Around the world with whales


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Photography: Alejandro Balaguer (Fundación Albatros Media)

The female humpback whale crosses the vast ocean with its enormous wings: from the cold waters of Antarctica, where it spends most of her time feeding on krill, traveling some 8,000 kilometers to the mixed waters of the Humboldt and Panama currents, which coincide at Machalilla National Park. In its wake swim around a dozen aggressive males, in a race of titans whose winner will deserve the love of the queen, patiently awaiting them on Ecuadorian shores.

A Whale’s Womb

We do not know how long Machalilla has been the chosen place for humpback whales to breed and nurse new life. In fact, the discovery of these whales in Ecuador’s waters was recent, and studies into them even more so, but even this limited research has revealed to the world that our very own Machalilla National Park serves as a womb for this spectacular species.

For ten years, Fundación Albatros Media followed the journey of Humpack whales across the Pacific Ocean.

Humpbacks (Megaptera novaenglieae) are baleen whales that can exceed 15 meters in length, which only 50 years ago were on the brink of extinction, but thanks to a moratorium on hunting them, they are now in a much more comfortable situation. What distinguishes humpbacks from other baleen whales is their hump-shaped dorsal fins; their heads and mouths full of distinctive tubercles, like a whale’s version of teenage acne; and unusually large pectoral fins. The humpback’s magnificent mottled black and white tail, like a monarch’s ermine-lined robes, references the translation of the animal’s scientific name, giant wing, and seeing this regal tail in action, is one of the natural world’s most thrilling shows.

Every year between June and September – sometimes sooner, sometimes later – these creatures come to splash our seas with breaching and song; an act of love between the creatures, which traveled from the end of the world to enjoy our little piece of sea.

To come face to face with these beasts is a life affirming experience

As you set sail from the fishing town of Puerto Lopez and travel through the dark blue waves of the Pacific Ocean, anticipation increases as the guide yells “it’s turning white… over there! It’s turning white!” (está blanqueando): and then she appears. A dark angel with white wings, emerging from the water; a vision and experience that is near impossible to forget.

The gigantic body trusts its ability to fly above the ocean, momentarily paralyzed against the horizon, until, like a falling building, it creates mountains of white foam as it hits the water. This gift of nature is worthy not only of awe and admiration, but respect and gratitude for the indescribable feeling it provokes in those lucky enough to bear witness.

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