of my current research activities on whales and their habitats...
General Observations regarding the 2008 Whale ID Season
El Cardonal, East Cape, BCS, MX
We continue using the same grid pattern as the seasons before. Basically a 100 sq mile grid running south from El Cardonal at about 2 miles out as far as Los Barriles. Then a run NE for about 8 miles when we turn due north and go as far as Boca del Alamo. We go out only on clear, calm days when our visibility for seeing whales is a good 1 ½ to 2 miles in all directions. From Boca del Alamo we go west until we are again about 2-4 miles out and then head south until we are back at El Cardonal. This grid allows us to check both the Humpback “zone” which is from ½ to 4-6 miles out and the Blue Whale “zone” which is generally further out (but not always), usually around 6-10 miles.
This was our fourth full season (my mate Vicente and I) during which we go out between 20-25 times over a period of 4 months. The weather usually allows us only 4-6 days per month of really good conditions for sightings. I have been able each year to raise the money for 30 such trips but again the weather restricts us or some other difficulty (last year both my and Vicente’s backs went out for three weeks during April). I expect to continue the work for at least one more year so that I have a full 5 years worth of data. At that time I will examine it all to see what kinds of patterns emerge and will share that with you both then. The fact that this area is an important breeding and calving ground for Humpbacks and is both a path to Loreto for the Blues and often a “stopover “ for them too, is significant. My ultimate goal is to encourage the government to establish a continuous park from Cabo Pulmo to Loreto. We shall see. I also have a strong desire to establish a small, independent marine lab here in El Cardonal…again, we’ll see.
Humpback and Blue Whales start arriving in this area of the East Cape by the middle of Jan. if not before. Last year Blues were seen around La Paz in early Jan. Humpbacks are still here in May (Mary Bowman saw 2 breaching off Las Tinas on May 6th, I ID’d one on the 8th and 4 more were seen by some of Vicente’s amigos May 11th), though of course in small numbers.
The number of both species varies considerably each season but this could be due simply to when and how often I get out. This year I found half the number of HB’s as last year but a greater number of Blues.
This year was also the first year I have seen Grey Whales in the area even going back 10 years. People all along the East Cape were seeing them in large numbers. They were in very close, I suspect, feeding in the richer sands here (I read a scientific article suggesting that both the warmer waters of The Arctic and the sediment pollution in the sands along the California coast resulted in this movement into our area)
There was very little surface activity amongst the Humpbacks this year. I saw only two breaches during the entire season. One sequence of fin slaps, tail lobs and that was all. My intuitive feeling was that they were lethargic in general. Is it possible that fewer females came into this area this season and therefore fewer males following? There were also very few large individuals (less females again?). Most were quite small which Vicente and I commented on often.
February was the best month for Humpbacks (11) and Blues (7) both. March was slim though I got out 10 times but early April sightings were again good; Humpbacks (7) and Blues (4). For only the second time in 4 years I had a repeat whale. Not from a previous year (that has yet to happen) but HB #1 (1/21/08) stayed in the area for 2 ½ months and was seen 5 different times (HB # 18, 4/8/08). Last year HB # 2 was seen twice.
During one of our discussions Vicente mentioned that his father and uncle had watched a Blue Whale give birth while fishing from their canoe. I have asked him to have his uncle write the story up and will share it with you ASAP.
There were large numbers of short finned pilot whales at the beginning of the season, one herd composed of at least 100 individuals.
Although I myself did not see them, there were reports of at least 3 sightings of Orcas in the area.
Similarly, there were sightings of Sperm Whales around the channel near Isla Cerralvo.
3 whale deaths occurred during the month of April. 2 Blue whales and 1 HB. A blue somewhere near Los Frailes and a HB/Blue at Isla Cerralvo. Didn’t hear what happened, possibly Orcas involved.
Small item but perhaps of some significance; only one of the 15 HB’s ID’d this season had predominant white markings under the flukes. All others were very dominantly black with small areas of white. In 2005 they were half and half, 2006 (too small of a sample), 2007 half and half.
Vicente is certain that Humpbacks stay in the area all year round. He has seen them in June, July, October etc.
If either of you have suggestions on how I might be of more value to our mutual interests, please do not hesitate to say so. It is very possible that I will retire here in El Cardonal full time within the next few years. If that is so then I will continue this work indefinitely.
A favor: please do let me know if you see one of my whales in another location or if any of mine are returnees here. My capability in identifying individual Blue Whales in particular is limited.
Best wishes for joy in your lives and success in your work.
Photo identification image collections