Gray Whale – Ballena Gris – Eschrichtius robustus
The longest voyage of the migrators, the gray 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 thes amazing creatures, with a heart that weighs as much as a Volkswagen! 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!
The gray whales’ arrival and departure dates vary by year and are influenced by many factors. Our whale watching season begins December 15th and ends April 15th. The gray whales travel all the way to the Pacific lagoons in Baja each year to mate and to give birth. They only mate and give birth in four lagoons, the San Ignacio Lagoon is the most intimate of the lagoons in Baja. Guerrero Negro is a bit farther north, a busy town and home to the largest salt production plant in the world. Ojo de Liebre, or Scammon’s Lagoon, is right next to Guerrero Negro. Magdalena Bay is further south so the season is confined to February. Magdalena Bay is much larger than San Ignacio Lagoon, therefore the whales are more spread out. San Ignacio is known as the most friendly lagoon, its small size adds to the intimacy. The inhabitants of San Ignacio and the Laguna are the main protectors of the whales and have taken all necessary measures to protect the whales and their livelihood. The San Ignacio Lagoon was the first to impose limits on the amount of visitors allowed in the whale watching area at a time. They have a Protected Area Coordinator who registers all incoming boats, amount of guests in each boat and the time they entered the area. We check into the lagoon upon arrival, and once our 1.5 hours is up, we contact the coordinator and if there are no boats waiting to enter, we may return into the whale watching area.
We typically see most pregnant mothers in the beginning of the season. They usually give birth in December, January, and February. It is very rare to witness a birth, but we have seen new babies with the placenta intact and tails that are just unwrapping from the enclosure within the womb. The solo males are always nearby, this is their chance to mate. The solo males and juveniles head north first, leaving ample time and space for the mother calf pairs to gain strength before migrating north by mid-April.
California’s whale watching season is usually best in December and January during the whales’ southern movement and again in March and April as they begin the journey north.
In Scammons, San Ignacio, and Magdalena Bay, it is possible that they can rest their tails on the ocean floor and spyhop 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 (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!