Whale Watching Season Comes to Baja
Whales can be found in the waters surrounding Baja year round. But the highest concentrations of Gray whales occurs along the Pacific coast where breeding grounds from Scammonds Lagoon to Magdelena Bay see the birth of a new generation. You can even see these great marine mammals in the waters off Cabo San Lucas while you sip a margarita!
Mid January is the peak of the migration, but the Gray whales are visible mid-December through March, the peak of the whale migration in the breeding grounds in mid to late January. The Baja Peninsula offers a variety of ways for conservation minded visitors to see and interact with the migrating whales. Depending on what part of our 1000 mile long peninsula you visit will affect the timing and type of whale watching available.
The Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) is a baleen whale that migrates 5000 miles between feeding and breeding grounds yearly. The Gray whale migration is the longest known mammal migration in the world. It reaches a length of about 16 meters (52 ft) a weight of 36 tons and lives 50–60 years. The name of the whale comes from the gray patches and white mottling on its dark skin.
For years, these great animals had been hunted nearly to extinction and have just barely survived as a species. North Atlantic grays were hunter to extinction in the 1700’s. Gray whales were once called devil fish because of theirr fighting behavior when hunted by whalers in the late 1700’s, The Gray whale is distributed in an eastern North Pacific (American) population and a critically endangered western North Pacific (Asian) population where Japanese, Chinese, Russian fishermen and the Makah tribe of Washington still take up to 140 (legally) of these mammals per year.
Where to Watch
Let’s start by narrowing in down a bit – The Pacific side is where most of the Gray whales are found in our winter months. Some grays, humpbacks and blue’s can be found in the Sea of Cortez at various times of the year, but the highest saturation of these marine mammals will be found on the Pacific side.
The Pacific Coast from California to Isla Cedros – Transiting Whales
Isla Cedros, for those of you unfamiliar with Baja geography, is the islands in the Pacific just off the west coast about mid way south on the Baja Peninsula. Whales all along the Pacific coast can be seen in migration in these waters from early December to January and again as they work northward in the spring, March through April. These whales are in transit and will usually move along a set course rather quickly, swimming night and day they cover 120-160 miles per day.
The Breeding Grounds of Baja Sur
Once the whales reach the warm waters of the lagoons of Baja California Sur they seek out their traditional destinations. Whales usually return to the same breeding grounds year after year. Several of these Baja Sur whale watching destinations claim to be the “Home of the Friendly Whales” but I believe the title belongs to those whales of the San Ignacio Lagoon. Aside from Cabo San Lucas, whale watching is the major seasonal tourist draw and these locations return to their remote status the other 8 months of the year. When traveling to these regions anticipate more limited tourist services, including banking and use of credit cards. With the growth in the popularity of whale watching in all these locations the caliber of tourist services has grown by leaps and bounds.
Ojo de Liebre Lagoon, or Scammon's Lagoon
Ojo de Liebre Lagoon, or Scammon's Lagoon as it use to be known, is the destination of the largest number of these magnificent mammals, approximately 1,500 (including newborn calves) every year. It is probably the northern most of the Gray whale breeding.
Ojo de Liebre Lagoon is perhaps the most remote of the whale watching locations. Cedros Outdoor Adventures provides excursions to the location which include your guide, boat rides and transportation. An RV camp with hook-ups is available and there are several motels that cater just to this yearly influx of visitors.
San Ignacio Lagoon
Arguably the Home of the Friendly Whales the whales that do live there are indeed friendly. Whales of all ages will interact with the tour vessels. Here it is important to note that the breeding lagoons require special permits to operate in these waters close to the whales. As a courtesy to the whales themselves, check to be sure your tour operators certificates are current. You will not be allowed to operate your own dingy in the areas.
San Ignacio is easily accessible from Baja’s Hwy 1 and is just about half way down the peninsula, about 1 day’s drive south of San Diego. Restaurants, banks, gas and more are fairly accessible, the grocery store is a local supermarket.
Magdelena Bay / Puerto Lopez Mateo
A very exciting combination tour is offered by Sea Kayak Adventures that includes kayaking the beautiful Sea of Cortez near Loreto, or a special trip for yoga enthusiasts and a trip to visit the Gray whales in Mag Bay. Six to ten day trips are offered and Sea Kayak schedules these trips from January to March. Travel originates from Loreto.
Fun Baja offers tours of single day and multi day outings to Puerto Lopez Mateo from La Paz. You can rise early and take a van ride north along Baja’s Highway 1 to Consitucion, in the heartland of the agricultural region of what is known as the “valle” or valley. There you turn west to the Pacific pueblo of Lopez Mateo. This remote village in the Comondu region of central Baja is a favorite of whale watchers as well and the whales have proven just as friendly there with visitors as their counterparts to the north. The tour includes a breakfast stop and a lunch stop following the whale watching and return transportation to La Paz that evening. It is a long day, but well worth the excursion.
Cabo San Lucas
Although other locations may be more famous for whale watching, more people see whales in Los Cabos than all the other destinations combined. With the high volume of travelers to Los Cabos there are a variety of tour operators. We recommend the La Princessa line which operates from the Cabo San Lucas Marina. With more than 15 years of experience in serving Los Cabos visitors you can expect quality and safety on your whale watching expedition.
The Los Cabos whales are in a different attitude than those in the breeding lagoons but nearly every trip from mid to late December through late march has the thrill of seeing one of these magnificent marine mammals up close enough to feel the spray. La Princessa offers day and evening/sunset cruises where you can sip a beer, margarita or other beverage of your choice while taking in the view and the once in a lifetime experience. As a side note, La Princessa tours tend to cater more toward a more mature crowd, interested in the experience rather than whether you can get your tank top over your head or consume a maximum number of margaritas. Click here for more.
If you are looking to see whales in Los Cabos in luxurious comfort and style for your private group we suggest a private charter aboard the 72' Love Shack Yacht. For groups or families a private charter aboard this beautiful yacht in the afternoon or at sunset can be a unique way to take the extended family whale watching.
Whatever your Baja destination this winter you can seek out the opportunity to see gray, humpback and even a occasional blue (the largest of all animals ever on the planet) that will make your Baja adventure one worth remembering.