their way to the coast in early June, followed by the adult males and finally females come the end of July, explained the Director of research in Ecuador at the Whales Pacific Foundation, Cristina Castro.
Ecuador’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) says that since April 2015, nearly 50 years after the group prohibited commercial whaling, schools of the marine mammals have steadily grown in number.
“Whales, including the humpback, serve an important role in our marine environment,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant adminsitrator for fisheries of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Last year, NMFS announced that 9 of the 14 species of humpback whales are no longer registered as endangered.
But whales which frequent the pacific waters along the Californian, Mexican and Central American coasts remain under the protective wing of the Endangered Species Act.
“They have an economic value. Internationally, they are probably the number one species targeted by whale watching,” said Regina Asmutis-Silva, executive director and senior biologist for Whale and Dolphin Conservation North America said of humpback whales. “So, there’s a vested interest in making sure that these populations are maintained and healthy.”
They travel across the world twice a year, feeding in the polar extremities and mating during the winter months in tropical waters.
Their beautiful and haunting calls echo beneath the waves and can often be heard during the mating season.
One of 80 known species of cetacea, the humpback whale stands out as one of the few mammals that mate for life.
Credit: TeleSur, www.telesurtv.net