Tuesday, February 22, 2022

February in Baja - Part VII San Ignacio Lagoon & Great Grey Whales

The San Ignacio Lagoon is Latin America's largest protected wildlife sanctuary: for the Great Grey Whales and sea turtles. The whales come here and to one other lagoon in Mexico for the breeding, birthing and nursery grounds before they once again follow the Pacific Coast heading north to the Arctic feeding grounds.

Taken from Wikipedia: 
In 1988 Mexico established the El VizcaĆ­no Biosphere Reserve to include San Ignacio Lagoon, which is Latin America's largest wildlife sanctuary. Not only is San Ignacio lagoon a gray whale sanctuary, but it is one of only two undeveloped nursery and breeding ground in the world of the Pacific gray whale. The other is just 4 hours away in Magdalena Bay. San Ignacio lagoon is an important feeding habitat for four of the worlds seven species of sea turtlesleatherbackshawksbillsgreen turtles and olive ridleys (all endangered). In 1993 the United Nations declared San Ignacio lagoon a World Heritage site because of its importance to the world community.

For reasons no one quite understands, the Great Grey Whales are very friendly toward humans, often approaching boats, wanting to be petted and stroked.  The mouth of the lagoon is the few places where humans are permitted touch the whales as the whales are as curious about humans as we are about them. 

Some think the mouth of the lagoon is where the mother whales introduces their calves socially to the larger whale community.  Since the young are still learning which are whales and which are boats may explain their ease in approaching humans in boats.

The boats that can enter the lagoon are quite small, holding up to ten persons, so you are riding low in the water making it easy to reach out and pet them. 

Our group of eight booked a whale tour, which is best if done early in the morning before the winds pick up. By 7:30 we were riding in a van the forty miles out to the lagoon.  What follows now are the photos I was able to capture of our experience. They do not do justice to the actual experience. I can only highly, VERY HIGLY recommend that if you ever have the opportunity to visit San Ignacio, BCS in February or March, go on the whale tour. It is an amazing hands on experience.

We were told that the most recent survey counted 168 whales in the lagoon.

The sun bleached bones on the beach give you a rough idea of the size of this mammal you are wanting to play with.

Well, that's the boat you will going out in... 
hmmmm... sure looking smaller than the skeleton on the beach.

As we reach the mouth of the lagoon, a whale surfaces and blows... near another boat.
They are definitely larger than our boats.

The whale get closer to their boat to check them out. 
Of course everyone on board has to gather on one side to better see, causing the boat to tip that way...

Suddenly a large white/black form appears beneath our boat, bumping the underside.

As he surfaces and rolls over to show his belly, another whale breeches in the background causing the large white splash you can see in the distance. They are playful today.

Then he surfaces near us, just out of reach, still checking us out.

a little closer now..

Satisfied we mean no harm, it approaches the boat and allows us to pet it, scratch its skin like a dog likes to be scratched. You can see the bristly baleen in its open mouth used for catching its dinner. Baleen is made of keratin, the same protein as our fingernails and hair.

One gets near enough that I can pet it too, feel the soft flesh yet tough skin. I wonder if the number of barnacles the whale has on its skin is an indication of its age? Barnacles are quite hard with sharp edges and do not peel off for us.

In all a half dozen different whales came and played with us, in, around and under our boat. Many coming up close so we could pet them. 

One juvenile whale wanted to play with us like we were a beach ball. 
He (?) ended up pushing on the bow of our boat, moving us backwards a good fifty feet.  

A memorable experience.

Ride safe, ride far my friends



  1. Great fun! Will show this to my 7-year-old granddaughter who's so interested in every science there is, biology, astronomy, chemistry, physics... She and her parents spent a day at the Boston Museum of Science last weekend (again). Ride on, amigo!

    1. Hey Tony, maybe she would like to trip with her grandfather to pet the whales. There are two sites down here where you can do that, San Ignacio and Guerrero Negro.

  2. Alright, when I grow up, I would like to adventure like Abu does!! What an awesome experience to share!

    1. 10LE, am positive you have had and will have many more adventures before you are through. Some are right in front of your nose.

  3. Jan, you are an amazing photographer, and this is a photography blog - but some things in life beg for a video!! Quite a story!

    1. VP, yes video would have been great, but then I would not have them ready for display until next summer. By then there will be more travels to document... I hope.

      Editing a photo takes minutes but a video takes hours and hours. Someday someone will invent rapid edit video software.

  4. We were only allowed to stay in the mouth of the lagoon for 60 minutes, then had to leave so another boat could come in. Still was worth every minute.

  5. A very cool experience CCjon! Martha and I also experience something very similar up in Alaska, the whales were so close to the tiny little boat we were on! I was already that the whale would bump the boat and causes to fall into the frigid waters! No petting was sought by us or permitted for that matter!

    1. There was a lady from Alaska in the boat with us. She didn't think you could pet whales up there.

  6. You can't.... You can't even get within a certain distance of them, everyone hopes that the whales themselves will approach you, which they did, much too close at one point I thought.


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