First-Ever Documented Newborn Humpback Whale Spotted Off California Coast

by Taylor Cunningham
(Photo by Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

A whale-watching company has documented the first newborn humpback whale seen swimming near the Monterey, California, coast.

on Nov 4, Monterey Bay Whale Watch Company was giving a typical tour when they noticed a young humpback in the water. The curious staff sent out a drone piloted by the crew’s cinematographer, Evan Brodsky, to get a better look. It was then that they realized a mother and her brand-new calf were swimming in the water.

The company posted a video of the sight on YouTube and noted that the footage “is most likely the first time ever that this has ever been documented in Monterey or even outside of the breeding grounds!!”

Ari Friedlaender, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz has spent 25 years studying the behaviors of marine mammals. And he explained to KSBW 8 that humpback whales typically migrate to warmer water around countries like Mexico and Costa Rica to give birth.

The Humpback Whale Calf Will Have Unique Threats as it Grows in California Waters

Friedlaender agreed that a newborn humpback whale in Monterrey is a rare treat. And he had a few theories on why the mother may have had her calf in northern waters.

“There’s a couple of reasons why this could potentially happen,” he said. “One is that as you get a population of whales that grows, they may not all get pregnant at the same time.”

“And just like in humans, you might have babies that are born a little premature,” Friedlaender added. “Some might take a little bit longer to be born, and so that may have been a mother who was on her way to the calving grounds and just had to give birth a little bit before she reached that area.”

Unfortunately, being born in California opens the calf to unique threats that will make its chances of survival much lower. Professor Friedlaender explained that the small whale is too underdeveloped for the cold water. As a newborn, it doesn’t have the thermal skin later that humpback whales need for insulation.

Also, the calf’s main predator, the killer whale, also lives near Monterey. Because it’s so small, it will be a prime target for aggressive orcas. And it’s too young to fight off an attack, so the mother will have to be strong enough to protect her calf alone.

Friedlaender also added that people should enjoy the local humpback whale calf now. Because even though he understands how the baby was born outside of the breeding grounds, he doesn’t expect it to happen again any time soon