are thought to act
as protectors during migration and
dangers to other
Unencumbered, the larger males have
no trouble swimming faster and diving
to feed on deeper spots on the ocean
floor. Males arrive at the mouths of the
Mexican lagoons before the females and
congregate just outside to greet female
grays, especially those not yet pregnant.
The San Ignacio Lagoon Whale
Preserve in Mexico is a UNESCO World
Heritage Site, and it’s the closest whale
park to the U.S. border. Park-ranger and
naturalist guides have been well trained
to international standards. Only a limited
number of visitors are allowed inside the
park at a time. You can board one of the
18-foot skiffs, called “pangas,” operated
by the park’s certified guides who take
you whale watching in Ojo de Liebre, the
northern part of the park off Mexico’s
Bay of Vizcaino. The other park entrance
is by sea near Abreojos, where the whales
enter Laguna San Ignacio. Boaters in
oceangoing vessels or RVs can anchor
or park at Abreojos village and book a
whale-watching trip inside the lagoon.
Start early in the day, before the wind
picks up in the lagoons, and prepare to
spend all day observing whales until an
hour before sunset.
Precious Birthing Zones
Pregnant female grays about to give birth
enter the mouth of the lagoons near
Guerrero Negro and Abreojos and immediately seek out the shallowest sandy
coves and remote corners. Here, in these
special birthing zones, they rest from the
long migration and wait for their babies
to emerge. Hourly, park guides keep
informed by VHF about birthing zones
in use so they can take you there without
stressing the whales. The first calves to
be born have the advantage of spending
more weeks nursing on the mother’s rich
milk and gaining confidence within the
safety of the lagoon before they all begin
the northward migration. Calves born
late in the season sometimes don’t survive
the perilous migration to Alaska.
“The large concentration of gray
whales that reside here each winter are
FEBRUARY | MARCH 2016 BoatU.S. Magazine | 51
In Monterey Bay, California, a humpback (top) breaches very near a
whale-watching vessel that was running at idle, wisely, because humpbacks had already been sighted in the vicinity. An adult and calf orca
whale (above) skim the surface in pursuit of breakfast, probably a fast
moving shoal of squid.
Tips For Boaters
■ Use 7 x 50 binoculars to spot whale “spouts,” the misty clouds condensing 15 feet
in the air as they exhale.
■ Identify the gray by its bumpy dorsal ridge with no prominent dorsal fin.
■ Notice the 20-foot-wide tail flukes as they dive.
■ Look for the glassy “footprint” on the surface where one just dove.
■ With patient observation, you’ll notice three to five short, shallow dives of 15 to 30
seconds each, followed by a longer dive of three to six minutes.
■ Listen for VHF reports from other boats that have just spotted whales.
■ For photos or video, use a tripod or monopod for better stability, plus an image-stabilized camera.