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Published: November 13th 2021
I love how they approach the pangas on their own.
Since this pandemic has temporarily clipped my travel wings, I found myself reflecting back on some of my adventures around the Baja.
I love the Baja. I love writing about the Baja. Someday, I wish to live out my retirement years on the Baja. But for now, I will just blog about the good bits I’ve experienced so far. December 2018
It's been a few years since I've spent a Christmas on the Baja. I'm usually in Canada or traveling elsewhere in the world during the winters. But this year, I found myself back in Los Cabos for a "Feliz Navidad" with my parents, who still overwinter there.
After a fabulous stuffing of Turkey, I jumped into Señor Jimmy
, my beat up 4x4, and headed north so I could see the grey whales up in Magdalena Bay.
It’s whale season on the Baja!
I never get tired of the whales. Case in point, I’ve done this particular excursion to Magdalena Bay maybe eight times in my life. This time will be a quickie, I only have a day or two before I fly back to Canada for work.
I drove it like I stole it
Visit the Cousins
The odd Humpback whale will come into the bay for a visit. So many whales just like to hang out in safety and watch us.
up to Ciudad Constitucion and arrived into town before sunset. Whew. It’s always smart to not drive the Baja roads after dark. Why? Well, between the farm animals, crazy truckers, and vehicles with no headlights you are just asking for it driving after the sun goes down.
Lots of accommodation choices where the desert meets the sea. Tip: Many B&B’s here have family members who also moonlight as whale guides. I stayed with Wilber, and he and his son will take me out in his Panga at first light.
As usual, the whales did not let me down.
Grey whales (gray for you Americans) show up in Magdalena Bay religiously each year, their migration route is roughly 12,000 miles from Alaska to the Baja and return, feeding along the ocean floor as they go.
They use the sheltered lagoons of the Southern Baja to give birth and protect their babies, who are about the size of a car. The adults can grow to the size of a school bus over an average lifespan of 55-60 years, and weigh about 40 ton.
Whales will change your life. They are the most majestic creatures on this planet
Everything in, everything out on the sand bar of Magdalena
and when you look into their eyes during one of these close encounters, you see God. January 1975
The first time I ever saw grey whales up close, I was probably 7 years old.
My family accidentally came across them in Magdalena Bay. We had been driving down the Baja on our yearly epic camping trip and found an old sand track that we followed out to the sea.
We bumped over endless sandy dunes before getting irrevocably stuck. My Dad, one never to admit defeat, went off on foot to survey our surroundings, only to return triumphantly saying he found a back-eddy calm enough to launch his dingy in. That’s all he wanted. Fish on, he declared. We were parked until further notice.
At that time, we had no idea whales were actually lurking out in that giant bay. In fact, other than a few abandoned fish camps with scorched fire pits and broken beer bottles, drying racks and scaling tables long dismantled by the winds, the area looked severely desolate. We camped for a month I think, or until my Dad felt like digging out the Bronco.
I have so many great
Touchy Touchy Feely Feely
So friendly. They enjoy interacting and approach for pets.
family memories of that particular area. Daily walks along the beach picking up gifts from the sea, poking the blobby purple jellyfish that washed in with the waves. Digging up clams in the tidal flats for dinner, playing hide & seek in the sand dunes.
Dad, the self-proclaimed expert in everything fishing & boating motored out into the bay at first light, returning in with some interesting news. According to him, there were like thirty #$%!^(MISSING) whales out there!!
Not a whale expert, I do remember him referring to them as Humpbacks. Excitingly, my brother and I donned our gigantic orange life vests and sat in the dingy. While Dad had a beer and subsequent siesta, we waited. We were not going to let him go back out onto the lagoon without us. He didn’t even protest. Out we went.
I remember it was blazing hot by noon, and seemed like forever rowing out inch by inch onto the glass blue bay. Dad said the whales would be extremely wary of us and therefore, it was wise to stay a respectful far distance away. We took turns with his binoculars to watch as they spy-hopped, frolicked, and
Death of a Whale
This whale skeleton gives you a up close perspective of how large this animals are
breached in the afternoon heat.
I distinctly remember hearing my Dad say, Uh guys. I think they are coming this way.
Dad didn't even have a chance to react. We were suddenly surrounded by blow spouts on every side of the little dingy, their huge bodies rolling over to spy at us, taking turns bumping our little boat. My brother's shrieks were at an octave usually only reserved for bats and surprise spiders. Stay calm, stay calm
Dad was yelling, I think I was crying.
When we felt our dingy rise up out of the water, Dad was like Oh hell no.
He was swearing and rowing simultaneously back to shore. The whales followed us like puppies. It is only now that we understand they just wanted to use our skiff to scrape off some of the sea lice and barnacles from their skin.
Back then, there was no such thing as Google or smartphones, but we did have a set of encyclopedias for our home school studies. At camp we proudly informed Dad he got the identity of the whales wrong, these were California grey whales.
Overnight we became junior field technicians, gathering
Eye see you
Look into a whales eye and you will see the creator. Who ever that is to you. They know him.
Intel for our required science project essay. Each day we went out, we would take notes and snap photos, all the while observing these gigantic mammals in their element.
After that first encounter when nothing really happened to us, we got a bit braver and finally graduated to recognizing individuals and touching their weirdly smooth but rubbery skin with our bare hands as they rose out of the murky depths to greet us.
I will never forget those experiences. Winter 1837
Unfortunately, there is an ugly history in Magdalena Bay. Actually. It is heartbreaking. Grey whales were ambushed here as early as 1837 by whaling ships of the Americans, French, Dutch and Russians.
They would slaughter the mothers and babies that took refuge from the strong Pacific Ocean in this naturally formed bay. How they didn't go extinct is beyond me. The survivors are now a protected species by an international agreement since 1986. Still, the odd sneaky Japanese trawler comes around, but the Mexican Navy along with Greenpeace stationed in San Jose del Cabo drive these illegal boats away. I kind of wish they'd sink them so they can’t come back again.
Sunsets for daysPresent Day
The Baja is a magical place and watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean a treat.
So they thrive now, right? Wrong.
Unfortunately good old climate change rears it's ugly head. Again
. NOAA does periodic whale counts and they indicate there is still a decline in grey whales.
After I visited in 2018, there were several large scale strandings that happened all along the pacific coast in 2019. These types of incidents can happen, and the numbers fluctuate but there is real concern for grey whales because they are considered a sentinel species, one that signals the health of their sea environment. Their key role is in food distribution for other ocean species by stirring up and distributing the bottom dwelling creatures into the water column during their feeding. If they are dying off in numbers, the whole ecological system could be collapsing.
Many of the whales of the massive stranding event of 2019 appeared thin and mal-nourished. This sparked further studies as a result. With ocean temperatures rising, and sea ice melting the food that whales eat while they are in the Arctic is declining. They are staying longer in colder waters to access food. Consequently, more are giving birth en route during their winter migration south and this puts
The local fishermen have put down their gear and picked up the tourists. They make so much more money for their families showing foreigners the whales.
the young at risk from being eaten by their main predator, Orcas, or being hit by ships.
I think awareness and public interest plays an important role for the future of the grey whales. That's why I highly recommend anyone staying in Los Cabos to consider a little off-resort adventure during the winter months to take an excursion north to see the whales up close. You’ll be glad you did. Where is Magdalena Bay?
Directions are fool proof. Head north on Highway Baja 1 from Los Cabos for about five hours. At Ciudad Constitucion, take a left on Highway 22 and its about 64 km to the tiny pueblo of Magdalena. There, you will have plenty of options to suit any budget and any time constraint. I'd recommend going to the jetty and hiring a local panga fisherman for the day, and buy locally, spend your money locally, whether it be for snacks or lodgings. Doing so encourages those who depend on the sometimes illegal and overfished sea trades to chose tourist activities instead thereby conserving and protecting the flora & fauna in this area.
If you have more time, go Glamping or Eco Hiking. There
The accoms are pretty nice for many of the whale watching camping tours at Magdalena
are several companies that will take care of all the cooking and setting up, and will lead you out to the isolated sandbars where there are fabulous beaches and calm seas for kayaking, SUP, snorkeling, and exploring some of the most diverse ecological parts of the Baja. Ask your concierge at your hotel for details.
Winters are when the grey whales traverse down and up the Baja, but really, between late November and March you are pretty much guaranteed a whale encounter in Magdalena.
If you can’t get to Magdalena Bay, do the next best thing and go on a whale watching excursion right in Los Cabos.
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D MJ Binkley
Dave and Merry Jo Binkley
Our trip to Antarctica was the closest we've been to whales. We didn't touch them but were close enough to do so. Thanks for sharing.
Whales up close
How lucky are you, Andrea? Whales friendly and curious enough to get real close. Living on the East coast of Oz we see the annual migration of humpbacks when we choose to sit on a coastal cliff to watch them go by. The closest I have got is in a boat in rough seas when one rose vertically out of the water only two metres away...awesome, colossal and a total surprise. But I have never looked one in the eye and shared a connection like your pics profess. How lucky are you!!!
Love your blog
I love this blog. I really hope I get to visit this part of Mexico someday. You have several 5 star photos :)