Trip Report: Gentle Giants Whale Expedition 2018
This March kicked off our new annual expedition to see the giants of Baja California, Mexico. We had such an amazing week of scuba diving and whale watching that we’re already counting down the days until next year. Here is our trip report from March 18-25, 2018.
What is a Gentle Giants Expedition?
Every winter Baja California plays host to one of the largest meetings of marine mammals in the world. Humpbacks, gray whales, blue whales, sperm whales, orcas and many others make the long migration to visit the waters surrounding the Baja peninsula. We at Dive Ninjas thought, how incredible would it be if we could take our guests on a week-long expedition to see as many of these gentle giants as possible. From there our Gentle Giants Expedition was born. It is a very special trip that can only take place during a few short weeks in March every year. Sound interesting? Well sit back, grab a drink, and let me tell you how our last expedition of this season went.
Humpback Whales in Cabo San Lucas…
Our expedition kicked off in Cabo San Lucas with a sunset humpback whale watching tour. We were almost immediately greeted by a mother and calf that were cruising along. The calf alternated between swimming alongside mom, and then rolling around on her nose. The afternoon continued with some great sightings of both young and adult humpbacks. Mothers teaching their young how to be a whale before they begin their long journey back to the cold north. Later in the tour we dropped the hydrophone in the water and were able to hear a male singing his heart out. Hearing humpback whales sing has to be one of the most beautiful sounds in nature. As the sun set into the Pacific we made our way back into the marina to get ready for tomorrows early start.
Diving Gordo Banks, Los Cabos
The next day we were on the boat before dawn and off to the infamous Gordo Banks to sneak in a few blue water dives. But before we could even make it 100 meters from the marina we found a sleeping female with her calf making little breathing circles around her on the surface. After watching them for a few minutes we shot off to Gordo Banks. The ride out to this offshore seamount is usually relatively calm. But with winds kicking up offshore we almost had to turn back. We made a decision to push on since the forecast was calling for the winds to die down shortly. And oh, how happy we would be that we decided to stick with it. Within moments of hitting the water at Gordo Banks we were greeted by a huge pregnant whale shark! She circled us at about 15 meters underwater before heading off to the blue. Then as we continue our descent, BOOM! I spot a school of scalloped hammerheads. Then moments later an even bigger school numbering upwards of 100 sharks. The entire dive would be spent with everyone screaming through their regs as we kept sighting more and more hammerheads.
Our second dive we dropped in and had a turtle with his school of tiny pilot fish circling around us at the surface. The dive would be spent seeing more hammerheads and even our old whale shark friend swinging by to say hello again. At one point I’m watching the whale shark and I notice there is a school of 50+ hammerheads just behind her. Wow… My week was complete and it only had just begun. But of course, Gordo Banks had more install for us. As we packed up after the last dive a massive humpback put on a show for us breaching over and over only 100 meters off our bow. Then as it came to an end, a pod of dolphins showed up just in time to lead us back to Cabo San Lucas.
Gray Whales in Puerto Lopez Mateo
After we got back from Gordo we washed up, had some lunch and got ready to begin our 5 hour drive up to Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateo, near Bahia Magdalena. With everyone still amped from the days dives the drive went by super-fast. The next morning, we would need to be up early again for one of my all-time favorite experiences in Baja California. We met up with Captain Rojas at dawn and got ready to head out. Captain Rojas has been working on the waters here for over 25 years and is hands down one of the best. We set off into a dense fog in search of gray whales. Before the fog could even lift off the water we were greeted by a VERY curious gray whale calf and her mom. She came right up to our boat and poked her head out of the water as if she was asking us to play.
Now there’s something very special about the gray whales here. They seek out human interaction. If you place your hands in the water, they will come right up to them and rub their nose and head against you. If you don’t give them the attention they desire they leave in search of another boat that will. It is reminiscent of when a dog wants to be pet and positions itself, so that you are kind of forced into petting her – except in this case these pups are the size of a truck. We spent an entire hour just with this one mom and calf. They would take turns getting rubs and scratches in-between poking their heads out to look at us to say hello. The calf seemed extremely interested in my UW camera. She would come right up to it and then lift out of the water until we were eye to eye, smile and then spin back into the water before coming right back up to me. It was like she wanted me to jump in and play. At one point she lifted up out of the water and was looking at me then moved forward and bumped me in the head with the tip of her nose. It was like being kissed by a small train. But even more adorable was that she came right back up as if she wanted to make sure I was ok.
We would spend the next 3 hours being visited by different moms and calfs. It’s such an unbelievable experience. I love to see our guests faces light up in just pure joy as they share this connection with such a beautiful and curious creature. It’s astounding to think that not so many years ago these animals were once known as ‘Devil Fish’ by local fisherman for the way they would destroy whaling boats. The story goes that in the 1970s a whale approached a fishing boat slowly, making the fisherman onboard very nervous. They waited in fear as she came in closer and closer. But one of the fisherman, for a reason even unknown to even himself, held out his hand. The whale gently brought its head to the fisherman’s hand and rubbed its nose against him. This marked the beginning of a proverbial peace treaty that has grown into a unique whale culture in the local community. The local fishermen here now see themselves as protectors of these beautiful creatures.
After a mind-blowing few hours with the whales we made our way back towards the marina. Then stopped off on one of the barrier islands to wander around the sand dunes. The landscape here is simply gorgeous. Rolling dessert sand dunes completely surrounded by water. It is because of these islands that the grey whales come here. It offers a safe haven for their young to grow and learn before migrating back north.
Our next stop on the trip would take us 2 hours drive northeast across the mountains to Loreto. The views on the way into town are breathtaking. The rocky peaks of the Sierra de la Gigante rise up from just behind the coast creating this stunning backdrop around the bay of Loreto. For our first day in Loreto we headed out to Isla Coronado in search of the endemic Mexican Horn Shark that calls this area home. Our first dive was filled with very playful sea lions. One seemed to not be able to get enough of Nichole’s bubbles. She kept circling back and biting the bubbles above Nichole’s head as they floated towards the surface. On the second dive we found a horn shark relaxing in his cave. I was amazed at how little he was. I’m so used to diving with big sharks in Cabo that seeing one that was not even a meter long seemed almost unreal. We also found a ton of great macro life throughout the dives. Afterwards we stopped on the island and had lunch before taking a little walk around. Rafa showed us the different local flora and explained how the locals used the different dessert vegetation. It was a great day.
Blue Whales and Dolphins
The next day we loaded the boat and headed south towards Isla Monserrate in search of the largest animal to have ever lived on earth – the mighty blue whale. On our ride there we were accompanied by a big pod of dolphins. They rode our wake and jumped back and forth around the boat. When we got out towards Isla Danzante the captain told us he thought he had spotted a whale. So, we cut the engine and sat in anticipation. The bay of Loreto is a protected marine park and home to an remarkable amount of life. Sitting on the boat and looking across the ocean you see the water like glass. It feels like you are on a lake with huge mountains in the background. As we took in the beautiful environment surrounding us, the silence was broken by a thunderous blow echoing across the water’s surface. There she was. A massive blue whale surfacing to breath about 150 meters off of our bow. She took three breaths and then arched her back as she descended into the sea. We stayed with her for the next few hours watching in admiration. Blue whales are much more relaxed than their humpback cousins in Cabo. But the awe-inspiring size of them is breathtaking. When they surface it looks like a submarine rising from the sea. On average the adults are 25 meters long (85 ft) and weigh 140,000KG (308,650LBs). The spout created when they exhale can be over 12 meters tall (40 ft). Spending the morning with these gentle giants was just incredible.
Our last day in Loreto, we decided to let our gear dry off and head out into the mountains. This area is known to house numerous 4,000+ year old cave paintings. On our way we stopped at a 300 year old Spanish mission known as Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó. This picturesque church sits atop a small valley in the mountains and is home to one of the oldest olive trees in the Americas. From here we continued further into the mountains to meet Humberto, a local rancher who will guide us to the cave paintings located on his ranch. Humberto is a wonderful man. On our hike up the rocks towards the cave he tells us about the history of the local area and how he came to find these cave paintings. At the entrance to the cave you can see a big whale painted in red on the rock walls. I found it quite amazing that here we are 4,000 years later feeling the same inspiration and wonder as the habitants that once painted this picture on the cave walls. As you look across the rocks you find paintings of an octopus, seeds, arrows, fish and pithaya. Inside the cave he shows us the smoothed down rocks that were used so many years ago to grind down seeds and plants. The inner walls are covered in a black soot from the fires used by the inhabitants for cooking and staying warm. It’s an unbelievable feeling to be standing inside a cave that our distant ancestors called home so long ago.
As we hike back down I find myself in awe of the week we’ve had. But even more so amazed at that all this is in my own backyard here in Los Cabos. On the drive back to Cabo San Lucas we’re already planning our next Gentle Giants Expeditions for 2019. For the last evening we head out to one of our secret ‘ninja’ beaches that we visit on the Baja Explorer Expedition to catch one last beautiful Cabo sunset.
Interested in joining us next year? Get in touch with us ASAP. We will be running 3 Gentle Giants Expeditions in the March 2019 season and 1 is already sold out. These expeditions can be run solely as whale watching, or as a mix of whale watching and scuba diving. Give our team a shout today to start building your next adventure.
I’d like to say a massive thank you to all our partners across Baja that help make this expedition possible. First, a gigantic thank you to our family at Nautilus Dive Tech in Cabo San Lucas. These guys help make all the amazing things Team Ninja does in Cabo possible. A big thank you and Happy Birthday to Captain Rojas who happens to share the same birthday as me. We both got to celebrate this year with the gray whales! And finally, a huge thank you to Rafa & Rafa at Dolphin Dive Baja in Loreto for an amazing experience. We look forward to seeing you all again soon!