Baja California – Fact Check

Why California whales can jump for joy

The enormous fluke of a blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) tips beneath the surface of the Gulf of California as a pair of enthralled tourists look on. The largest animal to ever live, the blue whale can reach more than 30meters in length, weighing in at over 180 metric tons. In spite of its massive size, the blue whale feeds almost exclusively on one of the world’s smallest animals: krill, shrimp-like crustaceans that rarely exceed 2.5 cm in length.

Photo by Christopher Swann

Baja California – Fact Check

Why California whales can jump for joy

Whale watching first started as an organized activity in the 1950s, with shore-based lookouts and boat trips to see migrating California grays just off the coast of California.

Vassili Papastavrou
Vassili Papastavrou Whale Biologist

By 1970, boatloads of tourists were visiting the whales in their sheltered breeding lagoons to the south in Baja California. The California gray whales are a success story. Numbers had reduced so drastically that by 1946, when the International Whaling Commission was created, the species was completely protected. Now the population has recovered and currently supports a viable whale watching industry all along the California coastline.

Perhaps predictably, gray whales were also the first species for which concerns were expressed with regard to the possibly adverse effects of whale watching. It was 1976, and a scientific paper on gray whales was submitted to the International Whaling Commission. At that stage, the Commission was still rubber-stamping catches of 25,000 whales so, not surprisingly, attention was focused elsewhere.

Since then, the population of California gray whales has increased substantially and there seems no real cause for concern. But to be on the safe side, the Mexican government has regulated whale watching activities and limited the number of permits to local operators. And the ‘friendly’ whales, which seemed to enjoy approaching whale watchers, have changed our attitude to whales the world over.

On a family trip to Baja some years ago, the most memorable part was camping on a windy sand spit and waking up to the sound of gray whale blows just yards away, and watching my children waking up, still cocooned in sleeping bags, moving caterpillar-like towards the shore for a better view.

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Thanks to the proximity of one adventurous gray whale (Estrichtius robustus), amazement and awe...

Thanks to the proximity of one adventurous gray whale (Estrichtius robustus), amazement and awe stretches across the faces of whale watchers in Magdalena Bay near Puerto Lopez Mateos in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Each winter, thousands of California gray whales migrate from the Bering and Chuckchi seas to breed and calf in the warm water lagoons of Baja. Photo by Michael Nolan

Michael Nolan

Michael Nolan

Canon EOS 40D

Aperture
ƒ/7.1
Exposure
1/1000
ISO
200
Focal
98 mm

Thanks to the proximity of one adventurous gray whale (Estrichtius robustus), amazement and awe stretches across the faces of whale watchers in Magdalena Bay near Puerto Lopez Mateos in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Each winter, thousands of California gray whales migrate from the Bering and Chuckchi seas to breed and calf in the warm water lagoons of Baja.