Day 6: Hanging With The Whales In Bahía Magdalena
Read more about our travels on the peninsula.
BAHÍA MAGDALENA, MX – The small panga boat eases slows to match the rhythm of the small waves on the vast bay. Nearby are several California Gray Whales, any of which could swamp the fishing boat by just nudging it with its tail.
Later on our excursion, a large boat, like those that lead whale watching tours in the United States, enters the bay.
This is whale watching, Mexican style, and I'm not sure I can ever go back.
Forget the large vessels with amenities like bathrooms and snacks you see up north. Here, it’s a guide, the water, and the mammals, up close and personal. If you gotta go, well, I'm sure the intrepid guide can figure something out.
It’s incredible how nature and man can interact in such proximity to one another. The whales seem as curious about us as we are of them. They stick their head out of the water and seem to be looking at you.
Sometimes, our guide says, they pull up to the side of the boat for a closer look. Video Journalist Katie Euphrat and Reporter Jill Replogle were hoping for an exclusive interview, but they never came close enough.
A mother and a calf did reach a distance of about 20-feet. The mother was floating at the top of the water as the calf playfully splashed around. It reminded me of a mother standing and watching her child run around a playground.
Others stuck their heads straight up into the air, while some showed us their tail fins as they dove to the bottom. We easily saw about a dozen whales and calves, swimming around without a care in the world.
Sand dune islands protect the vast Bahía Magdalena on the Pacific Ocean side, while mangroves buffer it from the mainland on the other side.
The whale watching season is critical to the local economy as fishing is no longer a viable, year round source of income. Overfishing has significantly lowered the fish population. Fishermen cannot rely on a consistent catch of grouper, halibut and other fish to feed their families.
Tourism is critical to Mexico’s economy, especially Baja California Sur. While the northern state of the peninsula has a maquiladora industry, the south relies on its resources and natural beauty to sustain its people.
But with the global recession and Mexico’s reputation for violence, tourism has taken a hit. The Americans who used to caravan down for the winter season, known in Florida as “snowbirds”, are not coming as far south as they used to.
The locals feel it. But they keep on persevering. Because, if it’s one thing Mexicans have plenty of, it’s a tenacious instinct for survival.
Our travels south are over. Now, we reverse our route and start heading back north. We will stop at some places that we passed on the way down, like the tiny town of San Ignacio that is, literally, an oasis in the desert, surrounded by volcanic rocks from a long ago lava flow. Oh, and a river runs through it.
Also on the itinerary is Loreto, a historic town on the Baja California peninsula that Mexico is trying to develop as a vacation destination. If it’s working, it seems tourists are not leaving the resorts. And how does that benefit the local population?
I leave you with a sample of what we witnessed on the vast Bahía Magdalena: a video of some whales at play. Apologies for the shaky video & the wind. Look for more intriguing - and better looking - whale footage in an upcoming story from Jill and Katie.