Whale Watching at Magdalena Bay
Every year grey whales make one of the longest mammalian migrations on the planet, traveling from arctic waters all the way to the bays off of Baja California’s Pacific coast where they give birth to their young. The whales had slowly been trickling into Magdalena Bay the last couple of weeks, but we hadn’t yet gone there. I had only heard stories about the infamous grey whale calving grounds and was more than excited to go.
At 8:30am, four vans pulled up to the dock ready to take us on the 2-hour drive across the peninsula. We immediately started up the spectacular Sierra Gigante mountain range. The mountains look like ancient towers, full of cliffs and cacti, and seemingly impenetrable by any creature without wings. As we reached the top we could look back down at the Sea of Cortés and ahead of us lay a long easy slope down toward the Pacific Ocean. Our driver told us about the various rancheros that live in the mountains and pointed out various birds and interesting plants we passed along the way.
Before we knew it, we were pulling into Magdalena Bay, putting on life jackets, and loading into small panga boats. The bay is quite sheltered, encompassed by a sand bar with a small opening to the Pacific Ocean. We were traveling for only five minutes admiring the various species of egret and heron walking along the blond sand dunes before we saw our first blow. The driver slowly maneuvered the boat closer and the animal came up again with a powerful exhale. Passengers clicked cameras and squealed with delight as the large animal moved closer to the boat.
The whale’s skin was a mottled grey sprinkled with scars, its head encrusted with barnacles. It breathed again and I could feel the spray against my skin. It arched its back and dove showing its powerful fluke. We laughed and chatted excitedly as the boat continued to move up the bay. As I looked across the water, I could see blows, backs, and flukes sprinkled throughout the bay. Apparently finding whales was not going to be very difficult at all. We soon found ourselves surrounded by a couple of new animals. One was a mother calf pair! We remained at a respectful distance watching the calf stick its head out of the water with every breath. Across its body we could see the little fetal folds, meaning that the baby was less than a week old. Its wrinkled grey form surfaced next to the rotund body of the mother, its little puff overpowered by her powerful blow. It drifted gently beside her, rolling and flapping its tail against the water’s surface. We watched in silence admiring the interaction between the mother and her new baby.
The hours on the water passed swiftly and as we made our way back up the mountains to our home aboard the Safari Endeavour, we all relived every blow. It was a truly unique and powerful experience that we will not soon forget.