Humpback whales migration to Central America

Whale watching is a big attraction to shore areas of Central America. This is especially true to 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.

Warm waters are a great attraction for whales, mainly in the shore area of ​​Costa Rica. As this stop place is part of their long migration route, they will probably show up fairly punctually.

If you are a whale watching enthusiast or just would like a new experience, then you have come to the right place.

humpback whale with calf
Humpback whale with calf

Humpback whales migration: The Amazing Journey

North Pacific humpback whales have the longest migration route. They travel from the cold, icy arctic waters where they feed to the warmer ocean waters that stretch from the coast of Northern California 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.

  • 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?


At first glance, it seems that the main causes of the long migrations of whales would be feeding or reproduction. However, according to new discoveries, scientists say the answer to why whales actually migrate is not so obvious.

Humpback whale feeding
Humpback whale feeding

The change of skin

The new discoveries point to the fact that the most important reason for the migration of the whales would be the shedding of their skin.

Researchers have documented voyages of up to 25,000 km for gray whales and 18,000 km for humpback whales.

The scientific name for humpback whales is Megaptera novaeangliae.

Observers do not find the definitive reason that makes the whales migrate to high latitudes in search of food, since that time is precisely the moment 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 there would be fewer predators in those places. The truth of the matter is that the experts do not agree on this point.

Humpack whales migrating with her calf
Humpack whales migrating with her calf

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

Whales have as 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 perform the change of epidermis in cold waters, because they must maintain their body temperature and the blood flow is withdrawn towards the interior of their body in said waters.

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.

New questions about migration

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

One of these questions is how this change of skin of the whales affects the marine ecosystem, and how those species that do not participate in a migration carry out this renewal process.

If you want to know more about humpback whale migration, there are some very good and very well documented articles to read. You can visit or check out this report on NCBI. There is a lot of interesting information about migration theories and scientific facts about whales.

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

humpback whale breaching-whales migration
Humpback whale breaching

It 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.

Where can you see whales in Costa Rica?

Among the best places that we can name are Caño Island, Drake Bay and the Marino Ballena National Park.

These are for us the best places to watch humpback whales not only in Costa Rica, but also in the all world.

According to National Geographic, the Marino Ballena National Park is one of the 10 best places to see whales.

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 !

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