Whale watching in Baja, Mexico
Published September 2015

A Whale of a Time

Take to the waters of Baja for whale watching

BYBob Cooper
You will get never get any closer to whales — apart from a “petting experience” at a sea-life park — than at Magdalena Bay, in southern Baja, Mexico. It’s about three hours north of La Paz by rental car or tour bus, and five hours north of Cabo San Lucas. The best time to witness the invasion of the gray whales is in February or March. It’s a trip you will treasure for a lifetime because encountering a whale up-close in its natural environment is a wonder.
That is what lured me to the huge bay last February, where grays find their way through a narrow opening from the ocean each winter to mate and give birth before beginning their 12,000-mile journey to Alaska.
And the whales are not shy. Five minutes after setting out in a panga (small fishing boat), we spotted the first of several female grays swimming side-by-side with a calf. As soon as the boat operator shut off the quiet motor, the mother-and-child pairs repeatedly surfaced within a few feet of our boat and two nearby boats, as if to greet us. This happened over and over for the next two hours on the bay, with some pressing right up against the boat — which was smaller than most of the whales. The boat’s delighted passengers stroked them like friendly dogs.
Over the years, panga captains have learned how to better attract the whales with quiet motors (which are instantly killed when a whale approaches), low speeds (matching the whales’ speeds), and the observance of a limit on the number of boats in the bay at one time.
We also saw dunes and mangrove trees crowded with hundreds of impressive frigate birds and great white herons fringing the bay. But it was the dozens of gray whales (only a fraction of the thousands who prowl the coast each winter) that we will remember. Gray whales live 55 to 70 years, so perhaps they will remember us just as long.
Many tour operators will transport you from your hotel to Magdalena Bay and provide a boat and captain.
Whale watching also is possible elsewhere in Baja (including the Sea of Cortez), and different kinds of whales can be seen at different times of the year (blue whales from March to June, humpbacks from February to June, and pilot whales from October to February). 
To read more about Southern Baja, read the feature, The Other Side of Baja.
BOB COOPER previously published travel features in Highroads about southern New Mexico and Bordeaux, France, in the March/April 2015 issue.
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