Boaters had an extraordinarily rare encounter with a Humpback whale in PHMR last week, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lucky few! Several boaters in Belize (get the full story from Love FM) and Guatemala (watch this report from Guatevision) have recently spotted possibly 2 or even 3 Humpback whales in their coastal waters. Experts are worried, however, that their presence in these shallow coastal waters so far from their normal migratory route signifies not all is well with the whale(s); they should currently be heading back north to where their food is!
Humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, are a beautiful but rare sight in the waters of Belize. These large whales—growing up to about 50 feet (16 meters) long—live throughout the world’s oceans, migrating thousands of miles each year. They spend their winters breeding in tropical waters (the nearest breeding ground to Belize is Dominican Republic) and then move towards the poles (as far as Arctic and Antarctic waters) to feed throughout the summer.
Thanks to Dr. Annelise Hagan for this photo taken from the outer channel leading to Big Creek port, close to Placencia on 24th February 2016
The whale that has been photographed in Guatemala and again near Placencia and in Port Honduras Marine Reserve appears to be very thin. This, paired with the fact that the whale has been staying within shallow coastal waters, suggests it is in distress. Suggested reasons include illness, loss of a calf, impacts on navigation from seismic testing, and even El Niño. It is unlikely the true cause will ever be known, but boats approaching this individual may cause further stress, forcing it to exert more energy in order to swim away from the boat. This animal seems in poor health already and spending more energy could impair its ability to complete its migration to feeding grounds in the North Atlantic.
It is important that boaters keep a lookout for this individual, or any other whales in the area, and that sightings are reported to the “Marine Mammals in Belize” Facebook Page. Boats should not approach the whale, however, or harass the animal in any way. Pictures should be taken from afar and any photos of the animal’s dorsal fin or the underside of its tail will be especially helpful in determining who this whale is and where he or she came from. Any information from the public will be very helpful in determining this whale’s status and seeing what can be done to help it find its way again!