Whale Species Info
Every winter a number of species of the Cetacean Order of mammals migrate to the warm waters off the Baja Peninsula. Cetaceans are warm-blooded air-breathing aquatic mammals that nurse their young. Cetacea is divided into two sub-Orders, including Mysteceti or Baleen Whales and Odontoceti or toothed whales, which also include porpoises and dolphins. Examples of both of these sub-Orders can be found seasonally in the waters near Cabo San Lucas including the following species:
The whale that is most commonly observed near Cabo San Lucas and in the Sea of Cortez, the Gray Whale, or Eschrichtius robustus, is the only know remaining member of the Eschrichtiidae Family of the Mysteceti sub-Order. Measuring up to fifty feet in length and weighing up to forty tons, these whales have the distinction of being the only known whales to bottom feed, filtering tiny crustaceans from the sediment scooped from the sea floor. These streamlined gray marine mammals prefer shallower waters and birth and nurse their calves in the protected lagoons along the Baja Peninsula.
Although not as commonly seen around Los Cabos as the Gray Whale, the Humpback Whale, or Megaptera novaeangliae of the Balaenopteridae Family of the Mysteceti sub-Order, can also be spotted near Los Cabos. Like Gray Whales, Humpbacks also migrate along the Pacific coast of North America to the waters off Mexico from the frigid waters off Alaska in order to mate, give birth and nurse in the warm sheltered waters off Baja. Humpback whales are around the same weight and length of Gray Whales, but have a less streamlined shape. A member of the rorqual whales, Humpbacks, like the Blue Whales, Fin Whales, Bryde’s Whales and Sei Whales, have dorsal fins and distinctive ventral grooves stretching from their jaws to their bellies. Their dorsal fins, as individually distinctive as human fingerprints, have been used by scientists to track individual whales. These giants have black dorsal coloration with white and mottled black underbellies. Humpbacks primarily feed on tiny krill and small fish. Known for their dramatic displays of breaching and tail-slapping, these playful gargantuans love to put on a show.
The largest mammals in existence, the Blue Whales, or Balaenoptera musculus, were nearly hunted into extinction. Rarely seen near the Baja Peninsula, these gigantic rorquals can reach the incredible proportions of one hundred feet in length and one hundred and fifty tons in weight.
Other Rorqual Whales
The Bryde´s Whale (Balaenoptera edeni), the Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis), and the Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus), are rorqual whales like the Humpback Whales and Blue Whales, and have similar ventral groves and dorsal fins. Bryde’s and Sei Whales are very similar in appearance with a slender body shape and blue-gray coloration. These baleen whales also migrate to warmer waters in order to breed and calve, although the Bryde’s Whale tends to remain in warmer waters. The Fin Whale is the second largest mammal on the planet, reaching lengths of close to ninety feet. It is named for its prominent rear dorsal fin. Like other rorquals, the Fin has a streamlined body, but is known for its v-shaped flat-topped head. The Fin can also be recognized by two distinctive chevron-type markings on its back.
The distinctive squared-off head of Sperm Whale, Physeter macrocephalus, has been represented countless times in both art and literature, including the classic literary work Moby Dick by Herman Melville. These deep ocean divers inhabit all of the Earth’s oceans. Because these members of the Odontoceti sub-order mainly hunt deepwater squid, they are rarely seen along the coasts. Females, Calves and juvenile Sperm Whales do tend to inhabit sub-tropical and tropical waters.
Also known as the Killer Whale, Orcas (Orcinus orca), these intelligent pack hunters, can occasionally be seen near Cabo San Lucas. Unlike the other whales listed here, Orcas tend not to follow regular annual migration patterns, but rather pursue the available food. With their distinctive black and white markings and tall dorsal fins, these cetaceans are easily identified. The male orca can grow to lengths of about thirty feet and weigh as mush as nine tons. These clever predators often feed on other mammals, such as Sea Lions, Harbor and Elephant Seals, Porpoises, Beluga Whales, Narwhals and even young Gray Whales. These hunters feast on squid, sharks, penguins, and fish such as tuna, salmon and herring.