Each year the Bay of Banderas is blessed with the visit of the humpback whale, evolutionary studies and fossil records date the ancestor of the whale back to the Eocene period, in the case of the whale, around 50 million years ago. [Read a new article on the Humpback Whales.]
Whales visit us with the main goal of mating and to give birth to their young, they later return to the northern seas again. They arrive in the Bay of Banderas at the end of October and depart at the end of March.
Whales belong to the order Cetacea, which includes dolphins and porpoises; they are marine mammals that are descendants of ancient land mammals.
This terrestrial origin is indicated by the need to breathe air outside of the water, the bones of their fins, which are analogous to their land peers and the vertical movement of the columns is more similar to mammals than fish.
How they evolved from land animals to their current giant marine animal form was a mystery, until experts started to find evidence and fossils in the late 70's within Pakistan, which have established and show the multiple steps of the transition of the ancestors of cetaceans from land to sea.
All cetaceans are descendants of a land mammal from the Arthiodactila order, which includes animals like the hippopotamus, pig, deer and others. Cetaceans and artiodactyls are both related to the Indohyus, an extinct semi-aquatic deer, from which they separated 54 million years ago. The earliest whales became aquatic some 50 million years ago and fully marine mammals some 5 to 10 million years later.
These wonderful animals have the peculiarity of having a pattern of black, white and gray spots under their tail. This pattern is unique to each whale and can be used to identify each individual. Biologists and other scientists can over the course of the years, distinguish one individual from the other, determine whom they have mated with and establish an estimate of the number of whales in a population. This information is then used to protect and ensure the survival of these beautiful creatures, as they are currently threatened and are in danger of extinction. The sad part is that despite protection, there are still many threats that keep them endangered.
There are still countries that ignore the moratorium on whale hunting, plus there are other hazards such as underwater nets that entangle them and they drown, another very common danger are ships and boats that hit them or run them over. The noise created by ships and boats is also very harmful to these animals. Underwater explosions, sonar, mining and oil spills and pollution can disorient them, poison or sicken them. Whale watching is also detrimental to these animals if not done under strict guidelines and rules.
We must learn and make an effort to protect these beautiful specimens, especially when you consider that these animals far from causing any harm, cheer us up each year with their visits. They are generally friendly animals that impress us with their playfulness, at least those who are lucky enough to see them in action.
One of the impressive feats whales perform are their jumps out of the water. Their bodies shoot out of the water, occasionally spinning the air while they spread their fins and drop back into the sea splashing water in all directions. These jumps have been analyzed and theories include that whales could actually be playing, maybe they are trying to get rid of sea lice and barnacles or they may also be trying to communicate with other whales by this display of power and strength.
Sometimes they give mighty slaps on the water surface with their fins or tail. Once again, it could be playfully or maybe as a courting display. These activities are usually a bit damaging for the whales, because the barnacles and sea lice cause injuries when they break loose, even bleeding ones.
Another common behavior among whales is that they come out to watch us, just as we watch them, they come very slowly out of the water, they roll a bit when the head is out, to get a better view and then go under the water again.
As you can read and imagine, these amazing mammals are very clever as well as beautiful, do not miss the opportunity to visit Puerto Vallarta and enjoy a whale watching tour and be part of a wonderful experience.