Grey Whale Watching
The migration route of the Pacific Gray Whale is often described as the longest known mammal migration in the animal kingdom. Beginning in the Bering and Chukchi seas and ending in the warm-water lagoons of Mexico’s Baja peninsula, their round trip journey moves them through 12,500 miles of coastline. This journey begins each October as the northern ice pushes southward. Traveling both night and day, Gray whales average approximately 120 km (80 mi) per day. By mid-December to early January, the majority of the Gray whales are usually found between Monterey and San Diego, where they are often seen from shore. By late December to early January, the first of the Gray Whales begin to arrive the calving lagoons of Baja. These first whales to arrive are usually pregnant mothers that look for the protection of the lagoons to give birth to their calves, along with single females seeking out male companions in order to mate. By mid-February to mid-March the bulk of the Gray Whales have arrived the lagoons. It is at this time that the lagoons are filled to capacity with nursing, calving and mating Gray Whales. Throughout February and March, the first Gray Whales to leave the lagoons are the males and single females. Once they have mated, they will begin the trek back north to their summer feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi seas. Pregnant females and nursing mothers with their newborn calves are the last to leave the lagoons. They leave only when their calves are ready for the journey, which is usually from late March to mid-April. Often there are still a few lingering Gray Whale mothers with their young calves in the lagoons well into May. At the end of their 5,000 mile journey from the Bering Sea, hundreds of Pacific gray whales congregate each year in protected, shallow lagoons of San Ignacio, Scammon’s, Ojo de Liebre and Magdalena Bay to mate, bear their young and pass the winter months before returning north in the spring. The grey whale is the most popular, however their are eight species of whales that visit Baja Every year including orca, humpback, finback, sei, minke, pilot, gray and the world’s largest mammal, the blue whale. Ensenada is a good place to view these magnificent creatures. Gray whales are known to make a lively show, being naturally curious and social. The whales like to show off their young and sometimes even getting close enough to be petted. There are several companies that specialize in whale watch tours. Most of these companies have had years of experience, and have the whale watching routine down to an art. Whale Watching tours often times can include lodging, transportation, and meals. The major areas for viewing the whales in Mexico are:
The Grey Whale
The Gray Whale or Grey Whale (Eschrichtius robustus), more recently called the Eastern Pacific Gray Whale, is a whale that travels between feeding and breeding grounds yearly. It reaches a length of about 16 meters (52 ft), a weight of 36 tons and an age of 50 - 60 years. Gray Whales were once called devil fish because of their fighting behavior when hunted. The Gray Whale is the sole species in the genus Eschrichtius, which in turn is the sole genus in the family Eschrichtiidae. This animal is one of the oldest species of mammals, having been on Earth for about 30 million years. In the remote past it was preyed upon by Megalodon sharks (which are now extinct).
Population, distribution and migration of Grey Whales
Two Pacific Ocean populations of Gray Whales exist: one small population travelling between the Sea of Okhotsk and southern Korea, and a larger one travelling between the waters off Alaska and the Baja California. A third, North Atlantic, population was hunted to extinction 300 years ago. In the fall, the California Gray Whale starts a 2 - 3 month, 8,000 - 11,000 km trip south along the west coast of the United States and Mexico. The animals travel in small groups. The destinations of the whales are the coastal waters of Baja California and the southern Gulf of California, where they breed and the young are born. The breeding behavior is complex and often involves three or more animals. The gestation period is about one year, and females have calves every other year. The calf is born tail first and measures about 4 meters in length. It is believed that the shallow waters in the lagoons there protect the newborn from sharks. After several weeks, the return trip starts. This round trip of 16,000 - 22,000 km, at an average speed of 10 km/h, is believed to be the longest yearly migration of any mammal. A whale watching industry provides ecotourists and marine mammal enthusiasts the opportunity to see groups of gray whales as they pass by on their migration. The whale feeds mainly on benthic crustaceans which it eats by turning on its side (usually the right) and scooping up the sediments from the sea floor. It is classified as a baleen whale and has a baleen, or whalebone, which acts like a sieve to capture small sea animals including amphipods taken in along with sand, water and other material. Mostly, the animal feeds in the northern waters during the summer; and opportunistically feeds during its migration trip, depending primarily on its extensive fat reserves.