Whale Watching in Baja California
In January, we took a whale watching excursion around the southern end of the Santa Monica Bay.
We had a fantastic time full of blows, flukes and even one breach. The naturalists on board illuminated us with a great deal of interesting facts.
That three hours trip intensified a desire I had for a long time. I have done many whale watching trips around the California Coast but for years I have wanted to visit the whales breeding and birthing grounds. This time I took action.
In March, I found myself 450 miles (720 km) south of the international border. The town of Guerrero Negro, located in the Baja California Sur state, is located close to the Ojo de Liebre Lagoon (Hare Eye or Scammon’s Lagoon), an important habit for the reproduction of the gray whale.
Every winter, gray whales leave their homes in the Bering and Chukchi Seas and travel 5,000 to 6,800 miles south to the calving lagoons of Baja California. It is the longest mammal migration on planet Earth.
By late December – early January, the whales arrive to one of three principal lagoons in Mexico: Ojo de Liebre (the biggest lagoon), San Ignacio and Magdalena. The first two lagoons are part of the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Ramsar Wetland.
The pregnant mothers arrive first to the lagoons. This year experts estimate we had one thousand births (that is a record breaking number).
The company we traveled with arranged a morning whale watching trip for us. We started the day with a substantial breakfast and a talk about all things whale.
The guides gave details about the whale’s migration, feeding habits and, ahem, reproduction activities. Let’s just said things got very graphic and everybody was chuckling uncontrollably. I do not want to get into details but you can imagine how challenging the process is if you weigh 40 tons and are floating in the water.
After a good laugh, instructions were given (what is allowed and what is not allowed) and we proceeded to board the vans.
Mexico has specific laws in place regarding whale-watching activities from vessels to minimize stress on the whales, to protect them from unintentional injury by boaters and to ensure that the mothers and calves are never separated from each other. All the activities presented in this post comply with Mexican law.
Guerrero Negro is also famous for having the biggest salt works in the world. We passed the salt mines operating area en route to where we were going to board the boats. Sounds cliché but the vistas were mesmerizing.
Once seated with life jackets adjusted, our little panga sped up through a maze of white dunes and turquoise seas. After 20 minutes, the motor halted and we started to move at a very slow speed. There we were in the middle of the lagoon. It was waiting time.
We visited Baja during a stormy weekend. While we were down there, it was raining cats and dogs in Los Angeles. We had gorgeous blue skies and a shining sun but the winds were high. The panga was moving like a hammock and some waves were beating us.
But, we didn’t have to wait long. Whales started to breach in the distance. After that, we were able to see their dark bodies glistening under the sun rays.
Then, they started to get closer. People in the boat started to see the babies. The moms keep the babies in their backs until they learn the proper way to breath. Since they are closer to the surface, it is easier to spot them.
The guides described the gray whales as 40 tons puppies. Nobody understands why but they like to interact with humans. It is a mystery why such a big animal approaches boats in the lagoon. What is more, they let their babies, their most valuable possession, to hang around the boats.
A mom and a calf started to move around our boat. I describe their actions as “showing off.” They were turning around, sticking the tails out and moving their flippers in front of us. They blow us several times.
My husband was able to catch the moment in video. Notice how close the whales get to our boat.
You can see how rough the sea was when we visited. The company’s owner provided me with the following video so you can see how different the experience is when the sea is calm.
It has been said that this type of whale tries to make eye contact with humans. Call me crazy but after being so close to them, I felt like they were looking at us straight in the eye. I cannot explain what you feel when you see the whale’s eye. Let me just say that for a short period of time, we were all kids again.
The interaction continued while we were in the lagoon (with different whales since the interaction is up to them, if they leave, they leave, the boat cannot follow them).
This has been one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced. It is one of those experiences when you feel at awe with nature.
I think nobody can truly understand the beauty of whales (and of other marine mammals) until they go to see them in their natural habitat. After observing their behavior in nature, you understand why they deserve respect and care.
On a separate topic, let me say that we were able to spot other species in the protected areas surrounding the lagoon.
We also had the opportunity to see more of the salt works.
I encourage you to join a whale watching trip and join the protection efforts on their behalf.
- I arranged this excursion with Tours in Baja. The land tour includes whale watching, sightseeing along the coast and desert, breakfasts, 2 nights accommodation, insurance and all transportation. We were picked up in Rosarito but they can pick up people in San Diego. In addition, they arrange tours to other parts of Baja. They are completely professional, speak perfect English and I cannot recommend them enough. You can reach them by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 52 (664) 409 8032.
- The other option is to drive or arrange your own transportation to Guerrero Negro. Take into consideration the town is in the middle of nowhere and the closest commercial airports are 400 miles away.
- Some people prefer to whale watch in the southernmost lagoon (Magdalena) since it is about 110 miles from Loreto or La Paz. Those towns have direct flights from the United States and big cities in Mexico.
- Do some research before booking your whale watching tour. Make sure the company you are choosing is regulated by the proper agencies. Ask questions.
- Read about responsible whale watching behavior. For example, you can visit the web pages of the International Whaling Commission or the Cetacean Society International.
- There is not a uniform set of international whale watching laws. What is legal in one country may not be legal in another.
- If you are interested in this topic, try to learn more about its different aspects. Knowledge is the only way to spread the correct message and contribute towards the conservation efforts. The same goes for other animal or plant species.
- Many thanks to Tours in Baja for allowing me to use their video and for a great time. As a clarification, I paid for this experience form my own pocket and did not receive any compensation or discount to write about it.
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