A close encounter with a gray whale!

After our visit with Jenaro at Mission San Borja we continued along the dirt road out to Rosarito. There was even a big official looking sign pointing the way for us!

Only road sign for the next 25 miles of intersecting dirt roads.
Only road sign for the next 25 miles of intersecting dirt roads.

From there we headed south into the state of Baja Sur at Guerrero Negro. The whale watching was our destination! We came to Baja specifically for the whale watching during the months of January through March. This is the time when the gray whales breed and have their young at the lagoons from Scammonds in Guerrero Negro down to Magdalena Bay. We were really excited about this leg of our trip.

As we approached the state border crossing, there was a military checkpoint, an agricultural checkpoint and then another to check our papers. The first checkpoint was only interested in where we came from and where we were going. The next was the agricultural inspection. I fessed up to having a mango and an apple but they didn’t seem to care about such trivial things. We paid our 20 pesos for the fumigation. This process required us to drive our FJ over a grate with vapor rising out of it. We didn’t ask what was in the vapor and I’m not sure that I really want to know the answer. We heard that if we didn’t have our papers in order for the next check point then we might be turned away back to the border. We didn’t see anyone when we arrived so we kept on driving. Now to see the whales!

Our campground in Guerrero Negro was the Malarrimo RV Park. They also had a restaurant so we splurged on dinner. We had an ok meal for USD$35 total, which is relatively expensive for Baja. Our campsite was in the parking lot behind the restaurant. It looked like they didn’t bother to open the main camping lot this year due to the lack of tourists. We were hoping to go on a whale watching tour the following day but when we arrived we were told that they wouldn’t be going out because of the wind. We were hopeful that the wind might die down the next day so we stayed and completed a few errands while we waited. With laundry and grocery shopping done we took a walk along the bird sanctuary.

Entrance to Guerrero Negro's bird sanctuary.
Entrance to Guerrero Negro’s bird sanctuary.

The pelicans put on an excellent diving show for us. About 10 pelicans showed up from all different directions as if on queue. They started dive-bombing into the waters one after the other, practically on top of each other, then they would fly a few feet down the estuary and do the same thing. They continued in this manner for about 15 minutes making their way to the end of the estuary.Pelicant.jpeg

That evening, the wind died down a bit so we were hopeful that the pangas would go out to the lagoons the next day. When we got up I headed straight over to the Malarrimo Whale Watching tour office and we received the good news! They would take us out onto the lagoons in about an hour!!!

There would be only one other couple on the tour, Lynn & Ed. This was great news since we wouldn’t have to look over a bunch of people to see the whales. Lucien was our tour guide who was with us only during the ride from the office out to the lagoons. He gave us a history of the town and its number one employer, the salt company, along with some information about the whales and migratory birds. Our awesome boat captain was Manan. He was an expert in finding the whales and putting us in a position where they would swim near us. The lagoons here are huge and hold the largest number of migrating whales. There were as many as 2,300 whales this season. They have had as many as 3,000 whales at these lagoons in the past.

It was truly an amazing experience to see these giants as they observed us by telescoping. This is when they bring their head straight up out of the water as if to watch us.

She sees us!
She sees us!

At one point, the baby came sweeping by and lifted his tail up just enough for me to touch it!

A glancing touch of the baby's tail.
A glancing touch of the baby’s tail.
Darryl was able to touch the baby but I just missed capturing the moment.
Darryl was able to touch the baby but I just missed capturing the moment.

The baby knocked his back up against the bottom of the boat so gently as if saying hello! (I have a very good imagination.) It’s amazing to think how gentle these creatures are considering that the 3 month old calf could easily toss us over with very little effort. Its tail was velvety smooth and felt like soft rubber. When they are born, they weigh between 1,200 – 1,500 pounds and are over 16 feet long.

It was fascinating to watch their behavior. The mother would come up under its baby to help prop it up so it could see us and get closer to the boat. If you look closely in this photo, you’ll see the mother underneath and the darker shape is the baby on top of its mama.

Mama propping up her baby so it could get a better view of us.
Mama propping up her baby so it could get a better view of us.

Here you can get a sense of the size of the baby relative to its mother. They swam next to each other with the baby coming up for air more frequently and the mother at its side. When the whales are first born, they stay in the more shallow waters of the lagoons where there is little current and the babies can learn to breath and how to dive. The mother introduces the baby to the stronger currents at the mouth of the lagoons at 2 or  3 months of age. Here they spend a few weeks getting bigger, stronger and more skilled at navigating the currents. They must learn a lot in these first few months because once they head out into the ocean, away from the safety of the lagoon, there will be orcas awaiting them.

Mama escorting her calf.
Mama escorting her calf.

After returning from the whale watching tour we spent the afternoon chatting with Ed and Lynn about the experience and spending a wonderful afternoon sharing stories of our travels through Baja. It was a spectacular day sharing the whale experience with this really nice couple.

Here are a few of the many photos we took of the experience.

Whale's tail!
Whale’s tail!
A little mist from their blow holes.
A little mist from their blow holes.
Momma and baby are chasing us.
Momma and baby are chasing us.
They caught us and hung out in the rear of the boat for a few minutes while we admired them.
They caught us and hung out in the rear of the boat for a few minutes while we admired them.
They come right up to the boat!
They come right up to the boat!
You can get a real sense of their size here. This is one of the calves.
You can get a real sense of their size here. This is one of the calves.
I could have stayed out for hours watching these animals!
I could have stayed out for hours watching these animals!

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