A Whale of a Time! Gentle Giants Trip Report – 2019
A Whale of a Time! Gentle Giants Trip Report – March 2019
Whale watching Ninja style! Every spring we run special Gentle Giants whale watching expeditions to catch the best whale action in Baja California, Mexico. Want to know what we saw this year? Here’s Sze Wei’s trip report!
It’s Whale Season!
I’ve been planning this trip with some amazing friends for nearly a year now, and we could hardly believe that the time had come for us to experience and be wowed by the amazing whale behaviour around Baja that we’ve heard so much about. Every winter the Baja peninsula becomes a rich migration ground for thousands of whales that come here to give birth, breed, feed, and generally have a good time! My whale loving friends and I arrived in Cabo super excited, but at the same time we felt somewhat cautious – surely the encounters can’t all be as amazing as everyone makes it out it to be? Well let me tell you, we were totally blown away by what we saw on this trip,and how rich, diverse and ultimately beautiful Baja is!
First Stop – Cabo!
We started our trip in Cabo San Lucas – right in the middle of Spring Break! We certainly saw a lot of interesting behaviour around town! But, it’s the water encounters you want to hear about! We started with an all day Pelagic Safari, with the intention of heading out to the Pacific to see if we can find some blue sharks and makos to play with. However, we were barely out of the harbour when some incredible news come through over the radio – ORCAS!! They had been spotted at the Sea of Cortez, and we zipped right over to see if we can find them! It’s hard to actually say who was more excited at that point – the crew or the guests!! Orcas do frequent the area, hunting whale calves, but sighting them is incredibly rare. We pulled up at the spot, and then… I could hardly believe what I was seeing – a giant black straight dorsal fin popped of of the water!! They were really here!!! The whole pod made an appearance, showing off their beautiful black and white markings, slipping effortlessly through the boats, ducking and dodging, almost playing with us. We were totally exhilarated! The pod came right out to to our boat a couple of times, and eventually we got the chance to get in the water with the big alpha male. The encounter was brief, but I still get a total rush thinking about that moment – seeing that intimidating dorsal fin come straight at me, and then slipping into the water to meet him in his environment. A total dream come true!
Orcas certainly kicked off the gentle giants expedition in high style! And in case you were wondering if we could keep the momentum and energy going – we certainly did! The orcas gave us the slip at after midday, but don’t worry, the humpack whales took over! Humpbacks came to to the deep bay around Cabo to give birth and breed, and we pretty much saw both behaviours! We encountered a beautiful mom and calf, and then two massive breaching adults (out on a date), who just kept jumping over and over again! And there were tail lobs and pec slaps galore too. The next morning, we went out again on a whale watching trip at the bay in Cabo, and again the humpbacks were out and about! One breached super close to the boat next to us – almost too close for comfort! Then we put the hydrophone down and got the most amazingly clear whalesong – the singing male must have been literally right below us, he was so loud! Bottlenose dolphins also decided to come put a show for us, and literally swam circles round the boat. What a day!
Adolfo Lopez Mateo – Grey Whale Mecca
The next day we had made our way a couple of hours north to the tiny fishing village of Adolfo Lopez Mateo. We were up bright and early to see if we can make friends with the grey whales that take refuge in the lagoon there every winter to give birth and raise their calves. We were greeted by common dolphins as we slowly skimmed across the lagoon – always a good way to start the morning! And then… there was a blow! And a tiny blow next to it – we found a mother and calf! The calf was maybe 6 metres long, and super curious and super friendly, coming right up to the boat to blow bubbles at us, and lifting his head out of the water to take a good look at his new play buddies. He was having a lot of fun, rolling around his mom and ducking and diving around the boat, and eventually he felt playful enough to come up literally right next to the boat, and gave us all a chance to pet him! These are wildlife encounters that one dreams of! Petting a grey whale calf, with mom watching calmly nearby, was just totally wow!! Now, I’m not one to normally advocate touching any wildlife in the water – however in this case the whales actively approach the boat and sought the interaction, which puts a different lens to things – or at least it does to me.
After a couple of hours of amazing interaction with the mom and calf, we motored over to the mangroves to look at some amazing birdlife – some trees seemed to have more birds than leaves on their branches! And then it was on to the sand dunes, which provided amazing never ending vistas of gently lolling sand. You wouldn’t have thought you were right next to the water, seeing that beautiful dessert landscape opening out endlessly in front of you. We came back to the sand dunes in the afternoon for our sunset tour, and encountered a pack of coyotes! They were beautiful, and fearlessly unshy, looking at us head on, and tracking our boat from the shore to make sure we moved on out of their territory. Amazing animals!
Then it was back to more grey whale action! This time it was the adults that stole the show, with lots of spy hopping, and breaches! Seeing a 15m whale throw himself out of the water with an almighty splash was incredible! Then we encountered an adult couple who were super friendly and curious, coming right up to our boats lots of times, and letting us pet them. The grey whales at Adolfo Lopez Mateo are undoubtedly the friendliest gentlest giants around – hands down!
Loreto – and the Biggest Animal that has Ever Lived
The next day we headed to Loreto, breaking the drive with a visit to San Javier – one of the oldest missions in Baja, and home to the first olive tree in the Americas! We like mixing history with our whale trips! The next stop got even more historical, as we hiked up the mountains to see some really old cave paintings. The paintings are estimated to be 6,000 to 10,000 years old, and looked amazingly clear and fresh! The highlight for me was a huge painting of a whale – looks like our ancestors were just as fascinated as we are by our cetacean cousins!
The next morning we were back out on the water bright and early. Right off the bat we were greeted by sea lions, common dolphins and humpback whales – you could just tell that this was going to be a good day! Then as we were motoring towards the whale hotspot we were going to explore for the day, we saw a massive aggregation of birds flying over to an area of churning water – a bait ball! Hundreds of pelicans and seagulls dive bombed for a meal, and then a massive pod of common dolphins turned up for a sardine breakfast. Just wow!
Tearing ourselves away from the spectacle, we finally arrived at the area known to be frequented by blue whales – and spotted a huge blow! A blue whale!! The largest animal that has ever lived, and gosh, they are huge! We got close to these 30m giants a couple of times, and the length and bulk of them emerging out of the water was truly amazing. The sound of their 9 metre blows positively echoed across the water. It was a real privilege to be up to close to the ultimate gentle giant. These guys came to Loreto every winter to feed on the krill, and it boggles the mind to think of the amount of krill that must be around to be able to sustain so many giants!
The blue whales weren’t on their own though – there were also lots of fin whales about. Our whale watch expert also identified a possible fin/blue whale hybrid, and a minke whale – and although these weren’t positive IDs, it just made the day and the encounters even more special, and highlights the amazing biodiversity in the region.
La Paz – and Whale Sharks!
From Loreto and blue whales, we moved on to La Paz and whale sharks! From the biggest animal that has ever lived, to the biggest fish in the ocean! The winds in La Paz proved challenging, but on the final morning of the expedition we finally managed to get out on the water to try and find these giants. Juvenile whale sharks congregate around La Paz bay as the topography channels nutrient rich water to the area, making it ideal for them to filter feed. Before long, a huge shadow is spotted in the water – our first whale shark! We hopped straight into the water, and swimming with these gentle giants was a truly amazing experience. At one point we had a beautiful 8 metre shark calmly filter feeding and moving slowly was we swam beside him.
It was a truly beautiful encounter, and an amazing way to end the trip, which has delivered way more than I have ever expected! We’ve seen orcas, humpbacks, grey whales, blue whales, fin whales, whale sharks, dolphins, coyotes, sea lions, dive bombing pelicans – all in a space of a week! And these were not blink and you’ll miss it encounters, but sustained periods where I was able to really observe and try to understand these animals. The gentle giants expedition turned out to the be ultimate way to tick big animals off your bucket list, and have a lot of fun while you do it! I am truly grateful for what I’ve seen, and the amazing experiences that I’ve shared with my trip buddies – Anne (sign connoisseur), Nana (salsa picante), Petra (whale shark), and of course Mr Dive Ninja himself Jay (triple chocolate meltdown)! I want to say a huge thank you to you guys for being super fun and sharing my love for these giants. And of course a big thank you to all the whale guides, captains and tour operators who made this trip possible, and were really generous in sharing their backyard secrets with us. You guys are awesome! Total whale love! And now I need to start plotting my next whale trip….