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Whale Watching & Marine Mammals

Whales invoke an almost ancient inspiration – to think that these same creatures have been roaming the world for eternity then suffered a major decline due to human predation, and now are approaching skiffs with a gentle curiosity is mind-blowing! If you really want to feel insignificant, take a look into a mama gray whale’s eye - pure magic.

 

Baja

From the intimate whale watching lagoons on the Pacific side focused on gray whales to multi day adventure cruises in the Sea of Cortez where you can see humpbacks, fins, Bryde’s, blues, dolphins and orcas, Baja is the ultimate destination for whale enthusiasts.

  • Seven species of Mysticeti – baleen - Blue, Fin, Sei, Bryde’s, Minke, Humpback, and Gray.
  • Twenty-seven species of Odontoceti – toothed – Sperm and Orca whales; Common, Pacific White-sided, Risso’s, and Bottlenose dolphins

 

In the waters surrounding the Bay of La Paz we have resident populations of marine mammals that most of the world only knows as migratory. We have a total of 27 out of 69 known species. 7/11 of the Mysticeti - baleen whales and 27/68 of the Odontoceti - toothed whales, like dolphins, orcas, and beaked whales. Worth a mention here in the Sea of Cortez are one of the healthiest populations of California sea lions and frequent visits by small groups of whale sharks – the biggest plankton eating fish in the sea!

 

Blue Whale - Ballena Azul - Balaenoptera musculus

110ft (33m), but average is 80 ft (24.5m)

The blue whale is the largest mammal in the world-including the dinosaurs of late! It can weigh as much as 190 tons! Its main source of food is krill, but it has been seen eating langostilla. It is making a comeback from the hunting demise of approx.187,000 individuals leaving a recuperating population of 13,000. The blue whale migrates to the La Paz area from January until May, then returns to the cold northern waters.

 

Fin Whale - Rorcual Comun - Balaenoptera physalus

The 2nd biggest baleen whale can grow to 70ft (22m) and weigh 2 tons at BIRTH! It seems we have a resident population of these guys in the gulf. Their fin is placed way back on their dorsal side, and can be identified also by the numerous grooves on the throat. Like the blue whales, these grooves expand to allow more krill and small fish to fill their huge mouth.

 

Bryde’s Whale - (scientists pronounce it birdies whale) - Rorcual Tropical - Balaenoptera edeni

The most common whale in the Gulf, can get as long as 46ft (14m). There have been over 400 sighted and there may be two distinct populations in the Gulf. They frequent tropical and subtropical waters in search of pelagic fish, calamar (squid), and invertebrates.

 

 

Humpback Whale - Jorobada - Megaptera novaeangliae

Known for their awesome displays of acrobatics and famous songs, these guys come to the gulf in the winter to mate and give birth. Their flippers can be 50ft (15m) long covering about a third of their total length, 53ft (16m)! They use these flippers to propel themselves gracefully through the water then explode in full body breeching, aggression displays and just jumping around. They are known for their famous songs that only the males compose when in search of a mate. They have a romantic heart shaped blow-or soplo and a series of ridges on its back. They are relatively slow swimmers and easy to spot.

 

Gray Whale - Ballena Gris - Eschrichtius robustus

The longest voyage of the migrators, the grey whale makes its 12,000 mile (20,000km) long journey from the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas down to Baja to mate and give birth each winter-early spring. The lagoons on the pacific side are a wonderful place to spot these amazing creatures, with a heart that weighs as much as a Volkswagon! When the 5 ton baby is born, their tail is so supple it can be easily folded until rigidity is achieved after gorging on massive amounts of milk from the mama, who can weigh in at 15-35 tons! The babies (cria) are dependent upon the mother for one year but will often stay with her much longer. This timing makes it perfect for the mating/birthing cycle to continue in the warm waters of Baja every year. Due to whaling, the north Atlantic population of Grays was extinct by the 17-18th century. They were known as devilfish by whalers, but their attitude has certainly changed. They are known as the most friendly and demonstrative. It is possible you may get to touch one, maybe even give it a kiss! In Scammon’s, San Ignacio, and Magdalena Bay, it is possible that they can rest their tails on the ocean floor and spy-hop easily. We think it is possible that some Grays stay in Baja all year long. They can easily be identified by their heart-shaped caudal fin or tail (cola) and their many barnacles, scars and other markings. They are truly in a family of their own-they have grooves on their throat like the Blues, but use them instead of filtering through water, they dig through the surface of the ocean floor looking for small crustaceans- like a natural bottom trawler!

 

Odontoceti

Baja is home to many toothed whales, like the migratory transient Orca populations, 8 different species of commonly seen dolphins, an occasional Sperm whale, and the illusive beaked whales.

 

Orca - Orca - Orincus orca

We see the transient and migratory species in the Sea of Cortez. Long since feared by fishermen, these curious giants will follow our boats for hours playing with our wake or anything trailing from the stern. Males, with their easily identifiable 6 ft dorsal fin, typically range from 20–26 ft (6 to 8 m) long and weigh in excess of 6 tons. The smaller females generally range from 16–23 ft (5 to 7 m) and weighing about 3 to 4 tons.

 

Sperm Whale - Cachalote - Phyester Megacephalos

Sperm whales were named for their big head that comprises about one-third of the biggest toothed whale’s 65 ft long body. They are master divers who thrive on the multitudes of squid that gather in the deep trenches of the Sea of Cortez.

 

Bottlenose Dolphin - Delfin Mular - Tursiops truncates

We have a resident population of bottlenose dolphins, and are the most commonly seen dolphin in the area. They can grow to 12ft (4m), and are about 3 ft (1m) long when born. Usually we see them in groups of about 4-10. Males do not reach sexual maturity until 11 years old! The main threat to them is their effectiveness in use for bait for shark fishing.

 

Common Dolphin - Delfin Comun - Delphinus delphis

We see these guys in groups of over 300 individuals! They can look like the striped dolphin but they have an elaborate crisscross pattern of white, grey, yellow, and black.

 

Whale Sharks - Pez Sapo - Rhincodon typus

Largest fish species ever! Reaching 60 ft long, only eating of plankton, they can be seen scooping up buckets of water from the surface of the nutrient rich waters right out La Paz’s front door! Here it is commonly known as Pez Sapo-frog fish, but in other parts it has been called Sir Fish. This species truly deserves its majestic status. If we are lucky enough to happen upon them you will be amazed how fast they move effortlessly eating all the while you are running out of breath! These guys definitely need our protection as they only sexually mature at 30 years and can live to be 100!

 

Photos - View full set on Flickr