Baja's Blue Whales
“Did you hear there are bioluminescent dolphins on the bow?” Ellie, the Expedition Leader asked as I walked into the office.
I stopped with my hand halfway to the time sheet binder. Suddenly logging the hours I’d worked that day didn’t seem nearly as urgent as it had ten seconds earlier.
Dashing out of the ship’s office, I scampered up the stairs to the bow, where most of the passengers had already taken up spots on the rail. It was dark and the full moon lit up the ocean like a silver highway.
People were leaning over, pointing at the dimly-seen shapes in the water cutting up and down the bow waves of the Safari Endeavor as she churned south through the Sea of Cortes. Phosphorescence trailed through the water, the faintest echo of an afterglow in an ocean already drenched in moonlight.
The dolphins had shown up while the captain was in the middle of talking about the ship’s plan for the following day. His attentive, orderly audience had instantly disintegrated as soon as the call went out that we’d found dolphins. Or rather, that the dolphins had found us.
This was not the first time that dolphins had graced our bow wake that day.
Cruising south between the cliffs of Isla Carmen and the ‘dancing’ hoodoo rock formations of Isla Danzante, we’d come upon not one but two pods of bottlenose dolphins.
Both pods spent a few minutes playfully out-racing the Safari Endeavor before dashing back off to whatever it was they were doing before the sound of a motor and the prospect of playing in our bow wake distracted them.
The afternoon of cruising could easily have been a success with only those first two visits by the dolphins. As a matter of fact, between the hundred-plus pod of common dolphins playing around the boat on our first day out of La Paz, and the curious grey whale calves right next to our pangas in Magdalena Bay, we’d already had an especially good showing of cetaceans for the week.
But our afternoon was long from over. Rumor had spread that other whales were plying these particular waters north of Isla Monserrat; the Great whale.
Yes, the whale that dwarfs any other living thing on the planet.
Exactly how big is the blue whale? Well, it’s a whale that is as wide as a humpback is long, a whale that’s tongue weighs over a ton and a whale with a heart the size of a small car.
Blue whales are one of the most mythic animals to ever have graced the earth’s oceans. And according to our contacts in nearby Loreto, several had been sighted in the previous weeks swimming between Isla Danzante and Isla Monserrat.
Late in the afternoon, the call went out from the wheelhouse - whales had been spotted! At first the identification came in bits and pieces.
A flattened tail meant it wasn’t a humpback, a solidly colored head meant it was not a fin whale and an enormously tall, bushy blow meant it wasn’t a pilot whale.
And we didn’t find just one.
As we idled south, we spotted no fewer than five blue whales within two miles of the ship, all shooting up geyser-like blows as they exhaled three or four times in a row before hunching their backs and diving again into the cold, plankton-rich waters.
The blows, shooting over twenty feet into the sky, cut through the water like a fountain and was by followed the whale’s broad, rounded back sliding into view.
The movement looked graceful and deceptively slow as the whale’s one hundred foot-long body was revealed bit by bit in a pale grey arc.
Everyone on the ship, passengers and crew alike, were gathered on the open decks, gazing at the whales with cameras, binoculars and expressions of awe.
As if the blue whales weren’t enough, a small group of dolphins were also swimming around the bow. They were pale and their blunt, white faces were noticeably different from the grey, beaky snouts of the common and bottlenose dolphins we’d seen earlier in the week.
After some debate and consulting of field guides, we tentatively identified them as Risso’s dolphins.
Watching the whales and dolphins surfacing and diving, most passengers lingered on deck until dusk, watching as the sun set and the lines of blue and pink crept up the eastern horizon.
With the moon shining off to our port, the Safari Endeavor continued south into the night, with the whales swimming in our wake and the stars shining though the deepening dusk.
The bottlenose dolphins, trailing phosphorescence in their wake were merely the last encore performance of what had been a phenomenal day of wildlife.