Humpback Whale Conservation in Morro de São Paulo, Brazil

  • Ashley Hiemenz
  • 2 September 2009

Elegant, mysterious and enormous, the humpback whale is utterly breathtaking when seen up close for the first time. With their enigmatic singing and endearing gentleness, these magnificent beasts have continued to perplex and allure travellers from around the globe, wishing to behold these nomadic mammals during their epic migrations.

Humpback whale off the Morro de São Paulo coast of Brazil

The magnificent breach of a humpback whale off the Morro de São Paulo coast of Brazil

Marine experts estimate that a humpback whale travels an average of 25,000 kilometres each year on a regular migration route that begins with feeding in cold polar waters and ends with summer breeding in subtropical climates. In the southern hemisphere, humpback whales travel from Antarctica to the northern Brazilian coast of Bahia, where visitors regularly gather to witness whale mothers and calves up close.

Hunters’ Deadly Harpoons

There was, however, a time in our history when humpback whales teetered perilously close to extinction, with only 10% of the original population left in the world. Although several factors led to the depreciation in their numbers, the most severe was beyond doubt that of hunting. The humpback whale’s close-to-shore activities and unhurried pace have made it an easy mark for commerical hunters for centuries.

Slow-moving adult humpback whales, which can grow over 50 feet in length, have long been easy marks for hunters

Slow-moving adult humpback whales, which can grow over 50 feet in length, have long been easy marks for hunters

Commerical whale hunting in Brazil was introduced at the beginning of the 17th century. In the 20th century, Japanese factories were often busy in Brazilian waters until whaling was finally prohibited in 1987. In the 87 years prior to that, according to the Instituto Baleia Jubarte it is estimated that over 200,000 humpback whales were killed in the southern hemisphere alone.

Whales continue to be endangered even though significant changes have been made to sea-harvesting practices. The primary threats include over-fishing, pollution, commercial fishing nets and climate change. The result is a whale population about one-third of what it was once thought to be.

Instituto Baleia Jubarte

“The idea that whales are saved from human aggression is not true, and in this new century we should strive to make sure our actions do not once again lead them down the path of distinction.” – Instituto Baleia Jubarte

Before embarking on a whalewatching trip, participants are given some information about humpback whales

Before embarking on a whalewatching trip, participants are given some information about humpback whales

With the end of whale hunting in Brazil, interest in whalewatching has grown rapidly in coastal areas, where visitors flock to catch a glimpse of these incredible animals. Besides the obvious advantages of not killing whales and promoting cetacean awareness and conservation, the incidental effects of whale tourism have been positive in other ways; this type of tourism produces over US$1 billion dollars annually across the globe, greatly impacting the local coastal communities who now depend on it. Compared to whale hunting, a practice where the economic advantages are centralized in the hands of a few at the expense of an entire species, whale tourism benefits a large number of people, local ventures like restaurants, tour operators and hotels, and, of course, the whales themselves.

One organisation very aware of this and now actively contributing to the peaceful coexistence of humans and whales – and ensuring the latter a better future today – is the Instituto Baleia Jubarte (IBJ), located in Praia do Forte, 90 kilometres northeast of Salvador. IBJ now works in partnership with Rota Tropical Turismo, who run whalewatching trips daily from July to October in the waters near Morro de São Paulo, where humpbacks gather to reproduce. On this day trip, participants can behold the acrobatic whales breaching and playing in the water, and sometimes even see mother whales with newborn calves. Taking a tour like this not only promotes awareness by connecting travellers with these remarkable animals, it also supports IBJ’s work in environmental education, scientific research and preservation of humpback whales.


For more information on whalewatching tours and any other local recommendations or advice about Morro de São Paulo hotels and Morro de São Paulo tours, contact the team of Rota Tropical, your whl.travel local connection.


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animal conservation, Brazil, marine conservation, oceans & reefs, responsible travel, South America,

6 Responses to “Humpback Whale Conservation in Morro de São Paulo, Brazil”

  1. Ashley Hiemenz says:

    Thanks! No, unfortunately I missed it! But I did have a chance to go in a shark cage diving in Hermanus.. what an experience. Sharks are equally as incredible!

  2. Super job Ashley. Were you at the Hermanus Whale Festival this year?

  3. Luke Ford says:

    Well the trip was excellent. I just can’t describe the feeling coming so close to such an awesome creature. We at first lost her to the deep, only to have her swim within three metres of the boat.

    A few sea turtles later, and sea-sickness tablets being shared around, we came across a family of around four or five Humpbacks. A litle more active then their friend we met earlier, these whales put on a show breaching twice! To see such a huge animal reach for the sky is a pretty awesome sight.

    All in all, this was a fantastic trip and Morro de Sau Paulo has been added to one of my favourite spots. It really is something else and has a real “Vibe” about it. What’s the Vibe? You’ll just have to visit one day to find out.

    Thanks a lot to Rota Tropical Tourism. I’ve seen a company here that has established itself in Morro as a leading tour operator dedicated to responsible tourism practises, a benchmark for others to follow.

  4. Well done Ashley, and welcome on our island Luke! Please tell us how was your whale watching tour in Brazil, yep?

  5. Luke Ford says:

    I’m heading to Morro de São Paulo next week, would be great to go whale watching. Thanks for the article Ashley.

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