The sighting of a blue whale, the largest animal on the planet, near the Ecuadorian coast, worries scientists who are investigating whether Ecuador has become a host area for this species.
A huge blue whale appeared on January 22, 2023 around the Isla de la Plata, just 50 kilometers from the coast, in Manabí.
“It was impressive. We saw a very high breath, it was not the same as that of the humpback whales and it circled around the boat as if playing”, describes the scientist Cristina Castro, who has been researching whales in Puerto López for 20 years.
It was a specimen of a juvenile blue whale, a species that is in danger of extinction. These whales are the largest animals in the world, with a size that can reach up to 30 meters.
“They are not coastal, they are oceanic. That is why it is rare to have seen it on the Isla de la Plata”, adds Castro. Blue whales have been seen in the Galapagos, but there are no records of sightings near the mainland.
The huge mammal surprised the scientific team on a research tour carried out on a marine platform behind the Isla de la Plata, an area that has not been explored.
“This species is friendly, it passed under the boat, it took out its fin, its tail, it was playing,” says the scientist, who has identified more than 4,000 humpback whales, but it is the first time she has had an encounter with a blue whale.
Did you migrate from the north?
Each whale’s fin is unique. It is like the fingerprint of identity of these species. The scientific team photographed it and shared it with colleagues in other parts of the world to see if it had been reported before.
What you want to know is where the blue whale came from and why it was so close to shore. This is crucial to understand if there are migratory changes in these species, if climate change has something to do with it, and if so, apply conservation policies on the routes.
Whales are migratory species. Those that come to Ecuador between June and September come from Chile, but this season they are there feeding, “there shouldn’t be any kind of whale here. This could be a migration from the north”, explains Castro.
It could also be an effect of the La Niña phenomenon. According to Castro, whales have been seen in December, something unusual in the process of natural development.
“The La Niña phenomenon brings food and makes them believe that there is a lot of food, but in reality, it is not as much as they need,” explains Castro.
In the last month, four humpback whales were left behind from the migration, beached and died.
If the blue whale came from the north, it would be a scientific event, says Castro, “we would rewrite the whale books, because that cannot happen,” he adds.
The northern whales are in their breeding area and do not go beyond the hemisphere, the furthest they go is to the south of Mexico.
Genetic analysis will help determine its origin. The investigation will take months, but it will be the tool with which public protection policies will later be requested to protect the marine routes of these whales.