Sea of Cortez Whale ID
The Sea of Cortez is frequented by the largest and most varied population of whales in the world. To aid in identifying the whale you have spotted download & print our Sea of Cortez Whale Identification chart.
The lagoons of the Pacific coast of Baja have the greatest concentration of whales per square mile, but only from mid-December to mid-April, with the numbers peaking in January, February & March, and only Gray whales. The Sea of Cortez is blessed, maybe not with such great concentration of whales per square mile, but with a variety of whale species, and high chances that you will see some whale activity practically any time of the year.
The gray whale is the most common in the Sea of Cortez especially in the winter and spring months. Measuring up to fifty feet in length and weighing up to forty tons, it is the only species that take easily to shallow water.
The blue whale is the largest animal to ever live on this earth and can grow to over one hundred feet in length and one hundred and fifty tons in weight. They are also the loudest, a screaming blue whale can be heard for several miles underwater. Blue whales can be found in the Sea of Cortez year round but especially during the winter months when the water is cool. They seem to favor the islands near Loreto and the deeper waters of the southern Sea of Cortez. They are normally found some distance from shore.
Humpback whales are most easily spotted during winter, spring and summer. They are around the same weight and length of Gray Whales, but have a less streamlined shape. They are so named because they have an obvious hump on their back and for the way they curve their back when diving. 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. They are very active players in the water, breaching, splashing and slapping the water with their tails.
Other Rorqual Whales
The Bryde´s Whale, the Sei Whale, and the Fin Whale 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. 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. 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. These whales frequent the Sea of Cortez year round.
The sperm whale's clicking vocalization, a form of communication is the loudest sound produced by any animal. It has the largest brain of any animal on Earth, more than five times heavier than a humans. Sperm whales can live for more than 60 years. These deep ocean divers inhabit all of the Earth’s oceans and are easily recognized by their distinctive squared-off head. Because they mainly hunt deep water squid, they are rarely seen along the coasts. Females, Calves and juvenile Sperm Whales do tend to inhabit sub-tropical and tropical waters and may be spotted at any time of year.
Also known as the Killer Whale, Orcas 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.
- Remain at least 300 feet from whales
- Upon sighting stop your vessel, observe and then attempt to parallel the animal's course
- Avoid sudden changes to vessel speed and direction
- NEVER follow behind, approach animals head-on, encircle or trap them between your vessel and shore
- NEVER feed, or touch whales
- If they approach your vessel, maintain your course and speed. If the animals cut in front of your course, put the boat in neutral and wait until they clear your vessel
- Limit your viewing time to 30 min. to avoid creating unnecessary stress for the animals
Museo de la Ballena
For more information and a great experience visit the Whale Museum (Museo de la Ballena) on the Malecón at the 16th of Septiembre in La Paz. They are open Tuesday through Sunday and offer tours in English and Spanish.