On the fourth day of our week-long Lindblad-National Geographic trip we awoke sailing south along the southern Baja California peninsula in search of humpback whales. They gather here in the winter to breed and spend their summers in Alaska. Amassed on the bow of the ship, we eagerly searched the skyline for signs of the whales. Suddenly a humpback whale breached full out of the water right in front of the ship! What an introduction to the humpbacks! We spent all morning watching them breaching, tail slapping, waving pectoral fins and spy-hopping; near, far and all around. They are among the most surface-active whales which make them so much fun to watch.
This youngster must’ve breached 20 times within a circle of fishing boats. They had a great show even if the fishing wasn’t good!
After spending the afternoon ashore in San Jose del Cabo, we sailed around Land’s End, the tip of the peninsula. The sun set behind the stone arches and we headed north into the Pacific Ocean. Our expedition leader advised, “We are now entering the open ocean and while the seas seemed fairly quiet, it is the open ocean. So if you take something for sea sickness, now would be a good time to do that”. There have been occasions where the sea was so rough that the guests were bused up to Magdalena Bay and met back up with the ship there to by-pass the turbulent open ocean. Yikes!
Day 5 was spent sailing on an exceptionally calm ocean. We were about 2-3 miles off shore as we trekked north up to Magdalena Bay. I saw an occasional humpback whale, an occasional sea lion and lots of dolphins. The pacific white-sided dolphins will come from more than a mile away to bow ride. They ride the ships wake like a surfer, without expending any energy to swim, they just steer and let the boat push them along. No one knows for sure why they do it, however it seems like play behavior. They will stay on the bow or in the wake for several minutes and then drop off and disappear. The boat has to be going fast enough for them to ride, there’s definitely a preferred speed that really attracts the dolphins. Sometimes when we were sight seeing and not at cruising speed, they would come by and leave. Too slow for bow-riding.
We also encountered a pod of common dolphins. I saw them porpoising at a distance and thought they were a school of dolphin fish. They got closer and I ran to get Rob, “Come to the bow! There’s a pod of 50 dolphins coming along the ship!!” Rob recognizes that sometimes I exaggerate and did not believe there were 50, but came to see the dolphins anyway. There were more than 50! There were mothers with calves along their sides and dolphins porpoising everywhere. The naturalists said that they congregate in groups of 1000 for feeding. I have never seen so many dolphins in my life. They stayed with us/we stayed with them for a while, but we had to leave them as they were not heading in the direction we needed to be going.
As we entered the south end of Magdalena Bay, we encountered our first gray whales. They are reminiscent of manatees in their body, with relatively nubby pectoral fins, a rounder shape and shorter, squatter tails. They are very different from the sleek Blue and Humpback whales we’d already seen. Through the bay we followed a shallow channel, almost a rivulet, called Hull Canal, into the Gray Whale calving grounds. We picked up a local pilot, Alejandro, to navigate the ship through the shallows. The ship draughts 8 feet and we are following a narrow, curving, 9 foot deep channel at low tide. Before Alejandro piloted the Lindblad boats through here, his father did it. He buoys milk jugs in the canal to markt he path. Even so, it takes a unique skill. One year, the pilot didn’t show up on time. The SeaBird captain said he’d been through the canal so many times before that he could do it. On they went. He ran the ship aground 3 times in the first hour, cursing the whole time, before they went back and waited for the pilot.
The waves in the picture above are from our wake rolling over the sandbar next to a fisherman who is standing in the channel. No wonder they need a local pilot! Along the way I saw a family of coyotes hunting in the tidal zone, several fishermen and all kinds of tropical birds.
We made it through the canal into the San Ignacio Lagoon, the birthing groundsof the gray whales, , where we anchored for the next two days. Los Titeres, the narrow barrier island between us and the ocean, is comprised of pristine sand dunes. They are horseshoe shaped dunes with great geometry called barchan dunes. It was very windy and the sand was blowing when we arrived in the evening. Zodiacs took some people ashore to stretch their legs.
I did not go ashore this evening, but stayed on the ship watching the gray whale cow/calf pairs swim past the ship. Without the gentle rocking of the seas that I’d become used to, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sleep in such a calm bay!