We have been very lucky in “treating”ourselves to a couple of recent trips (hence my lack of posts). We first had the opportunity to go on a short notice trip to the Baja in Mexico to spend some time with Whale Sharks.
These incredible creatures come in close to the shore in the Sea of Cortez to feast on the plankton in the water. While that is great for the giant fish (not either whales or sharks), it is horrible for underwater photography due to the lack of visibility caused by the plankton. This photo was taken from our boat which was about 18 feet long – this whale shark was longer than the boat – about 22 feet in length.
From the surface they appear to be hardly moving but when you get in the water to snorkel with them, you quickly realize that they are hard to keep up with and that they can disappear in seconds with one flip of their enormous tails or by just sinking down into the cloudy water.
In any case, it was a tremendous treat to spend some time with these very gentle giants. I’ll post some other photos from our lodge tomorrow and explain a little more about this wonderful trip.
Its probably time to get back to more mundane subjects but I thought I’d finish up with two more photos that I think give you a feel for San Ignacio. The first is one of my favorites from the trip – a whale that has been interacting with us slipped under the boat, resurfaced for a final blow, and then bid us farewell. I like the photo as it shows the scale of these mammals and you can see the fins extended from the body as she starts her blow.
And of course, no visit to the sea can be complete without a brilliant sunset. Our last evening did not disappoint as the sky lit up in glorious colors over beautiful San Ignacio Lagoon.
I just wanted to post a few more whale photos showing some of their interesting behavior in the Lagoon. The first is a pic of a whale’s head sticking vertically out of the water. This is a frequent sight and is known as either a “heads up” or a “spy hop”. The later is a term used to indicate that the whale may be watching something above the surface. This is often applied to Orcas as they can actually see well above or below the water due to the fact that their eyes compensate for the different densities of the water or air. Our guide didn’t think this was a good description for grey whales as their eyes probably do not see well above the water. He preferred the term “heads up” and he said it is really unknown what the whales are doing but his theory was that they might just be changing direction. In any case, its an interesting sight to see a stationary head rising slowly up out of the water….
The next photo is taken during a mating session with numerous male whales trying to engage a single female. The females, especially the ones who have already given birth or are pregnant, are not very cooperative and there is LOTS of chasing and thrashing going on as can be seen with the 3 whales in this picture.
Our guide speculated that we might be seeing the final mating actions of the season as many of the female whales that had already been impregnated were already on their migration back to Alaskan waters. The males seem to stick around a little longer (for last call) before they start their journey back.
When you go to San Ignacio, you hear immediately about their friendly whales and the numerous encounters they have where whales allow the watchers to touch them and even “play” with them! The guides ensure that these encounters are the whale’s choice – they will not pursue a whale or force one into a position where the boat controls the behavior. They will cruise alongside a whale (or more frequently, a mother whale and calf) until the whale takes the initiative to move closer to the boat. In many cases, the female whale will encourage or even push the calf towards the sciffs. The resultant interactions can last from a few seconds to over an hour. Here’s a picture of some happy campers (above and below the water) enjoying each other’s company….
We had two such encounters in our three days on the lagoon – both for extended periods of time with the whale(s) moving back and forth to different sides of the boat, rubbing its back on the underside of the boat, and allowing everyone frequent opportunities to touch the whales. My wife Dee noticed our guide gently pushing a baby’s nose back into the water – after he told her that some whales considered this a “game”, she also had the opportunity to take turns with the whale in pushing back and forth. We also had the opportunity to tickle the whale’s mouth which resulted in the whale opening its mouth and allowing us to feel the baleen that it uses to filter its food – quite an experience! The whales would also sometimes push the boat with their noses as part of the game. Nothing like playing with a new found friend – especially when the friend is 16-40 ft long and weighs between 1 (at birth) and 40 tons!
I promised that I would tell you a little more about the trip to San Ignacio. I was originally looking for a local one-day San Diego whale watching trip when I ran across an advertisement for this 5 day trip run by Baja Expeditions. What was attractive was that: 1) it left from San Diego, 2) they made crossing the border as painless as possible, 3) once in Mexico they used their own private air transportation, 4) it was rustic (tent camping) but not too rustic (all meals included), and, most importantly, 5) LOTS of Friendly Grey Whales. The trip actually began from a local hotel, the group went by bus across the border into Tijuana, Mexico, we then transferred to a private 12 person aircraft at the private terminal of the Tijuana airport, and it was about a 2 1/2 flight to a dirt strip right at San Ignacio Lagoon. A short bus ride to the camp and we were there. We checked into our roomy canvas tents and then met for happy hour and our first dinner at the dining hall. The whale watching, which consisted of 2 daily visits to the Lagoon whale watching area began the next day. All that being said, the real attraction was that there are many whales in this remote Lagoon – our guide told us that the current count was 347 whales in the Lagoon! The next morning we took our boat to the viewing area and were treated to the sights, sounds, and experiences of being surrounded by whales pretty much everywhere you looked. Here is a typical sight looking out from our boat – a whale fairly close to our boat coming up to “blow”, another farther out showing its flukes as it dove, and another watching boat (limited to 16 in the whale watching area at any given time) in the distance.
I think I mentioned before that the whales in the Lagoon are known for their friendly behavior – but I think I’ll save that for tomorrow….
Whale watchers, Whale watchers! That is the chant that we were awakened to over the last several days in San Ignacio lagoon in Baja, Mexico. If you’ve never heard of this place, don’t feel bad – it is about half way down the Baja Pennisula and is in one of the least populated areas of Mexico. Why should you hear of it and why is it important? It is the mating, nursing, and child rearing capital of the Grey Whale community where every year, hundreds of Grey Whales turn up to spend their “spring vacation”. It is also famous for the “friendly” behavior of the whales there, often approaching the whale watching boats on their own and even interacting with the watchers. It is a desolate area but a magical place – I would highly recommend it for anyone looking for a unique experience. I’ll describe more about the trip over the next couple of days but thought I’d start the series with this iconic sequence of photos….