Bogota – About 100 humpback whales have made their annual "pilgrimage" to the warm waters off the Pacific coast of Colombia to breed, reproduce and raise their calves, experts tracking the marine mammals' movements said.
Some already parade their sizeable calves through the offshore waters of Gorgona, Juanchaco, Malaga Bay and Solano Bay, the Colombian seas where the mammals' migration ends and which attract thousands of whale watchers every year.
Malaga Bay is "one of the areas where the species reproduces the most," Nancy Murillo, who is in charge of the Uramba-Malaga Bay National Park, told Efe by telephone.
With an expanse of 18,183 square miles northwest of Buenaventura, a port city in Valle del Cauca province, the maritime nature reserve was created in August 2010 to keep the ecosystem favorable for the migrating humpbacks, famous for their whale "songs" and their spectacular breaching and slapping the water.
The park could be the birthplace of 22 percent of the total reproduction of humpback whales that reach the Colombian Pacific, Murillo said.
The close to 100 humpback whales that have come to Colombian waters have done so in less than two weeks, in groups of five or six, and are the advance contingent of the 2011 migration season, in which some 800 specimens are likely to take part.
Those in charge of the park, whose headquarters is at the coastal village of Ladrilleros, have officially launched the whale-watching season, which attracts from 5,000 to 6,000 visitors to the country's southwestern coast.
"We try to make people understand the importance of the protected area, and do their sighting in a responsible way to help preserve the area so whales continue coming to our coasts and we do our bit to help prevent their extinction," Murillo said.
The species Megaptera novaeangliae, the scientific name for the humpback whale, is under threat worldwide, so that it is indispensable to maintain areas like Uramba-Malaga Bay, which receives about 20 percent of the specimens that migrate to Colombia, Murillo said.
The whales swim between 4,300 miles and 5,000 miles from the Patagonian channels and the Antarctic, and remain in Colombia's Pacific waters for four months, until November.
The results of this mating season can be as many as 200 new calves, which at birth can measure 15 feet and weigh from 1,500 pounds to 2,200 pounds, while the adults are 60 feet long and weigh some 40 tons.
The calves are nursed for 12 months, at which time they leave their mothers, having grown to a length of some 30 feet.