Talking with Whales

The Eastern population of Pacific Gray whales migrate each year from their summer feeding grounds in Alaska to the Baja peninsula, where the have their babies in protected lagoons in January and February. We have been following their migration down the coast as much as possible, occasionally seeing a spout way off in the distance as they make their way.

It is early in the season, so we debate whether it is worth it to pay for a boat tour, but it doesn’t seem right to pass up on an opportunity to see the whales up close and finally say hello. We arrive at Puerto Lopez Mateos at lunch time. The launch area is unimpressive and it is difficult to figure out what is going on. The one RV park is closed, and the second option is this parking lot which is windy and dirty. We talk to the guys running the boats and they say it might be even windier the next day. The tours are 2 hours because it takes 25 minutes to get to where the whales are. Ugh! Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea!

Everyone is a little on edge. We need food and rest before we can do anything. Rylan slept in the car so he is not tired, and getting Graysen down by himself is not easy. Finally he falls asleep. Matt decides we should just go this afternoon when G wakes up. He goes to arrange it with the captain while I start packing snacks and hot cocoa.

We have to wake Graysen up, which is never an easy task, but we make our 3:30 departure. We are the only ones in the boat and the last boat for the day. The sun is struggling to shine through a light layer of clouds, making the light silky and soft, and we congratulate ourselves in arranging a sunset whale-watching cruise.

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We speed out down a long narrow bay that seems to go on forever. In the lee of the wind, the waves are not so bad and the ride is comfortable. The boys are, for once, sitting in quiet anticipation. Finally we get to where some other boats are floating, looking for whales. We see a spout down the way and motor toward it.  Graysen tries talking to them in a whale voice, asking them to come closer to us.

 

There! A whale! Another one! This one has a baby with her!  We drive around, trying to get close without harassing them.  But there are four boats all in the same area and it seems congested.  Finally our driver continues down toward the end of the bay, where it opens up a bit.  We see a spout and drive towards it.  The gray whales do not have a dorsal fin, but a dorsal ridge, and they do not come out of the water very far when they breathe.  We see a spout again, and then the flash of a tail, and the whale is gone.

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We bob around for a little bit, eating some snacks.  Although still windy, it is not cold, and we bathe in the late afternoon light.  Suddenly, a whale emerges close by the boat.  The driver indicates that it is moving back down the bay, and we drive slowly, matching its pace.  It emerges again and again right by the boat. First on one side and then another.

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“It has two blow holes!”  Graysen observes.  I am holding Rylan and trying to take pictures at the same time.  We are so close it feels like we could practically touch her.  Every time she emerges we are thrilled.  As we drive down the bay, we spot some other whales up ahead.  It is the mama and baby again.  There are some dolphins swimming around them!  We sit and watch for a while and then catch back up with our lone whale, still moving down the bay.

After a while, we don’t see her anymore, and it is time to return to the dock.  The light is fading fast as we speed along the shore, pounding against the waves.  There are herons, pelicans and other birds lining the shores, and a couple of coyotes going out for an evening hunt.  It is pure magic.

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