It’s the start of a new year and you’re ready to be Baja bound. Ready to find that Mexican cure for your winter blues.
You’ve heard about this magical place far away from Cabo, cell phone coverage and poolside cocktails. A small lagoon tucked into Baja’s gnarled finger of a peninsula. Magdalena Bay: a place where it’s ok to touch the whales.
Magdalena Bay is a world of whales and wildness. One where you can get lost in the glossy transition between the blue bay and the rippling sky. One where you find yourself transported into a different world as you stare into the eye of a gray whale, feel their breath and find yourself transformed.
If you’ve heard the call of the whale and are ready to descend into the wild, you’ll probably have some pretty important questions like “when’s the best time to see gray whales in Baja?” Here’s what you need to know.
WHY MAGDALENA BAY?
Magdalena Bay is a mecca for wildlife lovers and wildlife itself. Secreted behind Isla Santa Margarita and Isla Magdalena, the tranquil bay is a favorite playground for gray whales.
Every year they travel south from Alaska to spend their winter in Mexico to give birth, mate, raise their calves—and play with their human visitors. The protected, calm lagoons and their nutrient-rich waters are the ideal destination for gray whales to birth and raise their young.
Though Magdalena Bay is a favored destination for adventurists, you won’t see crowds of pangas crusting over the water. Whale watching is carefully regulated here, so it’s just you and the whales coming out to see you.
ARE THERE GRAY WHALES IN MAGDALENA BAY YET IN 2019?
2019 is fully upon us, and one of the top questions for Baja-bound travelers so far this year is “are they there yet?”
The answer? Yes. And there are only more gray whales to come.
Baja whale watching may be a year-round activity, but gray whale season peaks in the winter months of January-March. By January 2019, pregnant gray whale mothers and single females looking to mate have arrived in Magdalena Bay. The remaining majority of the pods reach Baja’s calving lagoons by February to mid-March.
HOW LONG CAN YOU SEE GRAY WHALES IN MAGDALENA BAY?
If you’re Baja vacation is scheduled for early spring, don’t stress: plenty of gray whales stay in Magdalena Bay past mid-March.
While many gray whales begin their northward swim throughout February and into March, the mothers and their new calves are known to stay in Baja well into May to take advantage of sheltered waters and better prepare their calves for the dangerous journey north. Often in mid-March through April you can find more whales in the northern nursery lagoons of San Ignacio and Laguna Ojo de Liebre (or Scammon’s Lagoon).
IS IT OK TO TOUCH THE WHALES?
In Magdalena Bay, gray whales seek attention from humans and completely alter your perception of whale watching.
As a wildlife watcher, it’s important to keep a respectful (and federally regulated!) distance from the whales so that the whales don’t undergo any stress. But in Magdalena and Baja’s other calving lagoons, gray whales have developed a wholly unique, special culture where they approach humans in their awaiting pangas.
Not only do gray whales approach the humans, they do so in hopes to play. If you simply watch the whales, they appear to be disappointed and leave in hopes of entertainment elsewhere. But if you splash the water, sing some songs or give them a good scratch, they playfully hang around in one of the most joyous, intimate experiences you can find in nature.
Long story short: you can’t “chase” after the whales in Magdalena Bay. But there’s really no need to. They come to you.
DO YOU HAVE TO GO TO BAJA TO SEE THE GRAY WHALES?
Gray whales migrate along the Pacific coast, so there’s plenty of opportunities to see the gray whales as they make their way toward the border. But can you find the same interactive experience? No.
Gray whales only exhibit their extraordinarily friendly behaviors in Baja’s lagoons like Magdalena Bay. Many speculate that this localized behavior is because the gray whale mothers encourage their calves to meet their human guests when they are only days old, nudging them toward the boats. As such, many of the mothers who introduce their new babies to humans underwent the same introduction as calves themselves in Magdalena Bay. Many joke that gray whales are Mexican by birth. It appears that, as it so often goes, you’re always more comfortable at home.
To go beyond seeing the gray whales into playing with the gray whales, it’s worth it to venture into Baja’s remote lagoons like Magdalena Bay. After all, a world unto itself is only a border away.