The birth rate for humpback whales in Bahia Malaga, on Colombia’s Pacific coast, is among the highest on earth, according to the director of the Humpback Foundation.
The humpback whale birth rate – measured as the percentage of whales born out of the total number of whales observed in an ecosystem – in Bahia Malaga varies between 19% and 28%, the foundation’s director Lilian Florez told El Espectador. In comparison, the birth rate in Ecuador is estimated to be between 3% and 9%.
The whales journey thousands of miles each June to mate off the Colombian coast. Pregnancy lasts ten or twelve months, and the mammals give birth in late spring.
Humpback whales are attracted to Bahia Malaga because of its “warm temperatures and certain peace,” said the manager of Parque Nacional Bahia Malaga. The park forbids the passage of large vessels, predators or pollution.
An estimated 800 humpback whales visit the bay annually.
According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, commercial whaling and oceanic degradation have reduced humpback whale populations to an estimated 2% of their original size. Experts believe there are only 21,000 to 60,000 humpback whales alive today. A moratorium on whaling has enabled the whale population to recover, but the mammals face growing difficulty finding safe, clean places to breed and calve.
Humpback whales remain on International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of vulnerable species.
The growth of tourism to Parque Nacional Bahia Malaga, out of nearby Buenaventura, has led to a decrease in the birth rate for humpback whales, but increasing numbers of tourism operators are offering sustainable, educational packages.
“We aim to have no more than five tour boats around each group of whales, and forbid them to approach within [about 650 feet],” said a local biologist who runs an educational tourism program in the bay.