Whale Magic in Magdalena Bay

magdalena bay, whale watching,
Magdalena Bay whale watching. Photo © 2016 Nancy D. Brown

The full-throttled leap of a female Pacific gray whale was heard before it was seen from our small panga bobbing in the lagoon. Her giant splash reverberated through the shallow waters of Magdalena Bay like a meteor exploding into Earth. We are close enough to the hulking mammal to see the barnacles on her back and feel the spray from her blow hole. Her month old baby floats beside her. Our three day whale watching adventure is just beginning and yet, it has already exceeded my expectations!

sunset, baja california sur, mexico
Baja California Sur sunset © 2016 Nancy D. Brown

Our whale watching guide, Mario Escaleri, of Row Sea Kayak Adventures smiles with delight and reminds us to have our camera’s ready to capture these moments. As the sun sets in the Baja California Sur sky, radiating colors of orange and red, we motor over to Whale Camp, a small canvas tented community that sits on the sand dunes by the mouth of Magdalena Bay. Our focus for the next three days of our 3×3 8 Day Loreto Islands Combo Tour (3 days of sea kayaking in Loreto, Mexico and three days of whale watching in Magdalena Bay) is to watch mother whales and their babies. We might also witness the courtship behavior between a female whale and several male whales. Some participants opt to assist our marine biologist guide Mario with his other job, photographing and counting the number of whales within the bay for an accurate census.

Our band of 10 adventure seekers (some who have worked with whales in prior voluntourism vacations, others who have never camped before or seen a whale up close) have traveled from Loreto, Mexico to the fishing village of Lopez Mateos to watch these gray whales give birth to their babies and teach them how to swim and avoid predators in the Pacific Ocean.

whale camp, magdalena bay, lopez mateos, mexico
Whale Camp at Magdalena Bay. Photo © 2016 Nancy D. Brown

Whale Camp

After we unload our panga (motorized skiff) of luggage, and enjoy Happy Hour with fresh ceviche and Corona on the beach, our guides attempt a futile sweep of the fine sand from inside our spacious tents. We toast to our successful first day at whale camp as the cook readies our meal of fried fish, accompanied with tortillas, refried beans and a mango apple salad. After an educational and entertaining “whale chat with Mario” we adjourn to our respective tents as whales surface and spy hop in the distance.

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gray whale, spy hop, magdalena bay, mexico
Gray whale spy hop. Photo © 2016 Nancy D. Brown

Whale facts

The ratio of gray whales in Magdalena Bay reflects their healthy presence in the ocean. Once hunted for food and oil, whale watching is now a source of revenue for the local fishermen and outdoor companies such as Row Sea Kayak Adventures. The lagoons in Baja are federally protected and all tour operators are required to be licensed. For guides such as Mario, these whale watching expeditions are a chance to educate guests about these magnificent mammals. The survival rate of the whales is only 50%, but those are considered good odds relatively speaking.

“Whales have a 13 month gestation period,” notes Mario. “The babies are four meters long at birth and their flukes (tails) unfold as they grow,” adds Mario. In three to four weeks they will unfurl like an oragami fan.

How do you define a whale? It’s a mammal that lives and dies in the water. There are 35 species around here. Did you know that baby whales are not good swimmers? The sand in the bay water helps with their buoyancy. Another fun fact; I’ll bet you didn’t know that the weight of a tongue of a Blue Whale (the biggest mammal that ever existed) is as heavy as an elephant. What a trip!

mario escaleri, marine biologist, whale chat
Marine Biologist Mario Escaleri talks whales. Photo © 2016 Nancy D. Brown

Northern area of Magdalena Bay Complex

The dynamics of whale camp are completely different than our sea kayaking adventure just a few days earlier. While we are still in Mexico’s Baja California Sur, it’s almost like we’re in a different world. Here, the whales move slowly and gracefully. No longer are we on the Sea of Cortez near Honeymoon Beach where weather conditions change in a flash. The water is a bit murky. We can no longer see the brightly colored fish dart back and forth underwater. Whale camp is a chance to connect with ourselves and nature like never before. We walk along the sand dunes, learning from our guide Mario about the flora and fauna, as we come upon the mouth of Magdalena Bay. Layers of windswept sand carve ridges into the landscape, their colors a muted blend of earth tones from a painter’s palette.

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Need to know:
Row Sea Kayak Adventures is an Idaho-based company, offering whale watching and sea kayaking trips around the world. The company has an excellent safety record and is a Planet Whale partner, offering responsible whale watching excursions and responsible tourism. I love that the company hires local guides and uses local products in all meal preparations.

local products, mexico
Tostadas on the beach in Mexico. Photo © 2016 Nancy D. Brown

Father son vacation

“I think three days of each activity was just the right amount,” said Craig Chancellor of Cary, North Carolina. “This trip was everything I’d hoped it would be. It was fun doing a brand new experience with my son that he’d never done before. I thought the quality of the food was much higher than I expected. I haven’t camped for many, many years and I think of hot dogs and hamburgers. Seafood Vera Cruz and fish tacos were a treat and the staff was friendly and courteous.”

While Row Sea Kayak Adventures provides a helpful downloadable camping list for guests on a whale watching excursion, I have prepared a camping list of my own and will post it here soon.

Insider Tip
In keeping with Row Sea Kayak Adventures commitment to responsible tourism, be sure to bring pesos with you when you return to the dock at Lopez Mateos in Mexico. The locals have shops set up with brightly hand painted pottery, shell art and whale t-shirts for you to remember your time in Baja California Sur. While it is completely optional, your purchases help to support the local economy. For additional insider tips follow @nancydbrown on Twitter and @seakayakadventures. For active adventure photos follow me on Instagram as well as RowAdventures.

whale watching, lopez mateos, baja california sur, mexico
Supporting the community of Lopez Mateos. Photo © 2016 Nancy D. Brown

If you go
Row Sea Kayak Adventures (800) 616-1943 http://www.seakayakadventures.com
P.O. Box 3862
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho 83816-3862

Whale watching review, photos and YouTube video by travel writer Nancy D. Brown. I was a guest of Row Sea Kayak Adventures, however all opinions are my own.

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