Nat’s Travels – The Best Wildlife Experience Of My Life So Far
You can’t beat an incredible wildlife experience, it’s not something you forget quickly. Which is why this has been my favourite article this year. It was great to revisit the memories of the day that seemed like a dream. Getting up close and personal to grey whales was something I never expected. Usually I am cursed with animal encounters; the amount of times a guide has said to me “well, XXX animal is normally here, I wonder where he is” to hear other people that went the day before or day after that they saw said animal. So when I went out to spot grey whales in Guerrero Negro, towards the end of the season, I really didn’t have much hope. But it turned out to be one of the most incredible animal encounters I have ever had.
Who doesn’t love a good wildlife experience? Getting close to nature and some of the magnificent animals that share this world with us is always magical. Unfortunately I tend to have bad luck when it comes to wildlife. The crocodile that always sits in a certain spot has decided to move when I arrive, the migrating birds turn up a week later than usual so I miss them and I managed to just miss whale shark season in the Caribbean. Seriously, by a few days.
During my time in Mexico my luck did change slightly. I manage to see a couple of crocodiles, humpback whales and dolphins. Plus flamingos and even sea lions. Although the only horseshoe crabs I saw were dead. So that one’s still on the list. Although, of all the experiences I had, nothing could compare to my time at Guerrero Negro.
The Whales Of Guerrero Negro
The tiny town of Guerrero Negro only has one attraction, the lagoon. Known as Laguna Ojo de Liebre (Hare Eye Lagoon) the lagoon is inside the Biosphere Reserve of El Vizcaino and every year grey whales come here to calve and breed.
In October, the whales begin their impressive migration from the Bering Sea in the Arctic regions, down past the west coast of Canada and the USA until they reach the warm lagoons of the Baja Peninsula. It takes the whales two to three months to complete this journey of 8,000 – 11,000 miles.
From late December to early January the first whales begin to arrive in the lagoons. The first to arrive are the pregnant females and single females that are looking for mates. By mid February to mid March the majority of the population has arrived and the lagoon is filled with nursing, calving and mating grey whales.
Throughout February and March the males and the females without calves start to leave. The new borns and their mothers stay in the lagoon for longer, giving the calves time to grow and put on weight for the long journey back to the summer feeding grounds. These usually leave from late March to mid-April.
Going To See The Whales
I arrived in Guerrero Negro on the 8th April, so it was getting to the end of whale season. The next day I joined Mario’s for a trip out to the lagoon. It was the last one of the season. There were a total of three of us on this trip.
As we got out onto the lagoon I didn’t have much hope. Though we had been told that we had a very good chance of spotting them, my usual luck was in the back of my mind. This was something I really wanted to see, but it would just be my luck that they had all left. I had also seen lots of pictures of the whales being close to the boats, apparently the calves come to investigate, there’s no way this could happen to me.
On the boat I had some good luck. There were dolphins and an osprey. So that was enough wildlife to make me happy and I wouldn’t have been surprised if that was my lot. But then, in the distance was a whale. The captain of the boat pointed it out. It was quite far away, but visible. She even jumped up out of the water, it was a beautiful sight.
A Change Of Luck
We stayed out for a while, spotting a few whales in the distance. Then the captain stopped the boat and turned the engine off. There were still some whales in the distance. So we watched them. They were closer than before, but still not that close.
All of a sudden we realised that the boat was surrounded. There were four or five mothers with their calves. Literally surrounded. I couldn’t believe it! And they were getting closer. And closer! Soon they were swimming under the boat. They blow through their blowholes nearby and we were covered with spray. The trips are meant to stay 10m away from the whales, but the whales don’t seem to know this! They kept coming up to the boat and swimming underneath.
Then it happened. A calf stuck his head out right next to the boat. The captain shouted “Stroke the baby! Stroke the baby!” and we all stuck out our hands… I missed. I just couldn’t reach. Oh well, at least I saw him.
Then it happened again. The calf came back for more. It kept happening! Everytime the captain yelled “Stroke the baby! Stroke the baby!” I honestly think this was all the English that he knew, but definitely the most important phrase for his job!
There must have been more than one that came for a stroke. I managed to stroke quite a few and even looked them in the eye. They must enjoy the touch, they just kept coming back. Mothers were never far away, just underneath the boat or to the side. They kept a close eye on their babies.
We stayed for quite a while, I have no idea how long for, but soon the whales started moving away again. Once they were a safe distance away the captain started the engine again and we were on our way.
It was a magical experience. Even now I can scarcely believe it happened. I love the idea that the mothers were ready to start the migration, but the babies begged “Please Mummy, can we go and see the humans one last time? I love how cute they are when they get all excited and touch my nose!” I’m so glad the mothers agreed.
Mario’s tours (http://www.mariostours.com/index.htm) has almost 30 years of whale watching experience at Guerrero Negro. With accommodation and a restaurant they are the one-stop choice for whale watching. Using only small boats so that you can get closer to the whales, they promote the importance of the lagoon and surrounding environment.