The sea water lullaby begins as the stars twinkle playfully on the shallow waters of Mexico’s Magdalena Bay. Blazing blue skies have admitted defeat to gentle moonlight as Baja Gray whale watching evolves to a bedtime spouting symphony.
Snuggled under covers, in our glamping style tents, days old baby Gray whales and their mothers spout softly as they log (rest) for the night. Here on sand dunes above the warm, protected lagoons of Baja California we dim our solar light. Drifting to peaceful sleep with the whale serenade.
At dawn rays of pink and purple wiggle through our tent netting acting as nature’s alarm clock. Curiosity pulls my sleepy head off the soft pillow and standing, I unzip our canvas home away from home.
Cotton candy swirls of clouds oversee breakfast preparation. As we sip coffee, steaming French toast and juicy slices of papaya and pineapple are being brought out by the Mar Y Aventuras staff. A Gray whale mother and calf surface on the shimmering waters of the bay.
Is that Gray whale swimming to our boat?
Nothing could prepare us for the seawater spectacle about to ensue. I recall gazing at photos on the Baja whale trip website. Surely whales would never come so close.
Heading out for our first whale watching of the day in a motorized skiff, the excited finger-pointing begins. Our marine biologist guide yells out, “There’s a breach!”
Fumbling for cameras not yet released from plastic cases the guide calls out again.
“There’s another one! It’s a fluke!”
The sight of a 10 foot whale tail causes jaws to drop on the pristine, white floor of the vessel.
“Look over here! It’s a spy hop!”
We swivel yet again to see a Gray whale head emerging out of the sea like a giant synchronized swimmer.
Our heads spin to and fro as if we are in the midst of a 360 degree oceanic tennis match gone berserk. The skilled local captain, who in Baja California whale watching season holds government approved registration, estimates there are 80 whales in the area surrounding us. He should know having spent decades observing whale migration season.
As far as the eye can see, heart-shaped spouts bellow skyward from the Gray whales distinctive double blow holes. We smile imagining a sea water traffic controller below the surface of Magdalena Bay keeping whales, the size of city buses, from colliding.
Returning to our camp, on the dunes of Santa Domingo Island, lunch awaits us Gray whale watchers. Warm quesadillas, home-made soup and whale stories of a lifetime fill the dining tent as we gaze out on the turquoise waters of Magdalena.
We pepper our naturalist guides with questions as if seasoning the lunch before us.
“Why are there so many whales?”
“When is Baja whale season?”
“I thought they were called Pacific whales?
No time to read right now? You have to see this to believe it. Watch our three minute video of the best whale watching in Baja California.
Gray whale watching in Baja lagoons – the great migration
At Gray whale calving lagoons of Magdalena Bay, on Mexico’s Baja California coast, a most extraordinary event is unfolding. The Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) also known as the Pacific Gray whale, the Gray Black whale, the Grey whale and the California Gray whale has arrived.
By any name these gentle giants have recently completed the mother of all sea trips.
Holding the record for longest annual mammal migration, these 35 ton swimmers (give or take 5 tons), have recently arrived from Alaska. With a round trip of 16,000 – 22,530 kilometres (10,000 – 14,000 miles) the journey sped along at 8 km/hr (5 mi/hr).
Our guide puts the Gray whale’s travel itinerary into perspective.
“If a gray whale lives for 50 years it would travel the same distance as to the moon, back to the earth and back to the moon again.”
In Gray whale migration season, sea traffic is heavy with approximately 26,000 whales heading south. Only the whales know why, but come October they begin to leave the rich feeding area of the Bering and Chuchi Seas near Alaska.
Once in Mexico’s protected bays, the whales are safe from their predators, the Orcas and large sharks. Also under the protection of a national reserve, the whales frolic here from mid January to late March.
That baby weighs a ton!
During our afternoon whale watching excursion, a mother and her calf swim near our boat. The captain stills the motor as the calf ventures toward the skiff. The mother allows the calf to explore and then with the slap of a fin, appears to call her curious one back to her.
Who can blame her for being protective? After being pregnant for 13 months, the Gray whale recently gave birth to this ‘little’ one, weighing over 1000 pounds! Drinking more than 50 gallons of high fat milk each day leaves little time for playing.
Gray whale diet – now that’s a mouthful
Eating is a giant job for a whale especially one without teeth. Capturing food through a curtain of baleen, the Gray whale scoops up tasty treats of small crustaceans and tube worms from the bottom of the ocean.
Diving to the bottom and leaning to one side (Gray whales are either right-lipped or left-lipped), up to a ton of food a day is gobbled through their mustache like curtain. The mud, entering with all the bottom-of-the-sea nourishment, is then squirted back out through the baleen filter.
Gray whale facts that can’t be explained
There is no scientific explanation as to why a whale who weighs as much as 10 elephants rolls gently at the side of a boat. The guide and captain encourage us to splash the friendly giant, as Gray whales seem to like the spray of water.
Truthfully, words will never convey the majestic wonder of looking over the side of a small vessel to see a massive animal snuggled beside, as if wanting to be a new best friend.
Or watching a Gray whale mother gently lifting its calf to the surface to breathe. The dimple-skinned babe then playfully rolling on its mother’s head.
On our last whale watching excursion two large Gray whales approach our boat side by side, as if coming to kiss us goodbye. Our boat captain, with 18 years of experience, tells us he has only seen this happen three times in all of his time in Magdalena Bay.
For 15 minutes fins, flukes and whale eyes surround our boat. Popping up unexpectedly. It appears to be an astonishing game of whale hide and seek under our boat.
Asking the captain if there is any danger he smiles reassuringly.
It is Baja whale season and these Gray whales are the friendly giants of earth.
Questions about Baja whale watching expeditions with Mar Y Aventuras
Are there other activities besides whale watching?
Walk on the soft sand beach. Kayak in nearby mangrove estuaries teaming with bird life. Watch for brown and white pelicans, frigatebirds, ring-billed gulls, brants and more.
Rising at dawn we often napped or read after lunch. Or you can relax in camp and watch whales frolic offshore.
Did you get cold?
During our stay in mid February the lowest temperature at night was 10 C (50 F). The sleeping bags are warm and an extra blanket is provided.
On windy days it is best to dress in layers with a waterproof jacket and wind pants as the outer layer for whale excursions. You never know when a whale might splash you!
How was the food?
How the crew manages to make such delicious food in a tent kitchen is beyond us. Three hot and scrumptious meals a day and a snack at happy hour, margaritas or pina coladas were served up each day.
Do you always see whales on a Baja whale trip?
We were in camp for five nights (a usual trip is three nights), with ten whale watching trips by boat. We saw whales every time. On four of those outings whales approached our skiff and spent extensive periods near us.
The other six whale watching tours, sightings ranged from a few meters (yards) away to distant spouts and breeches.
What about toilet facilities?
There are two private tents in camp with portable toilets. Meticulously clean and fresh smelling, they bear no resemblance to typical outhouses. A large bucket with a lid is provided in your own tent for night time use if you wish.
I have motion sickness. Can I still do a Baja whale watching tour?
If there were an Olympics for motion sickness I would be the gold medal winner. I wore anti-nausea wristbands and took over the counter medication to prevent nausea prior to the whale watching excursions.
Only once, on a particularly windy day, with whales constantly near our boat, did I experience nausea. I was looking through my camera most of the time rather than watching the horizon. The guide and captain were extremely supportive and offered remedies as well.
In my opinion, motion sickness should not stop you from signing up for a whale watching trip with Mar Y Aventuras .
Where is Magdalena Bay?
Magdalena Bay lies along the Pacific Coast of Mexico’s Baja California Sur. The main body of Magdalena Bay is some 50 kilometres (30 miles) in length, while a narrow channel extends the bay northward a further 60 kilometres (35 miles). A series of narrow islands protect the bay along its entire length.
The Mar Y Aventuras camp sits on the sand dunes of Isla Santo Domingo looking out to a protected section of the bay channel. Transportation from La Paz to Magdalena Bay is included as part of this trip or arrangements can be made from Loreto as well.
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We were guests of Mar Y Aventuras. For information on how to book your whale watching trip click here. All thrills of a lifetime and opinions are our own.