The Whales are Back in Baja

It is a magical time of year when the gray whales arrive in Baja.

IMG_6457Ballena gris con criaEvery year, gray whales set off on one of the longest migrations made by any mammal from their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas to their birthing grounds in Mexico. They come to Baja to spend about three months (February to April) enjoying the warm water lagoons along the peninsula’s coast to mate, give birth and raise their young. In the early 20th century, the gray whale population was hunted to near extinction in the very waters they visit yearly.

Thanks to ramped up protection efforts in Canada, the United States and México, the gray whale population has rebounded and is now over 25,000 strong.

There are only three lagoons in the world where gray whales give birth to their babies – Guerrero Negro, Ojo de Liebre and Laguna San Ignacio – and all three are in Baja!

The lagoons are protected from the strong waves and currents of the Pacific Ocean and are shallow – creating a perfect setting. Mothers can nurse their newly born calves, and the shallow water lagoons allow them to easily supervise while their calves learn to swim, surface for air, dive under and hunt for food, and practice interacting with other whales. Another advantage, the only predator of the gray whale, the orca, will not enter the lagoons’ shallow waters.

1CCK2669Turistas y ballena grisEach winter, visitors come to watch the whales in Baja, which is an experience much different than other places in the world. Whale watching in Baja is done in pangas (22 foot boats), which are open and accommodate up to ten people.

Small groups of boats head out into the bays, extinguish the motor and then wait. Minutes later you can see water and air shooting up from the middle of the bay from the whales blow holes.1CCK4018Ballena gris

Amazingly, the whales of Baja are extremely friendly, and often seek out the pangas full of tourists to greet them. The feeling you get from looking eye to eye with these friendly giants cannot be put into words – it is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

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To help protect the whales of Baja, WILDCOAST has conserved, through conservation concessions, 483.6 miles of coastline surrounding the lagoons they rely on annually to reproduce and raise their young. Additionally, back in 2000 we helped defeat one of the world’s largest salt extraction facilities from destroying Laguna San Ignacio, and we are currently updating the management plan for the 6.3 million acre Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve which is home to all three whale breeding lagoons – San Ignacio, Ojo de Liebre and Guerrero Negro.

Gray Whale Season in Baja was a Huge Success

Each year gray whales travel over 10,000 miles round trip between their nursery lagoons in Baja California Sur, Mexico, to their feeding grounds in the Arctic. This is one of the longest migrations of any mammal in the world.

During the 2016-2017 season, our partners at Mexico’s National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) counted 1521 whales in the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, including 601 calves and 920 adult whales.  If you’re lucky, you might be able to see a few of them on their way back north to their summer homes in Alaska!.

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Gray Whales Arrive in Baja’s Magdalena Bay

Ballena gris en PSC_ Costasalvaje

The gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) is one species of whales that was hunted mercilessly during the IX and early XX centuries and was taken to the verge of extinction. After many years and numerous conservation efforts the global  population of gray whales has recovered and there are now between 18,000 and 24,000 of these gentle giants.

Gray whales make one of the longest migrations of any mammal. They travel between 15,000 and 20,000 miles every year from their feeding grounds in the Arctic to and from the warm waters off the west coast of the Baja California Peninsula. At the end of the fall, gray whales begin their journey south where they will spend winter and the beginning of spring to give birth and reproduce in three coastal lagoons in Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Scammon’s lagoon, San Ignacio Lagoon and Magdalena Bay offer shelter to pregnant whales, newborn cubs and adults during winter months.  These sites have been and still are essential for the recovery and survival of the species.

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