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With his dark tail flukes marked with a white "T", the humpback whale that our research team named Teodoro is a regular visitor to the coast of Ecuador. Our research team has sighted Teodoro off Ecuador's coast on four occasions: on August 11, 2001; August 8, 2004; August 29, 2004 and July 14, 2008. Photos from each of those four sightings are shown here. You can see how the "T" makes it easy to identify this individual animal. Ecuador is South American country that is a little larger in size than California. It measures 176,204 square miles and is nestled between Columbia and Peru on the "west coast" of South America. Ecuador has 1,390 miles of Pacific coastline. The Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador and are an extremely popular tourist destination. The story of Teodoro takes place in a location that has been nicknamed "the poor man's Galapagos" – a beautiful coastal park named Parque Nacional Machalilla (Machalilla National Park) that's found near the oceanside beach town of Puerto Lopez. Machalilla National Park occupies 40,000 acres of land and 20,000 hectares of ocean, including the islands of La Plata and Salango, which are famous for their flowers, birds and other wildlife. It costs much less to visit these islands than their world-famous neighbors, which is how they earned their moniker "the poor man's Galapagos."
It was within the calm waters of Machalilla National Park that our research team first encountered Teodoro in 2001. At that point, they gave this whale a code – EC134 – as they observed it near a massive coral reef known as "Cantagallo."
The Ecuador research team has a tradition of selecting a few whales to be "baptized" (as they say locally) each year with an actual name. It was after sighting EC134 twice in 2004 and once in 2008 that the researchers decided to name this whale "Teodoro" after the large white "T" on its dark tail flukes.
Cristina Castro, PhD, the head of our Ecuador research team, explains that the dark color of Teodoro's tail flukes is distinctive in this part of the world. Many of the other whales in this region have light colored tail flukes. If you look closely at the lines near the tips of Teodoro's flukes, you will see white marks – believed to be scarring caused by predatory orca whales. It is apparent that Teodoro has a strong desire to survive and was able to escape what might have been a life-threatening situation with the orca whales.
The researchers were clever in their reasons for choosing the name Teodoro. They point out that if you change the letter "O" to "A" in the first part of Teodoro's name, you get "teAdoro" which means "I love you" in Spanish. On each of the locations when our researchers have sighted Teodoro, he was in a competition pod, vying with other males to gain the best position near a female. Competition pods involve two or more males, doing everything they can to push the other males away from the female. It's not uncommon to see whales in a competition pod swimming fast, using head slaps, head butts and head lunges to displace the other males in the group. A name that closely resembles "I love you" semed to be a good choice for a whale so intent on finding a mate.
Teodoro is not the only whale off the coast of Ecuador that seeks the opportunity to mate. This region is a recognized breeding area for these whales during the winter months of June through October, the mating season for humpback whales in the southern hemisphere.
Ecuador's population of humpback whales begins its journey in Antarctica, where the whales feed during the warmer months of the year (November through May). Cooler temperatures trigger their seasonal migration northward along the coasts of Chile and Peru. Some remain in Ecuador, but others continue on to Costa Rica, a migration totaling 8461 kilometers or more, the longest known movements documented for any mammal.
Whalewatching is increasing in popularity all along the coast of South and Central America. Many Latin Americans love their visiting whales and have taken steps to protect these graceful marine mammals. Just recently, eleven South and Central American nations signed an agreement to ban whaling forever along their coastlines. It is in the spirit of caring about whales that we present Teodoro to you as your adopted whale. You will be informed as we sight this whale in the future. We look forward to learning more about this distinctive whale together with you and working to protect it on behalf of you and all in Latin America who love whales.