January 11, 2021 5:03 pm

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Baja is the main and most attractive destination where people can gather to observe whales up close in Mexico, and in the World. Gray whales migrate farther than any whale — or any mammal. Their journey takes them from the Bering Sea down the Pacific Coast of North America, all the way to the isolated lagoons on the Pacific Coast of Baja California and Baja California Sur, Mexico, to enjoy the winter, mate or give birth. The lagoons are safe from hungry orcas and the warm water helps the calves stay warm until they gain blubber. Also, the salty water makes the babies more buoyant, so it is easier for them to nurse.

The southward migration starts in early October, when the days grow shorter and northern waters begin to freeze. By December, whales may be seen courting and mating, many on the migration route and some may be already arriving to the lagoons of Mexico. Pregnant females are in a hurry to get there, so they arrive first. Other whales might take their time.

A gray whales have a special adaptation called delayed implantation: the embryo does not start developing in the mother’s body until a few months after she becomes pregnant. After mating in the lagoons (or during migration), the newly pregnant female returns to the Arctic feeding waters in the spring. Once back north, she feasts for herself and her unborn baby and migrates south again in fall or winter to the nursery lagoons to give birth. By the time she reaches the warm lagoons, the baby has been developing for 11-12 months and is ready for birth. A female usually has one calf every two years.

By March, mother and baby pairs dominate the lagoons and it’s time for males and newly-pregnant females to start their journey north. New mothers are doing “spring training” for the babies so they’ll be ready for their own first migration by swimming against the currents near the mouth of the lagoon, helping them build strength and endurance. In April, most of the adults and older juveniles are heading north while the first northbound whales may already have reached Alaska. In June, the hungry whales are well into the northern waters where they find plenty of food and where they feast and start to gain back weight they lost during migration and breeding/calving season. By the month of August, migration and mating are just weeks away, and whales keep feasting in order to be ready. A 30-ton whale will expend so much energy on the migration to the Baja lagoons that it may lose up to eight tons of its blubber. Little or no whale food is available in the breeding grounds, so this is their time to eat! 

THE LAGOONS

OJO DE LIEBRE lagoon, translated as “hare eye lagoon” is found at the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, and it is considered a World Heritage Site. It is here where, year after year, these species gather in a large group. Ojo de Liebre enjoys two observation areas, one near to the lagoon entrance, and the other in the interior. You will find certified boats in the town of Guerrero Negro. To protect the whales, only small boats are authorized to navigate in their waters, and there is only one site for camping. 

LAGUNA SAN IGNACIO is a splendid sanctuary for the gray whale. Ecotourism activities include trips to meet the whales where they give birth to watch them play joyfully with each other. People are bilingual, and service includes camping and other accommodations. You can enjoy different activities like nature walks, motorbike rides, birding, kayaking, surfing and diving. San Ignacio is also home to the Sierra de San Francisco Cave Paintings, and is a paradise in the middle of the desert. An underground river emerges to the surface of the Earth here, and it forms a lagoon surrounded by reedbeds.

BAHÍA MAGDALENA lagoon is only a three-hour car ride from La Paz, on the Pacific side of the Peninsula. The rich marine life in the area attracts whales. Kayaking and birding while you row through the mangroves is a wonderful recreational option. This is a fishermen town, and from January to March, the fishing cooperatives work as tourist guides and organize trips to be closer to the gray whale. Two oceanic currents meet here: the cold Alaskan current, and the current coming from the tropical South. This water encounter generates nutrients in abundance, and provides a happy home to great species. You can explore the dunes, follow coyote tracks, and study birds and insects. Always changing, this is a natural scenery sculpted by the wind. A great way to enjoy the region is to camp on Magdalena Island. In three days, you can explore the dunes, kayak the mangroves, and visit the sea lion colony. 

Besides the gray whale, you can also meet with the blue, humpback and sperm whale, and occasionally you can have an encounter with the Orca. Of course, this natural habitat is also attractive to a variety of migratory birds, and bird watchers love it here.

Your trip can last from one to eight days, or more, depending on your interest. You can choose to include hotel accommodations, boats, or camping, complemented by activities such as kayaking and trekking. Ecologically-conscious behaviour is the rule: you will only walk through pre-established paths to avoid unnecessary impact on the environment, and only biodegradable materials are used in the area. *