We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open. ~ Jawaharial Nehru
I’m a nomad, anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time knows that. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve always been an addict, travel is without a doubt my strongest addiction these days. It’s been three years since I’ve done any significant travel and it was wonderful breaking out and hitting the road again. A week in Baja with grey whales was the destination.
I was a biology (ecology) major in college and as a senior I took one of my favorite classes, animal behavior. In addition to the academic understandings of basic animal behaviors, we also learned about a lot of cool behaviors. We discussed things like the great migration, grunion runs on the Pacific Coast, all the crazy and amazing ways that animals attract mates. One of the things we talked about in that class back in 1988 was the fact that down in Baja, in the gray whale calving grounds, the whales actually interacted with humans. That in fact, people actually touched the whales who willingly swam up to the small boats they were in. I was fascinated by this story. You see I’m part of the generation of kids that first grew up with the Jacques Cousteau specials. Those specials touched in me in a very deep way, they drove my imagination and growing up I wanted to be a marine biologist.
In particular what fascinated me most were whales and dolphins, while being amazing creatures in almost every way, what really attracted me to them was their intelligence. In terms of brain size and demonstrated intelligence, dolphins may be as smart as humans, whales are similarly believed to be highly intelligent. Of course knowing exactly how that intelligence is utilized is one of the things that scientists continue to study. One of the things that I was interested in. Unfortunately the reality of becoming a marine biologists means a lot of years of college in one of the most competitive fields in biology, as well as difficulty in getting jobs and then when you do, they have a tendency to be low paying. This reality at some point meant that I decided to pursue a slightly different pathway. I have been fortunate enough early in my career to do some marine work. I worked on sustainable fisheries projects and even a project that built a black lipped pearl oyster hatchery in the South Pacific. I also had some great experiences like measuring green sea turtles and literally catching the eggs as they were being released. But whales and dolphins have always held a special place for me and I’ve done many whale watches in a lot of different locations.
So when I was deciding what would be my first adventure since COVID started, it was an easy decision as to what item to pick off of my bucket list. And I decided that it was finally time to go to the gray whale calving grounds in Baja and see if the stories were really true. So I set out for my first time to Cabo San Lucas.
I spent two days in Cabo San Lucas and it was really quite surprising. Although I’ve heard people talk about Cabo many times, I was not expecting what I got. Cabo San Lucas turned out to be an American tourist haven. American tourism is the driving engine of the economy there, as such, everyone who works in any service industry speaks English. Most of the restaurants and shops take American dollars, you can even find ATMs that distribute American Dollars. The place is loaded with America tourists. This is typically not my kind of vacation vibe, but it was the jumping off point for my trip. What I can really positively say about Cabo San Lucas, is that the resorts are lovely, the beaches are lovely and it is a great place to find activities. Whether it’s fishing, diving, snorkeling, sailing, whale watches or even riding a camel on the beach it’s a great place to find almost any kind of activity. For me, it meant the jumping off point for a two-hour Cessna flight up the coast to the whale watching camp I would be staying at for the next four days in San Ignacio Lagoon.
The morning leaving for San Ignacio was an early one, picked up at my hotel at 6AM and at 7AM we arrived to pick up two more passengers. One was Dr. Tony, pictured at the top of the page, he would be the only other guest in my group. Groups can be up to twelve people so we were really fortunate to be in such a small group. The other person joining us was Fabiola who would be working as one of the hostesses in the camp.
It was a beautiful two-hour flight up from Cabo to San Ignacio where we landed on a dirt runway near the beach. We quickly left the plane, had a glass of champagne and jumped into the panga to head to our camp. Pangas are the traditional fishing boats that have been historically used in the lagoon. What I hadn’t realized pre-trip was that our camp was actually located on an island in the the lagoon.
Our camp was located just outside of the borders of the whale sanctuary. This was absolutely a luxury tour, and my very fancy fully carpeted tent was the size of my studio apartment and quite nice with a living room, king sized bed and full bathroom with running water and shower, we also had wifi.
The sanctuary is one of two protected areas that serve as calving and mating grounds for gray whales in lagoons on the central coast of Baja. During the mating and calving season hundreds of whales gather in the lagoon. While I was there, they estimated that there were 150 whales present in the lagoon. By the height of the season there will be over 300 whales in the lagoon. What this means is that you have a very different experience doing a whale watch in San Ignacio than you see stateside.
You see normally in the US, you get on a 30-40 foot boat, or larger, you sail out for a three to four hour cruise and during that time hopefully you see some whales. Often you get to see a couple of groups of humpbacks, if you’re really lucky you get to see one breach (jump out of the water). Occasionally you see some other whales cruising, a pod of dolphins or rarely some Orcas. In San Ignacio we’d often see four or five whales before we even hit the sanctuary. Then on a 90 minute whale watch, you would see 30 or 40 different whales. You’d see at least 10 very close up, and on average at least one or two really close to the panga. Of course, the pangas are only 15 feet long and close to the water. So when whales got up close at times we got to touch them, and many times had whales blow (exhale) all over us, we were that close.
Over the next couple of posts I’ll lay out in more detail the experiences I had during the nine trips I took whale watching in the lagoon, including my experience with Loco, the whale pictured at the top of the post.
Have a happy day my friends. ~ Rev Kane