The waters around the Cape Verde islands are rich in various plants and animals. Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) also occur in this part of the Atlantic Ocean. There are 24 different species of whales and dolphins in the waters around Cape Verde. Common species include: the minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), pygmy whale (Feresa attenuate), white-lipped dolphin (Peponocephala electra), black sword whale (Pseudorca crassidens), pilot whales (Globicephala melas) and one of the most large whales, the humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae).
The presence of the humpback whale at Cape Verde is special. This endangered marine mammal was heavily hunted worldwide until 1966 until the commercial hunting was banned. The population is currently recovering. A few hundred humpback whales of the total population make a seasonal migration between Iceland, Norway and Cape Verde. The Cape Verde Islands are where they mate, after which the females migrate north to feed and return for about year later to give birth. Cape Verde is the only known breeding ground for humpbacks in the Northeast Atlantic.
The humpback whale is a mammal that can grow to a length of 12 to 18 meters and then weighs about 30 tons. It is not the largest whale species, which is the Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) with a length of about 29 meters and a weight of 100 tons.
Humpback whales are known for the song of the males in the mating season. They can sing for hours and the sound can be heard at a distance of 30 kilometers. Humpback whales are sensitive to noise. They often respond to sounds from other animals as hunting orcas that they try to chase away in a direct way. It is not for nothing that there are many cases known that a humpback whale takes care of another animal (or human). And has saved it from an attack of, for example, a killer whale or shark. Besides, humpback whales are known for the immense jumps they make above the water. They then hit the water with a pectoral fin and bring out their entire body (30 tons!) above the surface of the water.
The humpback whale is on the red list of the IUCN (international union for the conservation of nature). This means that they are at risk of extinction and the red list encourages action to protect this species. The populations seem to recover a bit. According to the American Cetacean Society, there are about 30,000 to 40,000 humpback whales worldwide. This is only 30 to 35% of the total population that existed in the year 1940.
Where and when can I spot whales in Cape Verde?
The whales, and specifically the humpback whale, can best be observed off the west and south west coast of the islands of Boavista, Sal and Maio. At Boavista, the bay of Sal Ray is one of the favorite places of the whales. You can further spot them between Ponta do Sol and Lacação. And the chance is very great that you see them.
The humpback whales arrive at Cape Verde from December. Most observations of the whales take place from the end of February to May. March and April are the peak moments.