California Gray Whale

2014 Whale Watching Season Starts in Jan and continues through the Spring.

 

 Laguna San Ignacio

 

Worldwide the California Gray Whales use two lagoons and one bay as nurseries, all three are in Baja. The only natural predator of gray whales is the orca. Orcas will not enter into such shallow water.  The gray whale is the only species of whales that take easily to shallow water.  It is mostly because of the efforts of the Mexican government that the population of the California Gray Whale has grown to over 20,000 and increasing today from near extinction numbers of a mere 2,000 world wide population. Tens of thousands of whales travel yearly from the Bering sea to the Baja coastline yearly. Whales can be seen daily entering and leaving lagoons from the beach during the whale watching season, and traveling the coastline between the Bering Sea and Baja California.

Not all of the gray whales enter the lagoons, the gestation for pregnancy lasts 11-13 months and normally females do not breed when they have a calf. So a gray whales will normally only breed every other year. However, newly pregnant females often enter the birthing areas and help other females with birthing and care. Mating and exotic behavior happens on the way to or outside of the lagoons. Adult males may also enter and take part in friendly behavior, but may also chase females with babies, which is bad news for whale watchers.

A “friendly” behavior was first reported in 1976 in Laguna San Ignacio; Today an estimated 10% of gray whales participate in this behavior. Moms and babies approach boats to interact with whale watchers who pet and kiss the whales. The baby whales become very curious about whale watchers in the lagoons between March and April and moms will approach the boats, look at the people, perhaps being petted herself, and bring the baby over and show the baby to the whale watchers or show the whale watchers to the baby. Often lifting the baby up to get a close personal look that includes touching. Baby gray whales are 1000 plus lbs and over 14 feet long.

This friendly behavior, which has earned the gray whale the title of “the friendliest whales”, is in stark contrast to the 1800s when gray whales earned the title of “the devil-fish” from whalers because they purposely surfaced under whaleboats, breaking the boat and injuring, (or killing), the whalers, and attacking the whaler's small boats. The whalers of the 1800s feared the gray whale above all other whales; Today we know the whale is only inclined to violent behavior if it feels it is being attacked.

If when kayaking in a lagoon when and where it is allowed, and you see a gray whale during nursing season, don't invade the whales space, and don't go between a mom and its calf. While whales know the pangas who are ran be experienced guides are “friendly,” they are less comfortable with kayaks. Adult whales may be suspicious of paddlers who are traveling almost silently. Gray whales are protective of their young and don't want you between them and their babies – it's not a friendly behavior on your part.  A normal “warning” behavior of the mom if a boat goes between her and her baby is to splash the boat. Sometimes they do approach paddlers, a curious whale may hold its head out of the water and look at the people on the boat for several seconds; swim under the boat, wait, and then approach. They may come close enough to be petted.  A mother whale will keep herself between a boat and the baby until she feels the boat is not a threat; A baby whale may try to swim over its mothers back out of curiosity and the mom may to appease her baby and lead her calf under a kayak. Many of the guides encourage people to splash the water with their hands and keep the motor idling out of gear, to indicate to the whale they are “friendly.” They do not approach, or follow whales, or go around an adult whale.

The number of skiffs in the lagoons during birthing season are highly regulated by the local people, and have a maximum of 6-8 people plus the navigator and a guide. Visitors should know that hotels rooms can become scares during the whale watching season and finding a hotel room may become harder than finding a guide.

The lagoons and bay used by gray whales are Scammon's Lagoon, Laguna San Ignacio, and  Bahia Magdalena. The Mexican government regulates access to these lagoons to ensure that any human activities do not affect the whales.

Scammon's Lagoon

Is open only during whale watching season and is off limits to kayaks and any boat not approved by the Mexican government, protected by the Mexican Secretary of Environment, (SEMARNAP).  Known world wide as Scammon's lagoon named after the infamous predator, a Yankee whaler, of the species who discovered the lagoon's entrance. Captain Charles Scammon's ship Guerrero Negor, (black warrior), sunk near the coast in the 1850s. Scammon's Lagoon is center to the efforts of the Mexican government efforts in restoring the California Gray whale populations.

Just to the north of Scammon's lagoon is another lagoon that is open to kayaks. Laguna Guerrero Negro, Gray whales sometimes enter this lagoon but do not calve there. Juvenile whales may often be found swimming in the current at the mouth of the lagoon.

Laguna San Ignacio

San Ignacio has three distinct levels the nursery and children are in the sallowest level. Gray whales can be found throughout the lagoon and its entrance. During birthing season the lagoon has a no boat rule, (except government authorized whale watching pangas), from late December through March, the rest of the year kayaks are allowed. Many of the whale watching guides convert to fisherman during the summer months.

Bahia Magdalena

This natural bay is 50 km long, and much of it is deep enough for ships. The Bay is protected from the Pacific Ocean by sandy barrier islands of Isla Magdalena and Isla Santa Margarita. The bay includes a small fishing port of San Carlos, as well as Puerto Lopez Mateos. The gray whales of course are only interested in the shallow waters of the bay to use as a nursery, but swim through the bay, its entrances, and the Pacific ocean. The Bay is also an important habitat for sea turtles. Other whales found in the bay include blue, humpback, pilot and bryde whales.

Kayaks are allows year round in the Bay. For the most part the adult whales are not as curious about kayaks as the babies. Kayaks should not invade on a gray whales space, doing so is dangerous. Careless people have been hurt by whales. Kayaks travel almost silently, the whales don't know they are coming until the kayak is fairly close, and they may be suspicious of kayaks. The whales know where the skiffs are before they come near, and the skiffs always go to the same locations; they are familiar. Curious whales will approach paddlers, make noise if you want to attract curious whales.

Laguna Manuela

Kayakers may encounter gray whales at this lagoon. The gray whales enjoy swimming in the currents created by this lagoon, they may enter and investigate the lagoon from time to time, but do not use it as a nursery.