Baja Whale Watching
by Shari Bookstaff
Have you ever wanted to pet a whale? Feeling the rubbery skin of a whale, while she pushes gently against your hand is a once in a lifetime experience. In shallow lagoons, down the west coast of the Baja peninsula, the mighty gray whales take refuge to give birth. A Baja whale watching experience must include a ride on an inflatable Zodiac boat, where many visitors have had very up-close and personal encounters with these majestic giants.
Why are they here?
Gray whales migrate to the warm, protected lagoons of Baja to give birth. Newborn calves have very little blubber (fat) and would not be able to keep warm in the cold, frigid, arctic waters that their mothers recently left. Baja whale watching provides great opportunities to observe young whales nursing on milk that is 50% fat, to watch young whales playing with other young whales, and occasionally observe them cavorting with tourists!
Why are they leaving?
The best time for Baja whale watching is between January and April, with a peak in mid-March. After females give birth, they nurse their young, feeding them very rich milk that will ensure that their babies gain weight very quickly. Here's the catch: during this entire time of giving birth and nursing, mom doesn't get to eat! The waters in Baja, while great for protecting newborns, are not very productive and do not have a decent food supply. So, the Baja whale watching season is rather short. When moms and babies leave the lagoons together in the spring, they follow a coastal route back to cold, productive, arctic waters. Cold water carries a lot more nutrients than warm water, and, combined with the full-time summer sun, the arctic waters supply enough food for the 100,000 pound giants.
Will they be back?
After a short, but intense feeding season, gray whales will begin the long migration back to Baja. On the way, they may see many people on whale watching boats, delighting in the sights of a huge animal jumping out of the water. They may also encounter danger: sharks and killer whales will attempt to attack young gray whales during their long journey. Most of the whales, however, do make it back for another season of Baja whale watching.
Sign me up!
So, are you interested in seeing, feeling, touching and smelling these fantastic creatures? Baja whale watching will take you to Mexico. Baja is a peninsula south of California. The main calving lagoons, Scammons Lagoon and San Ignacio Lagoon are about half-way down. While it may be possible to drive from San Diego, it is not recommended. The best way to get the most out of your Baja whale watching adventure is to go on an organized tour. Some tours set up camping facilities, and have daily boat trips out to see the whales. You can even see some from shore. Take a look at the variety of shore-based trips. Check out what the living conditions are like. You may find that "camping" on some of these tours is far from "roughing it".
The other great way to get to your Baja whale watching adventure is take a cruise from San Diego. Many organizations, even some non-profit whale conservation groups, offer Baja whale watching trips.
Whichever type of trip you choose, make sure you will get the chance to go out in a small boat, where you can be close to the water. Many of the Baja whales are so used to whale watchers that they have become friendly! The whales will approach the boat, stick their head out of the water and allow you to touch them! To have a whale in the palm of your hand--now that's what I call a vacation!
More articles by Shari Bookstaff