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Caution: Whales at Work

Up close and personal with gray whales in San Ignacio.

The author's whale-watching boat gets a tail whack from a peeved bull whale.
The author's whale-watching boat gets a tail whack from a peeved bull whale.

Our whale-watching excursion in San Ignacio, Mexico, turned into a close whale encounter in the literal blink of an eye.

Hey, he's headed straight for us!

On the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula, there is a large lagoon where gray whales migrate annually from Alaska to teach their young the fine art of being a whale.

Most calves are born during the migration in January, and by mid-February they are old enough that mothers bring them to the local boats to show them off. That's why we were there.

We saw a lot of splashing on the surface and thought it was a mother nursing her newborn – a rare sighting, as they usually do this away from prying eyes.

Approaching cautiously, we took care to not encroach on their comfort zone. Getting closer, we realized it was not a nursing pair but a mating pair. From a distance these behaviors are hard to differentiate.

We immediately backed off, but apparently the large bull did not like the intrusion and he turned towards our boat. We weren't worried; we knew there had never been an attack by one of these whales on a boat. But on occasion they do give warnings if people approach too close.

When we lost sight of him, we hunkered down in the boat to keep a low profile until he went away, but after several minutes I cautiously looked over the side and found myself staring eyeball to eyeball with him directly below us (left).

He blinked once and disappeared in a flash. Suddenly his large flukes came up and gave our little boat a good whack that rocked us and soaked everyone with seawater.

Needless to say, we give them a much wider berth now.

James Dorsey has worked at San Ignacio Lagoon as a resident naturalist for 16 years. For more information on tours, visit bajaecotours.com.

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The author's whale-watching boat gets a tail whack from a peeved bull whale.
The author's whale-watching boat gets a tail whack from a peeved bull whale.

Our whale-watching excursion in San Ignacio, Mexico, turned into a close whale encounter in the literal blink of an eye.

Hey, he's headed straight for us!

On the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula, there is a large lagoon where gray whales migrate annually from Alaska to teach their young the fine art of being a whale.

Most calves are born during the migration in January, and by mid-February they are old enough that mothers bring them to the local boats to show them off. That's why we were there.

We saw a lot of splashing on the surface and thought it was a mother nursing her newborn – a rare sighting, as they usually do this away from prying eyes.

Approaching cautiously, we took care to not encroach on their comfort zone. Getting closer, we realized it was not a nursing pair but a mating pair. From a distance these behaviors are hard to differentiate.

We immediately backed off, but apparently the large bull did not like the intrusion and he turned towards our boat. We weren't worried; we knew there had never been an attack by one of these whales on a boat. But on occasion they do give warnings if people approach too close.

When we lost sight of him, we hunkered down in the boat to keep a low profile until he went away, but after several minutes I cautiously looked over the side and found myself staring eyeball to eyeball with him directly below us (left).

He blinked once and disappeared in a flash. Suddenly his large flukes came up and gave our little boat a good whack that rocked us and soaked everyone with seawater.

Needless to say, we give them a much wider berth now.

James Dorsey has worked at San Ignacio Lagoon as a resident naturalist for 16 years. For more information on tours, visit bajaecotours.com.

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Comments
2

There are several areas in that area on the coast of Guerrero Negro that have whales. For a less expensive tour try booking a trip from one of the whale watching excursions going out of the Ensenada area which are much less expensive. You can find listings on the Ensenada Gazette website.

Feb. 18, 2013

Those photos are incredible.

Feb. 21, 2013

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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