A Guide to Grey Whales in Baja California, Mexico

Baja, California is home to a variety of whale species, making it one of the best places in the world for whale watching.

Grey whales (Eschrichtius robustus), in particular, are a popular sight in Baja California. They migrate from Alaska to the warm waters of Baja California to mate, give birth, and nurse their young. 

During this time, you can see them swimming close to shore or even very close to the whale-watching boat, making it a unique experience for visitors to observe these majestic animals.

The most stunning experience you may encounter is when a mother whale brings her calf close to the boat. 

Eye-to-eye contact with a whale makes an unforgettable experience when you come to Baja California. 


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Natural habitat of whales in Baja California

Baja California is a state located in the northwestern part of Mexico, bordering the United States to the north. The state is known for its diverse natural beauty, ranging from rugged coastlines to deserts and mountains. The peninsula has a long coastline that stretches for more than 1,200 kilometres along the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez.

The Baja California Sur Biosphere Reserve is located in the southern part of the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to a wide variety of plants and animals, including the grey whale, the California condor, and the jaguar. The landscape of the reserve is varied and includes mountains, deserts, beaches, and lagoons.

The reserve is home to a number of different ecosystems, including the Vizcaíno Desert, the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains, and the Magdalena Bay. The Vizcaíno Desert is one of the largest deserts in North America and is home to a variety of cacti, succulents, and other desert plants.

The Sierra de la Laguna Mountains are a mountain range that runs along the Pacific coast of the reserve. The mountains are home to a variety of pine, oak, and fir forests. Magdalena Bay is a large lagoon that is home to a variety of marine life, including grey whales, dolphins, and sea turtles.

Most whales are spotted on the Pacific side of Baja California Sur, the southern part of the peninsula. Here’s a brief overview of their natural habitat:

  • Grey whales: Gray whales migrate from the Arctic to the warm lagoons of Baja California every year to breed and give birth. They typically arrive in the lagoons of Baja California starting in December and stay approx. until March. The lagoons provide a safe and protected environment for the whales to give birth and nurse their young.
  • Humpback whales: Humpback whales can be found in the waters off the coast of Baja California from the beginning of December until April. They are known for their acrobatic displays, including breaching and tail slapping. Humpback whales are also known for their complex singing lasting up to 15 minutes.
  • Blue whales: Blue whales are one of the largest animals on the planet and can be found in the waters off the Sea of Cortez in February and March.
  • Other species: Baja California is also home to many other species of whales, including fin whales, minke whales, and orcas. These whales can be seen in the waters off the coast of Baja California at various times throughout the year.

Natural behaviours of whales

Whales are known for their unique behaviours, which make them fascinating species to observe.

Here are some natural behaviours you may observe when you have to chance to join a whale-watching tour or even when seeing them on the shore:

  • Breaching: Grey whales are known to breach, which means they leap out of the water and land back on their side or back. This behaviour seems to be a form of communication. The bigger the splash is, the more far distance communication it is.
  • Spyhopping: This is when the whale raises its head out of the water and looks around. It is thought to be a way for the whale to get a better view of its surroundings.
  • Fluking: Grey whales have a distinct fluke (tail) which they use to propel themselves through the water. During a dive, the whale will raise its fluke out of the water, which is known as fluking. 
  • Nursing: Grey whale calves are born in the warm waters of Baja California and will nurse from their mothers for several months. You may observe the calf swimming close to its mother.

How to see grey whales in Baja California

If you’re planning a trip to Baja California, don’t miss the opportunity to see the majestic grey whales up close. 

The good news is that you do not necessarily have to join a whale-watching tour. With a tiny bit of luck, you can spot the whales on your own from the shore. Just look out on the horizon if you can see a splash somewhere. However, if you want to get closer to the whales, it is best to join a whale-watching tour.

For example, you can spot whales near the beach in Todos Santos or even on the southern tip of Baja California in the marine national park near Cabo Pulmo. 

Best time for whale watching

The prime time for whale watching in Baja California is from December to April. During this time, grey whales migrate to the warm waters of Baja California from the Arctic. 

The peak season for whale watching is from mid-January to mid-March when grey whales come to the calving lagoons to give birth. During this time, you can see mother whales and their calves up close. 

February is the peak month for grey whales and visitors. Whale-watching trips take place in Magdalena Bay and San Ignacio Lagoon.

Weather conditions can affect whale watching, so it is a good idea to check the weather forecast before you go. Also, be sure to book your whale-watching tour in advance, as they can fill up quickly during peak season.

Best locations for whale watching

There are several locations in Baja California where you can see whales, like:

  • San Ignacio Lagoon, 
  • Ojo de Liebre near Guerrero Negro, 
  • Bahia de la Magdalena
  • Cabo San Lucas 
  • Loreto on the Sea of Cortez. 

Choose the right tour operator

When choosing a tour operator for your whale-watching experience, it’s important to do your research in advance.

Look for a reputable tour operator with experienced guides who can provide you with a safe and informative experience. For example, the ecotourism operator named Kuyima in San Ignacio is a tour operator with more than 30 years of experience.

Make sure the tour operator follows responsible whale-watching practices, such as maintaining a safe distance from the whales and not disturbing their natural behaviour.


Safety measures

When joining a whale-watching tour in Baja California, your personal safety should be your top priority. Here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Wear a life jacket: Always wear a life jacket when on the boat, even if you are a strong swimmer. Accidents can happen, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Listen to the crew: The crew members are trained professionals who know how to handle the boat and interact with the whales. Listen to their instructions and follow their lead.
  • Wear sunscreen and bring a hat: Protect your skin from the sun by wearing sunscreen and bringing a hat. There is no shade on many boats.
  • Stay seated: When the boat is moving, stay seated and hold onto the railings. This will prevent you from falling overboard and injuring yourself.
  • Don’t touch, scratch or kiss the whales: While it may be tempting to reach out and touch the whales, it’s important to remember that they are wild animals. Touching them can be dangerous for both you and the whale. The whales have lice on their skin, and this is the exact place where those lice should stay.
  • Be aware of weather conditions: Check the weather forecast before your tour and be aware of any changes. If there are strong winds or high waves, the tour may be cancelled for safety reasons.

Conservation of Grey Whales

In the most recent update released in September 2021, the grey whale population in Baja California, Mexico, is considered to be in a relatively stable condition and is listed as “least concern” by conservation experts. The grey whale is famous for its incredible migration from the chilly Arctic waters to the warm and calm lagoons of Baja California, where they breed and give birth to their calves.

These marine protected areas in Baja California, especially the Baja California Sur Biosphere Reserve, are crucial for the grey whale population during their breeding season. Efforts are in place to safeguard these areas and minimise human interference, ensuring that the whales have a safe and peaceful environment to raise their young.

Conservation initiatives focus on responsible whale-watching practices, which involve regulating boat traffic and establishing protected zones to prevent disturbances during the whales’ calving period. Educating tourists and local communities about the importance of respecting the whales’ space and behaviour is also a part of these efforts.

To support conservation measures, ongoing research and monitoring projects help gather valuable data about the grey whale population’s health, migration patterns, and any potential threats they might face. This knowledge aids conservationists and policymakers in making well-informed decisions to protect these majestic creatures and ensure their continued survival.

Final thoughts: whale watching in Baja California

Whether you choose to go on a guided whale-watching tour in Baja California or try your luck to see them from the shore,  you are sure to have an unforgettable experience.

Remember to pack warm clothing, sunscreen, and a camera to capture the incredible moments. 

Please respect the whales and their habitat by following the guidelines set in place by the Mexican government and tour operators.

If you are interested in seeing grey whales and their calves up close, consider taking a boat tour in one of the three calving and nursing lagoons on the Pacific Coast. These lagoons are home to a large concentration of grey whales and their calves during the winter months.

If you prefer to stay closer to Cabo San Lucas, you can still see humpback whales and other marine life on a boat tour. Some tours even include a marine biologist guide to provide you with in-depth information about the whales and their behaviour.

No matter where you choose to go, whale watching in Baja California is a memorable experience that you won’t want to miss.

This wildlife encounter was experienced by Perspektivan

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