Whale Watching in the
Sea of Cortez
and Bahia Magdalena
Blue whales and friendly grays
February 2004

Photo Gallery

Narrative Trip Report

Day 1, Search for the Elusive Blue
Day 2, Drenched by a Blue Whale
Day 3, Harassment and Sanctuary
Day 4, Eye Contact

My friend the gray whale calf

2. Drenched by a Blue Whale

Tuesday, Sea of Cortez: After one day of diving in cold water and windy conditions, I bailed on Larry and decided to try my hand at whale watching again.  After breakfast, and still shivering in the morning chill, we walked across the street to the ocean and were greeted by a view of the Zaandam, of all things!  Holland America began stopping in Loreto five months before, and today I'd be joined by a couple on board who wanted to whale watch.  Loreto is a quiet little town and, though it has its share of tourist shops and bars with English menus, it was a shock to see the little harbor swarming with American tourists and a three man mariachi band playing beneath a newly-erected canopy.  As we strolled down the breakwater to the meet the boat, Larry and I were hailed by a couple just arriving: "Is there anything to see?" the woman asked.  I replied that is was a lovely little town with a beautiful church not far away, the oldest extant church in Baja California.  She paused for a moment and said, "Now you mentioned California--is this California?"  clearly a question she'd been struggling with.  Baja California, I said, as opposed to Alto California farther north.  "But it's called California, so is it part of California now, or---?"  I stared at her, unsure how to answer.  The woman didn't even know she was in Mexico!  I tried to explain that the whole area was once Mexican territory, upper and lower California, but that the U.S. had claimed upper California, leaving Baja to Mexico.  "Right," she said, "so it's not ours now...?"  No, I said, U.S. California used to be Mexican.  "Oh, we took it from them," she replied, grimacing.  Right.  The conversation was really more absurd than it sounds; I was embarrassed to be seen among the cruise ship passengers and happy enough to board the Yamanja and get out of the harbor.

I soon saw that I might be disappointed.  We encountered three fin whales not far out, already accompanied by three other pangas with cruise ship passengers.  In Juneau, I can hardly tolerate company when I'm watching whales, but to share whales in the Sea of Cortez seemed entirely wrong--I was afraid I'd chosen the wrong day to continue my pursuit of blue whales.  Fortunately, we didn't stay long with the finbacks, though it was long enough to be misted by one. I spotted a humpback not far away, which got everyone else excited (and even I was eager to see a humpback up close in southern waters).  But, true to my reputation as a whale spotter, the whale never reappeared.  But at least we'd lost the other boats.  We sped on in three to four foot chop toward Isla Carmen and half an hour later found blue whales.  Hours we spent that day moving back and forth between at least three blues, almost close enough to touch then, watching those magnificent blow holes flex open and shut and peering at the little leach-like black fishes wriggling on their skin.  Kiki masterfully brought us in just behind the whale's left pectoral fin every breath.  Time and time again I crouched in front of the consul and watched the body of the blue whale rise from beneath the surface, pushing a wall of water in front of it, the great blow shooting 20 feet or more into the air.  Once I was just downwind when the whale blew but 12 feet away--I didn't get misted, I got drenched like a bucket of water was dumped on me!  We could clearly see the pale aqua shape of the whale beneath the surface, the diminutive pectoral fin (in relation to the body) almost as long as those of a humpback!  One of the three was a juvenile animal, though whether he was dependent on one of the adults or not I couldn't tell.  It was noticeably smaller than the others and once we saw its flukes just beneath the surface as it dove.  A baby blue whale!  When one of the adults came up beside the boat, its back curved endlessly above the surface like a great wall of blue flesh as high as I was, rolling and rolling and rolling before the tiny fin finally appeared and then the body continued to roll before disappearing beneath the waves.  Only two or three times did a whale show its flukes that day and it was impressive every time. I had a magnificent day.  That evening, Larry and I ate at our favorite Mexican restaurant, Mexico Lindo y Que Rico,  and the waiter conversed with me in Spanish.  I counted the day a 10.

Day 3, Harassment and Sanctuary

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