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Baja California – Friendly Whales & Big Blues!

Grey Whale, Lee Morgan

Grey Whale, Lee Morgan

As Operations Manager for most of our whale-watching holidays, I often get asked the question: ‘I'm interested in a whale-watching holiday, where should I go?’ The answer is easy: ‘Baja California and the Sea of Cortez’! Although there are now many cetacean-watching hotspots dotted across our blue planet – be it Vancouver Island for Orcas, or Cape Town for Southern Right Whales – in my opinion, Baja is unbeatable for its sheer abundance and diversity of whale and dolphin species. Here you can enjoy eye-to-eye encounters with the ‘friendly’ Grey Whales of San Ignacio Lagoon, witness the vast bulk of a Blue Whale (the largest animal thought to have ever inhabited the Earth), glide silently under the boat and watch the sea ‘boil’ as pod after pod of Long-beaked Common Dolphins speeds past. Baja’s co-stars are equally exciting and include huge Northern Elephant Seals, playful California Sea Lions, spectacular night skies, numerous seabirds and an abundance of other marine-life, both above and below the surface … all backed by impressive desert scenery and bathed in warm winter sunshine. No wonder other countries find it difficult to compete!
 
Our cruise starts in San Diego where we board the MV Searcher, a comfortable motor vessel that carries a maximum of only 25 passengers and operates the very best whale-watching cruises in the region. From here we head south into Mexican waters and, after a couple of leg-stretching stops on San Benitos and Todos Santos Islands, anchor in the sheltered waters of San Ignacio Lagoon – for many the latter will be the highlight of the holiday, as it offers the chance of extraordinarily close encounters with Grey Whales! Each year, the Greys migrate south from their summer feeding grounds in the cold polar seas between Alaska and Russia, to the warm waters of Baja’s sheltered lagoons to mate and give birth. The most important of these lagoons is San Ignacio, the winter home of Baja’s so-called ‘friendly’ whales! Although the term friendly risks anthropomorphising these impressive creatures, you’d be hard pressed to put any other interpretation on their behaviour here as they freely engage with the delighted people in the pangas. There is no need to go looking for the whales in San Ignacio. The females will physically push their calves to the boats for the occupants to rub and pat their noses, chins and baleen. The calves take turns spy-hopping in front of each person, sometimes refusing to move on to the next until they’ve had a scratch or rub! The whole experience is very emotional for everyone who comes into contact with these gentle giants and it’s the talking point for the rest of the cruise.
 
Although it is always a wrench to leave San Ignacio, there’s still a lot to see further south and round in the adjacent Sea of Cortez. We’re now in the realm of the Blue Whale, a mammal so vast that its heart is a big as a small car and its tongue alone can weigh as much as a bull elephant! We have never missed Blue Whales in nearly 15 years of operating Baja cruises and very much hope that this success continues. Fin Whales are a small step down from the Blues in size but almost equally impressive, whilst smaller still are the Bryde’s and Sei Whales which we often see later in the holiday (‘smaller’ being a relative term here as an adult Bryde’s Whale can still measure 15 metres in length and weigh up to 20 tons!). Large pods of dolphins, playful Humpback Whales and the occasional group of Orca or Sperm Whales add further variety and there’s even a chance of something rarer such as False Killer Whale or Pygmy Sperm Whale. When the whales are not on show, there are always plenty of birds to enjoy – both out at sea and on land – such as Red-billed Tropicbird, Laysan Albatross, Guadalupe Murrelet, Greater Roadrunner and the endemic Xantu’s Hummingbird.

So, if you're looking for the ultimate whale-watching and wildlife cruise and an escape from the British winter, then I'd strongly recommend considering joining us in Baja California and the Sea of Cortez. Full details of the holiday, and previous tour reports, can be downloaded here. We only have a few places remaining for 2018 so sign up fast!
 
There are still places available on our 14-day Baja California & Sea of Cortez whale-watching holiday (which includes an 11-day cruise) departing Thursday 8th March 2018. Please call Paul Stanbury on 01962 733051 or email paul@naturetrek.co.uk for further details or to book this holiday.