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A gray whale flukes inside Magdalena Bay, Mexico

Gray whales of Mag Bay

While we continued our stay in Magdalena Bay it seemed the gray whale season was in full swing already. We could see the whales breach in the opening of the bay every day. Different whales were resting at the surface and soon we cruised slowly into the bay in search of some cooperative whales..


As we made our way into the bay some of the whales seemed to rest on the surface in the afternoon sun. It was impressive to see these animals knowing they had just finished their 8000 kilometer journey all the way from the Bering Sea in Alaska. No doubt there would be highly pregnant females amongst these whales. We were hoping to see one of these babies up close and personal if possible, although we knew it could be a bit early in the season.


The gray whale has been on the brink of extinction for years. Once whalers found out about the lagoons in Baja California at the end of the 19th century things turned bad instantly for these gentle giants. Starting in Magdalena Bay the lagoons were fished nearly empty one by one. Not realising how vital these nurseries were for the whales San Ignacio lagoon and the lagoon of Ojo de Liebre soon were near emptied after Magdalena Bay. Especially when factory ships were put into practice the whales were being killed by the hundreds.


As a consequence however the East Pacific population numbers of the species was soon below sustainable figures for the whalers, but more importantly closing in on sustainable rates for the survival of the population itself. Luckily with the introduction of protective measures in 1936 by the U.S. and later in 1946 by the International Whaling Commission better times arrived. Slowly the population started to recover from half a century of overexploitation by ignorant people. Today the population in the East Pacific is estimated to number around 20.000 gray whales. Some scientists argue these numbers are more or less the same as pre-whaling figures. Other populations however are still in grave danger of extinction. The Asian gray whale population is still estimated to number only little over 100 animals.. Go figure.. What blocks the Asian population from a similar path to recovery is unclear although most people know that Asia still has some whaling operations in place. Let's hope the Asians soon realize the importance of stopping their whaling programs and also the Asian gray's can start recovering.

During our day in the bay some of the whales came really, really close to our boat although I wouldn't call it real curiosity or interest in our presence. A few whales swam below the boat. It was just about enough to take a few blurry shots underwater. We did observe some whales close together, what could indicate social behavior and possibly even courting between the male and female gray's. Other whales did spy hop to see what was around them; an impressive spectacle to behold.


A dead baby whale

On another day we set out early to make the best of the day and the morning light. Half way across the channel between Isla Santa Margarita we encountered a floating object on the surface. Even though our captain was hesitant to turn towards the object we obliged to do so. When we came closer it seemed as if an object filled with air floated on the surface. The wrinkles simply made it look like a big bouncer floating out there. Even closer however it became clear what it was. It was a dead baby whale..

The intestines of the whale were already protruding from the anal cavity due to the build up of gas inside the body of the whale. It is however hard to say how long the whale was dead already. The sun was excruciatingly hot speeding up the natural processes a lot. There were however no sharks to be seen around the whale while it drifted into the Pacific Ocean. I estimated it wouldn't take long for the first sharks to arrive though.. It could have been a miscarriage or any other cause of death. We could not help but think how the mother gray whale must have felt when her baby died after her long journey south and giving birth to the baby. It was a stark reminder of how harsh life can be for these magnificent animals.

On the way back to our camp we were treated to an awesome sunset on the water. We asked Cruz whether he would want to stay out on the boat to see the sun set and he nodded. Wicked. We got fluking whales before dinner against the colorful Pacific sunset. Days for me simply do not get much better than these..


joostvanuffelen's picture
About the Author:
Joost loves the oceans, travelling and (underwater)photography. Combining those three elements he creates ocean art, travel reports and ocean photo stories...

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