[This is the first of a couple of posts on whales, as a result of a trip I just took to Baja California (which is in Mexico, as opposed to upper California which is in the USA). All the photos are taken from a small rocking boat, and the whales are usually not that close, so I hope you are not disappointed! The later installments on grey whales have far more exciting photos, because they come much much closer.]
Blue whales, Balaenoptera musculus, breed in the Sea of Cortez (aka the Gulf of California) so we traveled to Loreto in Baja California to find them.
They are the largest animal on earth. One was measured at 98 feet, and 80 feet is common. Here is a photo next to one of our boats. The boat measures 23 feet, and only about 1/3 of the whale, the long grey shape to the right of the boat, is visible above water:
Or look at the size of this tail, just behind the boat:
They are baleen whales, and eat only krill, astonishing that they can grow to such size.
To get a sense of what the whole animal looks like below water, look at this; just above the second image is a tiny shape of a human diver, for scale:
From the small boat, you only see bits. Here is one blowing, the first part you see above water:
When they dive, you see the muscles that lift the tail, the powerhouse which moves their 190 tons mph at up to 25 knots in short sprints:
And then the tail lifts:
And down she goes
The markings under the tail help in ID-ing individual whales: the one just above is called Calabaza. The Loreto area has 10-15 whales during the breeding season. The Sea of Cortez is thought to have about 50 at this time of year.
Wikipedia says: “ The International Whaling Commission catch database estimates that 382,595 blue whales were caught between 1868 and 1978. The global blue whale population abundance is estimated to be 10,000-25,000 blue whales, roughly 3-11% of the population size estimated in 1911.” Killing blue whales was outlawed in 1967, and the Eastern North Pacific population is back to close to pre-whaling levels of around 1500. Currently the major threats include ship strikes, as can be seen by the tail below; climate change, which may reduce krill populations; man-made noise pollution; and microplastics.
Also in the Sea of Cortez are Fin Whales, Balaenoptera physalis, which are nearly as large. Here is what to look for, and then a photo of one of the pair that we saw:
If you compare the Fin Whale’s dorsal fin above to the Blue Whale’s very tiny one below:
you can then understand why the guides think that this next one is a hybrid:
Near Loreto, even the clouds look like whales:
PS The first underwater footage of a blue whale was captured in 1980 by Krov Menuhin, a neighbor of mine in England. You can see it here; the blue whale section starts 15 minutes in:
PPS Moby Dick was a sperm whale, and although Herman Melville claimed he was the biggest creature that ever lived, at a maximum of 68 feet this is just not true! Just for fun, and for the grandkids, look at this blue whale size comparison graphic :
PPPS Our guide for the Sea of Cortez was the charming Maria Narjela.