February 24, 2012
Once again, we want to thank Jerry for stepping
up and providing us with great information and photographs for
the website. Where else but here can you get such a great
education and vacation without ever leaving the comfort of your
Whales of Magdelena Bay
Every year, thousands of
Pacific Gray Whales make their annual migration between the
Bering Sea and the Baja California coast, and back again. These
whales are among the largest mammals on earth, and they make
this annual round trip of 10,000 miles every year of their
summer months are spent in their feeding areas off of the Alaska
coast (shown in blue on the map). In the fall, they start the
migration to Mexican waters. The pregnant females are the first
to leave, followed up to a month later by the rest. They arrive
off the Baja Coast in December and January, after swimming
continuously at a rate of 6-8 miles per hour for three months.
The map shown here can be found at the following website, which
also contains a lot of information about the whales:
During the migration period it is possible
to spot the whales all along the west coast of the United States
and Baja California. They travel in groups and stay fairly
close to shore.
December through March is
spent in the warm, shallow bays and lagoons off the Baja coast.
Here they socialize, mate, and the females give birth to their
young. The gestation period for gray whales is one year, so the
calves are conceived in Baja and born in the Baja the following
An adult gray whale is 45
to 50 feet long, with tails about ten feet across and weighs
between 30-40 tons (80,000 pounds). The females are slightly
larger than the males. Both sexes have a life span of about 50
years. At birth, the calf is about 15 feet long and weighs up
to 1500 pounds.
While the whales are away
from the Bering Sea feeding grounds, they do not eat. As a
result, they lose about 30% of their body weight during the
nine months they’re away from Alaskan waters.
Female gray whales are very
good mothers, and the calves remain with their mother for up to
1-1/2 years after birth. The males play no role in parenting
and the males and females do not remain together after mating.
All along the Baja
coastline are bays – sheltered from the open ocean -- that
provide the winter homes for the whales. One such bay is
Magdalena Bay, and from the fishing community of Puerto Lopez
Mateos, you can hire a guide and ride out into the bay on an
open boat called a “ponga”.
“Whale watching” is a favorite pastime of
people living along the Baja coast during this time of year.
And this year has been a very good year for whales.
This year, there are an estimated 80 whales
living in the shallow waters of the bay off Puerto Lopez Mateos,
so visitors have a very good chance of seeing whales.
this year included Deb and me as well as our friends Bill &
Susie who visited from North Carolina.
As the Bay is about a 3-1/2 hour drive
north from where we’ve been staying, we decided it would be best
to go with a tour company, so we were up to meet the van bright
After about 90 minutes driving, we stopped
for breakfast: one taco, one enchilada and one empanada – just
the thing to get ready for a couple of hours in a rocking boat!
At the dock in Puerto Lopez
Mateos, you meet-up with your boat captain and get your
It is possible to go there and hire the
boat directly, avoiding the extra expense of the organized
There are also a lot of souvenir vendors
around: you can buy t-shirt, shells, model whales, and other
sorts of items as a remembrance of your visit.
of the “Orca” – Did I mention these whales are 45 feet long and
weigh 30 tons? The ponga boats are about 17 feet long.
“We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Only a few minutes out from the dock we
spotted the first of about a dozen whales we
saw that day.
You first see them when they are some
distance away, and many times they just keep swimming away from
But occasionally, if you’ve lucky, you’ll
find a mama and her calf that are mellow and curious. They’ll
swim right up to the boat!
mama comes right up alongside. Gray whales are distinctive
because they have two side-by-side blowholes – one of which is
visible in this photo.
Here she swims between our boat and the
other boat --- and gives the folks in the other
boat a shower.
The Mexicans have restrictions on how many
boats are allowed to be close to an animal – not more than two
boats at a time.
is the only shot I was able to get of mama with her tail out of
She submerged and came-up under the boat
and scratched her back on the hull.
Yes, the boat was rocking but she did not
do any harm. It did get our attention, though.
Here the baby makes an appearance.
The young whales are very curious, and can
be attracted to the boat if you slap your hand on the water to
get their attention.
It’s said to be a life-changing experience
to look a whale in the eye; this baby came up to our boat and
Deborah was able to touch it and look it in the eye. This young
one is about 1-1/2 months old. An adult gray whale has eyes the
size of baseballs.
here is the skull of an adult gray whale that was found dead on
This skull is approximately 7 feet long.
You can see that the upper jaw is slightly longer than the
Also, you can see that gray whales do not
have teeth. Instead, they have “baleen” - which they use to
sift their food.
village has a full whale skeleton on display.