If you are a whale, the protected waters of Magdalena Bay are great for sex and great for giving birth. High salinity means better buoyancy. The calm seas make it easier to work on the business at hand. Well, there are no hands, of course, which makes the mere act of fornication a rather difficult feat. The male's tool is retracted when not in use, then his "pink Floyd" must shimmy around looking for the right place to penetrate when it's not. Thus we get what looks like an orgy sometimes: there's either cooperation or competition to get the deed done and perpetuate the species.
They manage to find a way. Some experts estimate that there were as fewer than 2,000 gray whales surviving in this hemisphere before whaling was banned by nearly all nations. Now the population is likely somewhere around 20,000.
If someone told the California Gray Whales to "go back to where they came from," would that be Russia, Mexico...or the USA? Perhaps we should just consider them nomads, animals that are very good at binging and fasting. The adult gray whales are not bellying up to the buffet on this migration vacation. They don't eat a thing while they're on this winter break down south. They just live off the fat they've stored up before they took off on the journey.
When they swim back up north starting in late March or April, they head to the cold waters between Alaska and Russia and chow down until it's time to leave again. They have the longest known migration route of any mammal, swimming 10,000 to 12,000 miles between Baja and the Bering Strait, where the Arctic Ice begins.
While the whales are the big attraction in these parts, they're not the only creatures making this protected wilderness their home. We saw coyote tracks in the island's sand sometimes and various crabs made a run for it when we approached. Occasionally we would stumble upon animal bones in the dunes.
When we headed into the mangroves at golden hour, we saw frigate birds making a racket in the trees and observed other sea birds feeding at the water's edge. Great Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, ibis birds, and terns walked or flew against the bright green background and we saw several osprey flying overhead, one carrying a fish back to the nest. There are many sea turtles in these waters too, but none of them popped up their heads to greet us.
We headed back to camp for the boats to drop us off on shore after seeing a brilliant sunset on the way. We put on more layers of clothing and headed to the big dome for beers and chicken fajitas, following up some delicious fish tacos and salad the night before. There was a little revelry for a while and a few people with strong eyes were reading a book, but it's easier in this no-screen climate to just follow the natural rhythms of the spinning planet. People peeled off toward their tent and bed at a time that might seem obscenely early at home, knowing they would probably wake up to catch the sunrise the next day.
After a breakfast that came with a glowing sky above the sea, we packed up our tents and threw our bags on a tarp. As I brushed my teeth and spit into the surf, I could see the water break between me and the sun, a big mother's back and then a tail coming up as she dove down.
We boarded the boats to look for more, on one final spin around the bay. Our last run turned out to be one of the most productive, the extra-sunny day seeming to bring out more mamas and babies. We even saw a few breaches-though always near someone else's boat instead of mine. It's hard to complain after spending days with these giant creatures though. After a van ride to Loreto we would be appreciating hot showers and a real bed again, but hey, we probably spotted more whales in three days than most people do in an entire lifetime.
If You Go:
You must go with a trained boat pilot to see the whales in this area, one that knows which areas are off limits and when to cut the motor and go into neutral. Sea Kayak Adventures, a division of ROW, runs a private whale-watching camp on a barrier island of Magdalena Bay. Guests can book just that or combine it with kayaking trips in a different part of the bay (they're not allowed where the whales are) or around the islands off the coast of Loreto, on the Sea of Cortez.
Editor Tim Leffel is an award-winning writer and the author of five travel books, including A Better Life for Half the Price, and The World's Cheapest Destinations. His home base is in central Mexico.
Eye to Eye with Whales and Whale Sharks in Boundless Baja - Tim Leffel
Following the Faded Signs in Baja California - Lydia Carey
Kayaking Around Specks in the Ocean in Belize - Tim Leffel
Chasing Butterflies Through Time in Guatemala - Luke Armstrong
See other Mexico travel stories from the archives
Books from the Author:
Buy The World's Cheapest Destinations: 21 Countries Where Your Money is Worth a Fortune at your local bookstore, or get it online here: