The California Native International Adventures

Since 1983

From The California Native Newsletter:

Having a Whale of a Time in Baja

Whale watching in Baja By Ellen Klein
“Our tiny boat bounced as the giant whale broke the water’s surface and rested close enough for us to touch. As she breached, the cameras clicked furiously. Our skipper pointed to more enormous whales—they were all around us!

After a summer spent in the frigid waters of the Chukchi and Bering Seas, feasting on immense quantities of small crustaceans, the California Gray Whales begin their annual migration south to Mexico’s Baja California. Swimming 5000 miles along the North American coast, they arrive in the warm protected bays to breed, give birth and rear their infants.

The long southbound journey is also a time to court and mate, which gives the traveling whales, who become sexually mature around the age of five, something to do besides sightseeing. After a gestation period of thirteen months a female whale gives birth to her calf. Newborn Grays are about 15 feet long and weigh approximately 1500 pounds.

Another female, called an “auntie,” often assists the mother with her calf, so the whales are often spotted in groups of three. The calf nurses on its mother’s milk, ten times richer than cow’s milk. By swimming against the current in the lagoon, the young whale builds up its muscles, and by spring it is fat, around 3000 pounds, mature, at least 19 feet long, and ready for the long northward journey.

Commercial whaling during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reduced the population of the California Grays to very low levels but, with the international ban on whaling and other protective measures, they have since rebounded.

One area that the whales prefer is Bahia Magdalena, or Magdalena Bay. This narrow section of calm waters between the coast of Baja and Magdalena Island harbors fewer gray whales than some other lagoons, but they are more densely congregated here, creating a wonderful place to watch them swim and play.

Puerto Alberto Lopez Mateos and San Carlos are two coastal towns opposite the island. Both are easily accessible from La Paz and Loreto, and offer the opportunity to hire pangas, small motor boats, for whale watching. Skimming along between the mainland and the island, with the frigate birds soaring overhead, and the whales breaching in every direction, is an unforgettable experience.

The bay is also home to a variety of fish and shellfish, as well as bottlenose dolphins. In the dense thickets of mangroves, which dominate Magdalena Island, we can spot many species of birds including Great Blue Herons. A pack of coyotes also inhabits the island, and we can sometimes see them on the beach, feasting on fish, which they have learned to eat as they adapted to island life.

An invigorating boat trip builds up quite an appetite and we conclude this fabulous day by feasting on freshly caught local seafood at one of the excellent nearby restaurants.

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