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Grey Whale Madness

Imagine being in a huge lagoon with water almost as far as the eye can see until it is greeted by huge, desolate, desert islands. Welcome to Magdalena Bay. This beautiful and remote area is a nature lovers paradise with mangroves, birds, dolphins, sealions and whales, so many whales.   Many species of wales make the Baja Peninsula their winter home; they travel south from their summer feeding grounds in Alaska and British Columbia to enjoy the warmer waters to give birth and get a little frisky. The Pacific coast is a well-known seasonal home to grey whales. In the bays and lagoons of San Ignacio, Ojo de Liebre and Magdalena whales come in their hundreds to give birth and mate.
Grey Whale Spyhopping, Puerto Chale, BCS

Bahia Magdalena is the furthest south and closest to La Paz making it accessible for a day trip from here. This huge bay is over 50 km long and is protected by Islas Magdalena and Margarita, there are numerous sand bars and mangroves which provide refuge for seabirds and young fish and sharks species.  There are a few small fishing towns that back onto this bay which can offer access to the Lagoon notably Puerto Chale, Puerto San Carlos and Adolfo Lopez Mateos. I have had personal experience in San Carlos and Puerto Chale and both experiences were amazing and a fantastic way to get back to nature. Puerto Chale is the closest to La Paz, taking about 2 hours to drive there, Puerto San Carlos is next at about 3.25 hours and Lopez Mateos is about 3.5-4 hours away. Each location has its own special features and you are sure to have a great time wherever you go.

Albino Grey Whale, Puerto Chale, BCS

 

Puerto Chale is a very small fishing town with approximately 50-100 people living there. The facilities are very basic and before the whales the only industry here was fishing. It has less mothers and calves but more juveniles, expect to see lots of spy hopping and breaching behavior. I was lucky enough to see a very rare albino grey whale there at the beginning of March.

 

San Carlos is still a small fishing village but larger than Puerto Chale, there are a couple of hotels and also stores as well as a small supermarket. There are also a few mechanics incase you have any car issues en route…! Here you can take a few hours to go find the grey whales but I prefer to take a full day trip where you can explore more of the bay and other wildlife. There are huge sand dunes where you may see Coyotes and lots of birdlife. It is interesting to go over to Isla Magdalena for lunch – fresh seafood is on the menu.

 

Lunch at Isla Magdalena, BCS

Adolfo Lopez Mateos is the furthest from La Paz and I have not visited it personally however I have heard good things about the encounters there with mothers and calves approaching the boats for attention! The bay is smaller and therefore the quantity of whales is less but they can be very social. As with any wildlife watching trip in the real world encounters are never guaranteed and conditions can change from day to day. Always chose responsible operators who put the welfare of the animals and the environment before your own desire to see an animal.

Albino Grey Whale in Puerto Chale, BCS

So I’ve mentioned all these great places near La Paz to go and see grey whales but what exactly is a grey whale? Grey whales are baleen whales and as adults can reach up to 15m and weigh 36 tonnes! They are long lived marine mammals whose average lifespan is 55-70 years. The name grey whale comes from their distinctive coloration – they are generally dark grey with lighter patches. These patches are parasites which live on their skin and cause blemishes; they generally fall off when they return to cooler waters in the summer. The bays here in Baja California are warm and protected which makes for a prime environment in which to mate and then about 13.5 months later return to give birth. The annual migration is one that spans the whole coastline of Baja up to Alaska. I like to think that the whales I used to see off the coast of Tofino in Vancouver Islands are the same ones that I see coming down here. Of course with an Eastern Pacific Population of about 19,000 whales this might not be too likely! They cover one on the longest annual migrations of any mammal being about 15-22,000 miles return journey.

Whale watching in Tofino - a little colder than Baja!

 

We hope to add trips to see the grey whales to our list of adventures next year, we are searching for the best and most responsible operators with which to collaborate – if you would like more information then contact us.


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