Whale watching season in Ecuador lasts from June to September and, though our tour operator (a local known only as 'Eddie Spaghetti') assured us we wouldn't be disappointed, I was still nervous. Any wildlife tour, by definition, runs the risk of the main attractions simply not cooperating with the intrusive tourists. To attempt to assert control over the animals (by regularly feeding them for instance) is to defeat the very purpose of the experience. And so, nothing is assured. I needn't have worried.
Humpback whales, after a long 'summer' of feeding on krill in the artic, come to warmer coastal waters around the world to mate and breed. Here, they can live off fat reserves while they mate and give birth in relative peace, away from orcas ((Orcas are also known as "killer whales", partially because they've been known to hunt and kill the calves of various types of whales and then consume only very little of the carcass. The idea that they attack mostly to kill, rather than feed themselves, gives them their fearsome reputation in the world's oceans.)), their natural predators.
The light blue blob in the photo above is a newborn calf, which doesn't know how to swim when it's first born. The mother, as well as other whales in the family group, periodically, helps it to the surface for air. After a period of anywhere from 12 to 24 hours, the calf learns to swim and surface on it's own.
Though the pair in the photo above might suggest the idea that humpbacks mate for life, this isn't the case. They generally travel in groups of 10-20 and, though they will assist each other in child-rearing or defense against orcas, monogamous behavior has not been observed.
The many whales we saw will likely begin their long journey south very soon. The females, now pregnant and hungry, will need a massive amount of krill to sustain a gestation period of 11-12 months, after which time they'll return to the coasts of Ecuador, to begin the cycle anew.