Jacques Cousteau, the famous French filmmaker, ocean explorer and conservationist called the Sea Of Cortez in Mexico “the world’s aquarium”. It is one of the best whale-watching locations in the world with migrating blue whales, humpback whales, killer whales and resident sperm whales and fin whales. Just 2 hours across Baja California Sur is the Pacific Ocean where a number of lagoons see an annual migration of grey whales to give birth and raise their young.
We took the opportunity to whale watch in both bodies of water in the space of a couple of days. First to Adolfo Lopez Mateos with Alicia and Walt from Washington State, USA. We met them bird-watching at a local estuary and within 5 minutes we had planned a road trip to see the whales.
We arrived to windy conditions and jumped into our small panga boat to head out into the lagoon with our driver, Fernando. Within minutes we were spotting spouts of water and suddenly a barnacle-clad mother surfaced right next to our boat. The excitement grew as we realised she had a calf in tow and the calf was eager to check us out.
Pacific grey whales are baleen whales (as opposed to toothed whales like sperm whales or killer whales) which means they have a comb-like fringe on their upper jaw. They suck in huge gulps of water and the baleen filters out the food (plankton, small fish and crustaceans) with the water being expelled. The whale then licks the food off the baleen and swallows it!
They have the longest migration of any mammal travelling up to 12,000 miles from the cold Arctic seas to the warm, calm waters of Mexico. They are up to 15 metres long and can weigh up to 35 tons (the same as 3 buses!). Newborn babies are around 5 metres long and weigh 1 ton (similar to a Mini Cooper!)
We cruised up and down the lagoon and the sightings got better and better.
We headed further out in the lagoon where the males were congregated and we could hardly keep up with the number of whales surfacing. Soon, it was time to head back to the pier after a great 2 hours. As we approached the pier, a grey whale “spy-hopped” rising straight up out of the water and then we were joined by a mother and calf to see us off. Wonderful!
Two days later, we hooked up with Alicia and Walt again and invited our friend, Suzanne to hire a panga and head out into Loreto Bay, this time to look for the biggest animal that has ever lived on planet Earth – the blue whale.
Blue whales can be up to 30 metres long (twice the length of a grey whale) and weigh up to 175 tons. Its tongue can weigh over 2.5 tons and its mouth can hold up to 90 tons of food and water. Its heart is the largest of any animal, weighing up to 180kg. Newborn calves weigh nearly 3 tons – the same as a fully-grown hippo! They drink up to 380 litres of milk per day in the first few days of their lives.
So it seemed strange that it was so difficult to find such a big animal. But for 2 hours and more, there were no signs at all. Apparently last year there were blue whales everywhere but this year they are proving hard to find. Our captain, Flavio, had other ideas. We motored on and soon he was smiling and pointing into the distance.
We moved closer, cameras at the ready and the huge whale came to the surface to breathe, filling the camera viewfinder and more! I zoomed in a bit close.
For the next few hours, we followed at a distance, watching the whale cruising below the surface, lifting its tail and diving deeper until we could find it again from the sight and sound of it expelling air from its double blowhole.
In the distance, humpback whales breached (jumping fully out of the water) in an attempt to prise our attention from the blue whale but we were transfixed until it was time to head back straight into the wind. After 7 long hours at sea, we made it back to the marina with beaming, salt-encrusted faces. We had seen the biggest creature that has ever lived. Very special indeed.