Whale Watching in Mexico
By Candyce H. Stapen
For decades, pods of Pacific gray whales have made the 5000-mile journey from Alaska to Magdalena Bay, Baja California, Mexico, where the protected lagoons provide safe havens for birthing and nursing. February and the first half of March, prime whale season, offer the best chance to see these leviathans at close range, although the giants start to arrive in January.
Many outfitters offer these trips. We chose a camping trip with Outdoor Adventure River Specialists (OARS). Twice daily we left our camp on sandy, windblown Isla Santa Domingo, boarded a panga, a small motorized skiff, then searched the horizon for the whales’ telltale heart-shaped spray.
Twenty minutes or more often passed before we sighted a whale, and even then the creatures often dived deep to elude us. However, we had magical encounters at least once a day. One morning after yelling “Thar she blows!,” the whale we spotted submerged, but much to our surprise, within minutes her back--all 40 feet of it--broke the surface just yards away from us, in what now seemed our very, very tiny panga. She came so close to our small boat that we could almost have touched her barnacled head. (Touching isn’t allowed).
While we marveled at momma, her curious calf rolled so close to the bow of our boat that we heard the rhythmic whistle of its inhaling. Then, both cow and calf gracefully dived under our boat only to circle back to our port side. This experience is something my family and I will remember forever.
At times, ten or more boats cruised Magdalena Bay. Although most of them respected the rules against chasing whales, the occasional overzealous day tour operator pursued a fleeing whale. If caught, the guides are fined.
When not searching for whales, we swam, slid down sand dunes, kayaked through a nearby mangrove estuary, and admired the night’s starry, starry skies.
Tips: Go with a reputable outfitter. Bring layers, rain gear and gloves. The weather varies from cold and rainy at night to warm and sunny by day. Also, pack flashlights and lots of batteries for those midnight visits to the outhouse.