A Puerto Vallarta resident since 1996, biologist Astrid Frisch first came to Puerto Vallarta to pursue humpback whale research for Mexico’s national university (UNAM), her alma mater. One of her first projects upon arrival was the seminal Humpback Whale in Banderas Bay Photoidentification Catalog. “Believe it or not, all humpback whales feature a unique pattern on the ventral side of their tails,” she explains. “This pattern is as unique as a fingerprint.”
The time- and resource-intensive process of observing whales locally, getting close enough to photograph their tails but not so close as to disturb their environs, requires the ongoing involvement of officially sanctioned tour operators throughout the bay, who collaborate with Frisch in gathering the images. When you consider that these impressive mammals travel thousands of miles on their annual pilgrimage to Banderas Bay, it is easy to see how it takes years of monitoring to begin to establish trends and patterns among them.
“The good news is, the number of whales migrating to Banderas Bay every year is increasing,” she comments, though not without trepidation. Whales have usually settled in the northern part of the bay, where the waters are shallower, allowing females and their calves to rest and protect themselves from killer whales (known as orcas). Now they are shifting to the southern edge, where motor boats are less frequent, but the waters are deeper, exposing them to orcas and other perils.
Hand in hand with her non-profit Ecologia y Conservacion de Ballenas, A.C. (www.whalephoto.com
), Frisch offers a variety of nature-oriented tours through Eco Tours Mexico, her commercial venture (www.ecotoursvallarta.com