Gary Graham – ROAD TREKKER

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Thursday, December 26, 2019
Looking Back
Thursday, January 23, 2020
Catching vs. wishing

Baja’s Gray Whales…an offseason adventure
Welcome to 2020.

Just like that, all those exciting 2019 Baja adventures became cherished memories as plans for new “bucket list” trips are added to the leftover list from prior years.

From December into April, gray whales are one of the most spotted species on the West Coast from the Southern California border to Baja’s tip. Visitors from around the world come to observe these giant cetaceans as they head south. 

BAJA'S WHALE-WATCHING experience is second to none judging from the feedback of both first-timers and repeat visitors from around the world.

Thousands migrate the 6,000 miles in groups called pods between their feeding grounds in the Bering Sea of Alaska to mate and breed in the lagoons along the coast of Baja.

Capt. Frank Ursitti of H&M Landing in San Diego and the owner of the Ranger 85, shared some insight on the whales’ difficult and long journey.

“In waters to the north, the first encounters with the orca (killer whales) have already occurred, pushing the south-bounding grays off their typical migratory paths. Anacapa Island, off Ventura and Santa Barbara, was the hotbed for sightings recently, treating offshore adventurers to several encounters. As southbound was their course, we expect to see them soon along the San Diego coast.”

In Southern California, several of the landings, from Santa Barbara to San Diego, offer whale-watching trips through March. According to Capt. Ursitti, “We have already started our 2020 whale-watching season with daily departures. Sightings have been regular, with steady activity. While the non-stop parade has yet to pass through our region, there is a steady stream of those in the lead heading to the southern lagoons.”

Approximately 443 miles below the border is Guerrero Negro, ideal to base your Baja whale-watching adventure. The gray whales hide from the orcas, and some raise their young in the sheltered and shallow waters of Scammon's Lagoon (the Laguna Ojo de Liebre) below Guerrero Negro.

There are several local companies offering tours at Scammon's Lagoon. A few miles south of town, many these extraordinary creatures — approximately 1,500 including newborn calves — arrive every year. Locals are already reporting the first gray whales of 2020 and expect that number to grow to a steady parade by mid-January.

Next is the San Ignacio Lagoon turnoff, 92 miles farther south on Mex 1 at the Village of San Ignacio. About 1 hour, 40 minutes, and another 36 miles out to the lagoon is another prime spot for viewing Pacific gray whales in part of Mexico's El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve — the largest wildlife refuge in Latin America. The gray whales (including cow/calf pairs, courting whales, and others) that reside here each winter are extremely friendly and regularly approach small whale-watching pangas.

Last, but certainly not least, is Bahia Magdalena. That isn’t a single location at all, but a 132-mile long complex of lagoons, offering several options. The largest is Puerto San Carlos (population 5,538) 38 miles west of Ciudad Constitución on Mex 1. It is preferred by most visiting for the day from Los Cabos and La Paz.

It is also a prime habitat for many migratory and resident bird species as well as sea turtles. A highly productive marine ecosystem, these islands are worthy of being declared natural protected areas, with dunes, and thousands of acres of mangrove forests that surround the gray whales during their stay.

Also, sportfishing in the mangroves is a popular option for the anglers in your party targeting pargo, grouper, corvina, and snook in the pristine and uncrowded mangrove-lined channels on the eastern edge of the bay.

Offshore action last fall for billfish, yellowfin tuna, dorado, and wahoo stretched into late December, which was unusual. However, it’s doubtful that there will be much offshore activity left by the time the whale show begins in mid-January.

Five barrier islands form the lagoons at Bahia Magdalena and separate the waters between the Pacific Ocean and the Bay itself, making it longer and thinner than Scammon's Lagoon or San Ignacio to the north and allowing the passengers on the panga fleet to travel less distance to view the visiting whales.

The two-hour whale-watching trips in the Bay of Magdalena take off from the towns of Puerto San Carlos and Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos; from Cabo San Lucas, it is a five-hour drive by car, and a three-hour drive from the state’s capital, La Paz.

The trips take place on small boats — universally known as pangas — operated by local fishermen, and tour providers can arrange them in La Paz or upon arrival at the dock. Tour packages from La Paz typically include transportation to and from Lopez Mateos, breakfast and lunch, and two hours of whale-watching.

Less than half the size and less frequently visited, Puerto Adolfo López Mateos (population 2,171), is at the end of a 25-mile paved road extending due west from Ciudad Insurgentes on Mex 1. It offers a somewhat less hectic whale-watching experience than the larger, deep-water port of Puerto San Carlos.

Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos is the ideal solution for those who want to view and interact with whales in a more intimate, no-frills location, without the massive crowds of the other whale-watching destinations.

Baja’s whale-watching experience is second to none judging from the feedback of both first-timers and repeat visitors from around the world. Don’t miss an opportunity to observe and enjoy another unique Baja adventure in your backyard.

The next several months will offer an opportunity to peek behind the curtain at one of the most important international tourist attractions that Baja has to offer. Discover Baja and Vagabundos del Mar offer annual caravan trips that include whale-watching at various locations. Baja Fishing Convoys also offer trips. If driving Mex 1 isn’t your thing, there are direct flights from the States to Loreto, La Paz and Cabo San Lucas.

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