When it comes to whale watching Baja California Sur is one of the world’s premier destinations. My first time in the area and I visited Loreto, I can honestly say that I wasn’t prepared for the beauty that awaited me. The Sea of Cortez, which the famous French explorer Jacques Cousteau nicknamed as the world’s aquarium, is rich in beauty and full of marine life. Whales migrate from higher latitudes to the warm water of Baja where they feed in the summer to mate and give birth.
Whale Watching in Baja California
Up to nine species of whales visit Baja throughout the year making whale watching in Baja California one of the most popular activities for visitors. With the biodiversity in the Sea of Cortez, you are almost sure to encounter sea lions, manta rays, and sea turtles too no matter what time of year you visit.
The blue whale is the largest animal on earth and can grow to over ninety feet in length. During the winter months when the water is cooler, blue whales can be found in the Sea of Cortez. Favoring the deeper waters near the Islands of Loreto and the southern Sea, from January to mid-March the world’s largest animals come to calve and mate, escaping the European winter.
Blue whales can be heard for several miles underwater. Their 22 foot high columnar blows that are produced when they surface to breathe can be easily seen and heard from whale watching boats. The whales blow 3-6 times when they surface. They blowing is frequently followed by the iconic image of their tail flukes high in the air, signaling their dive back down into the deep waters. Many who go whale watching in Baja California look forward to seeing the blue whales.
The grey whale’s migration is one of the longest in the world. During the summer months, grey whales live in Arctic waters that are abundant in bottom-dwelling organisms on which the whales feed. As fall approaches and the waters turn cold, the whales begin their annual migration to Baja. Between December and April, nature’s most spectacular show takes place.
In the shallow waters of Baja California, grey whales enter lagoons to give birth and mate. There are only three places in the world where grey whales will give birth and all three are in Baja! When the gray whales arrive at the lagoons to have their babies, it is a magical sight to be seen. Since they migrate relatively close to the shore, there are a number of opportunities to see them. The most fascinating whales though are in the San Ignacio Lagoon, where “friendly whales” often times swim near boats and peak out of the water. Their friendliness has caused concern to grow over the number of boats allowed in the breeding lagoons, so the number of boats and the proximity to the whales is now limited.
Grey whales are the most commonly seen species in the region. Weighing up to 30 tons, it is incredibly emotional to see such a giant be so gentle as it curiously approaches the boat. They were once hunted to near extinction in these same waters, but are now protected in the United States and Mexico.
The Baja lagoons are located in a way that they are protected from the strong waves and currents of the Pacific Ocean. The lagoons are shallow and act as a nursery for baby whales. Their only predator, the orca, will not enter into such shallow waters making it the perfect environment for the mothers to nurse their newly born calves. Mothers are able to supervise while the young whales learn to swim, how to breathe properly, feed, dive and interact with other whales.
In winter months, the whales migrate down in large groups. Humpback whales will steal the show with their aquatic acrobatics. They are active in the water as they slap the water with their tails, breaching and splashing about. Famous for their singing, a group of humpbacks playing and frolicking in the water can put on a show you will never forget!
Males sing to attract females and the whales can be seen pretty close to the shore. Their obvious hump and the way the dive down by curving their backs easily allow experienced boat captains and whale watchers to identify them.
Tips for your whale watching trip:
- Verify that the boat has a whale watching permit given by SEMARNAT. Getting aboard without the corresponding permit is your responsibility.
- Arriving 30 minutes before departure is recommended.
- Avoid seasickness. Take a dizziness pill one hour before getting on the boat, even if you never get sick, it’s better to prevent and enjoy your trip.
- Have a normal breakfast, don’t just drink a cup of coffee: generally the trips last 4 hours, which is why we recommend taking snacks along. Apples and citrus fruits are a good option. For your safety, avoid packaging glass containers.
- Come well covered. During the winter season, the wind is strong even on sunny days. Take comfortable shoes and don’t use high heels.
- Clouds don’t determine the conditions of the ocean. If it’s cloudy but doesn’t rain and the ocean seems spiky, the trip will be canceled; overall, safety and the comfort of passengers is the most important thing.
- Don’t forget your camera. Very few times there’s something so marvelous like this to capture in photographs. If you have binoculars, even better!
The growing popularity of whale watching in Baja California has caused concern to grow over the number of boats allowed in the breeding lagoons, so the number of boats and the proximity to the whales is now limited. Other marine wildlife can be seen in the area. From fin whale, Bryde’s whale, Sperm whale, dolphins, sea turtles, mantas, sea lions, and even orcas your time on the water is something you will never forget. What will you see while you’re whale watching in Baja California?