After a few days at sea we have made it to Bahia Magdelena, the second most populous Grey Whale calving ground on Baja’s pacific coast. Roughly the same size as northern California’s San Francisco Bay, “Mag Bay” is a very popular stop-over for traveling yachts and cruising sailboats to hide or rest for a few days. It is also a very popular spot for tourists to come and whale watch out of the nearby town of San Carlos.
Most people come over from La Paz, which I believe is about a 4 hour drive or so. In return they get pretty much guaranteed encounters with whales. Lots of them. Up close.
We weren’t going to sign up for any kind of whale watching tour, but we certainly got a little one of our own our first morning after arriving at the small fishing village of Punta Magdelena, or “Man-O-War Cove”. After making breakfast and heading into the cockpit, Jess noticed the distinct plume of a breathing whale just of our stern between us and the shore!
We had heard that these whales will sometimes come up to the pangas (Mexican fishing boats) for a visit, but they usually stay away from kayaks and dinghies. We thought since this one seemed quite bold, it was worth a try to drift with the wind towards shore and see if the whale wanted to take a closer look.
At first, the whale seemed to pop up all around us. He’s at our bow, then a few minutes later, he’s off our stern, ect. This gave us a chance to get a picture of him with our boat in the background, and frankly we were happy with that. But a few minutes later he popped up right next to us. This began a two hour session of us and the whale just bobbing along together and drifting along the shore of Man-O-War cove. He would come up and breath so close to us that we could smell his breath. It smelled sort of like a thousand rotting fish covered in sour milk.
The whale turned out to be a calf. We aren’t sure why he was away form his family, but are hoping for the best: that it was being kind of independent and taking advantage of the cove without too many boats in it. Researchers have postulated recently that these baleen whales are actually taking part in some bottom feeding while in this area, sifting through the sand for shrimp ect., We thought maybe our little guy was doing a bit of this, but eventually we figured out that he was displaying a type of behavior known as “snorkeling”. This is when a whale rests on the bottom, basically sitting on its tail, with out moving very much. Then every few minutes they sort of rise up to the surface, real slow like, and take a breath before sliding gently backwards down towards their perch on the bottom.
In the end we had to leave because we were getting baked by the sun and had only prepared for a short dinghy trip (no hats, sunscreen, water), but we will remember this encounter, just the two of us with a whale under our raft, for a long time to come.