Whale Watching - Laguna San Ignacio

Road to the Whales

I left the town of San Ignacio well before sunrise, to make the 45-mile journey (over terribly washboarded gravel road) southwest to Laguna San Ignacio. It's difficult to show in a photograph just how bad the washboarding was, but the photo on the right attempts to do so.

Road to Laguna San Ignacio (panorama) (1/4/2002 7:29 AM)Road to Laguna San Ignacio - Terrible Washboarding (1/4/2002 7:46 AM)

This road is deserted of signs of human life until it reaches the beach, which is dotted with a few little houses — many of which advertise whale-watching (ballenas) tours. I ended up sharing a boat with several other tourists at Ecotourismo Kuyimá, a larger organized tour group who had their own restaurant and cottages for rent. See in Google Maps See in Google Earth  26.8247, -113.1708 

Whale Watching with Kuyimá

In our little boat, we motored south to the mouth of the bay. (Apparently, we were not allowed to disturb the whales while in Laguna San Ignacio itself.) at first, we experienced long periods of waiting — scanning the horizon for spouts and other signs of whales — punctuated by only brief encounters with whales who didn't seem to want to play with us for very long. Our guide told us that while in peak season (February) there would be 300 — 400 gray whales in the bay, he was only aware of 12 individuals at this time (early January). Gray whales spend the summer in Alaska and British Columbia, and winter in the warm waters of Baja California, where they do not feed (at all!) but give birth to their young.

Laguna San Ignacio - Whale Watching - Loading Boat (1/4/2002 9:08 AM)Laguna San Ignacio - Whale Watching - Leaving - Geoff (1/4/2002 9:13 AM)Laguna San Ignacio - Whale Watching (1/4/2002 10:02 AM)

Finally, we approached a pair of "friendly" gray whales who were playing with a couple other boats. These whales seemed to enjoy showing off various parts of their bodies — they would stop alongside our boat, and raise a flipper or tail into the air for 15 seconds or so. Or, they'd carefully swim under our boat, gently nudge it upwards with their backs (scary!), and then turn sideways to peer up at us with one eye — watching for our reactions!

Laguna San Ignacio - Whale Watching (1/4/2002 10:53 AM)Laguna San Ignacio - Whale Watching - Spout (1/4/2002 10:54 AM)Laguna San Ignacio - Whale Watching - Tail (1/4/2002 11:09 AM)Laguna San Ignacio - Whale Watching - Flipper (1/4/2002 11:16 AM)

Occasionally, they'd hold their noses out of the water right next to the boat, and let us pet them! Somehow I'd expected whales to feel like rubber or perhaps hardened leather, but gray whale's skin is surprisingly soft — very much like any other mammal's skin! You can see my fingers in the last photo below.

Laguna San Ignacio - Whale Watching - Nose (1/4/2002 11:22 AM)Laguna San Ignacio - Whale Watching - Nose Close (1/4/2002 11:17 AM)Laguna San Ignacio - Whale Watching - Petting Nose (1/4/2002 11:17 AM)