Humpback whales migration to Central America

Whale watching is a big draw to coastal areas of Central America. This is especially true of the popular tourist destination of Costa Rica.

The most popular whales to watch are the majestic Humpback Whales and if you time it right, you can plan your next visit to Costa Rica during the Humpback Whale migration season.

humpback whales migration to central america

One of the biggest draws to the area of the Costa Rica coast for the whales is the sub-tropic waters.

Since it is part of their long migration route, they will appear like clockwork.

If whale watching is on your agenda for your vacation, then you have definitely come to the right spot.

Humpback whales migration: The Amazing Journey

The North Pacific Humpback Whales have the longest migration path.

They travel from the cold, icy arctic waters where they feed to the warmer ocean waters that stretch from the Northern California coast down to Central America.

Humpback Whales Migration Path

The Southern population is bigger, with about 6000 whales. They travel thousands and thousands of miles from Antarctica to the warmer waters of Central America.

Those annual migrations of humpback Whales from high-latitude zones (feeding areas) to low-latitude tropical zones (wintering areas) are well known, but the forces driving them in this migration are still unclear.

Several hypotheses have been proposed in order to explain this phenomenon. Some of them are:

  • A vestigial behaviour from when smaller ocean basins meant closer feeding and wintering areas.
  • The optimization of energy budgets by wintering in warm waters.
  • Increased calf (offspring) growth and survivorship in warm protected waters.
  • Avoidance of killer whale (Orcinus orca) predation at low latitudes.

Why do humpback whales really migrate?

We know that whales are the mammal species that make the longest migrations. At first glance it seems that the main causes that originates the long migrations of whales would be feeding or reproduction.

However, according to new discoveries, scientists point out that the answer to why whales really migrate is not so obvious.

Humpack whales migrating with his calve


New scientific discoveries suggest that the most important reason for whale migration would be the change of their skin.

Scientists have documented trips of up to 25,000 km in the case of gray whales, and 18,000 km in the case of humpback whales. The scientific name for humpback whales is Megaptera novaeangliae.

Scientists do not find the definitive reason why whales migrate to high latitudes in search of food, since that time is precisely the time when more resources exist in low latitudes.

The whales would be migrating to lower latitudes to give birth to their young, since they estimate that in those places there would be a lower presence of predators.

The truth of the matter is that experts disagree on this point.

Humpback whale feeding
Humpback whale feeding


A recent study consisting of photographic monitoring of a group of whales, shows that these mammals, like humans, need a process of maintenance of the epidermis.

Whales have a kind of first line of protection against bacteria and diseases, which would be their skin, which must be renewed every certain period of time.

The study showed that whales cannot change their epidermis in cold waters, because they must maintain their body temperature and the blood flow is withdrawn into their body in those waters.

Hampback whales helping others to feed
Humpback whales helping others to feed

Therefore, when the whales migrate to warmer waters, the blood flow of the epidermis normalizes allowing the skin to renew itself, since this process implies that the cells are metabolically active.

However, this new discovery in turn raises other questions that need to be answered.

If you would like to know more about the Humback whale migration, there are some good and well documented articles to read.

You may want to visit whales.org or check this report at NCBI. There are many interesting articles about the migration theories and scientific facts about the whales.

When is the best time for whale watching in Costa Rica?

Some coastal areas like Costa Rica in Central America are a great vacation destination for whale watchers.

During the season time the Humpback Whales can be found in plentiful numbers and they can be seen frolicking in the warmer waters. Along with their majestic size and the way that they effortlessly break the surface of the water. The waters are also filled with the melodic sounds of the Humpback whale calls that are very unique to their species.

humpback whale breaching
Humpback whale breaching

May interest you: Why Humpback Whales Breach

Since the whales like the warmer waters of the sub-tropic zone off of Central America and the North American coast, you can nearly enjoy whale watching year-round. However, August, September and October are the best months in the year to see them. During this time the Humpbacks are extremely active when they are swimming as this is also their breeding season.

A unique experience in life

With thousands of these majestic creatures occupying the same stretch of ocean can be breathtaking for the many whale watchers. There truly is nothing on earth that compares to sudden surprise when a 50-foot creature breaches the surface of the water and smacks back down with a rush.

If you have not seen it yet in person, you really need to. The adrenaline rush will virtually take your breath away the very first time you see and feel it.

The waters off of the Pacific coast from Central America all the way up to Northern California are the second most important to the population of the Humpback Whales with Hawaii. If you are looking for someplace to go on your vacation, you really need to check out Costa Rica.

Come and see the Humpback whales !