TRAVEL. MEXICO

I Kissed a Whale and Loved It

In Magdalena Bay, Baja California Sur Mexico

Gray whale in Magdalena Bay, Baja Sur, Mexico — provided by the author

There is a magical bay in Baja California Sur, Mexico. A bay where animals play and thrive. A bay where you can be surrounded by countless gray whales who choose to interact with you out of curiosity. Who just want to share the love.

Every winter hundreds of gray whales migrate from the frigid waters of Alaska to the protected waters of Magdalena Bay to mate and give birth. It’s all about love in Mag Bay. Whales loving on each other and humans loving on whales.

Why do these particular whales choose Magdalena Bay every year? Why not just stop in the first bay that looks good? Because they have a built-in GPS that directs them back to the same bay where they were born. This means every year the same whales keep returning and mating and breeding. Pretty cool.

Magdalena Bay — It’s all about the love

You can choose from a variety of tours to hang out with these cool creatures. From a four-hour day tour to a four-day tour where you spend three nights on Magdalena Island at Whale Camp. Why spend just four hours with whales when you can spend four days, right? That is what my husband and I thought and the reason why we stayed at Magdalena Island Whale Camp.

On the first morning, we were met at the boat dock in Puerto San Carlos by Captain Crispin. He is the original “whale whisperer” in Magdalena Bay and has been sharing the whale love for over 40 years. We climbed into his small panga boat and he drove us approximately 45 minutes across the bay to Whale Camp to drop off our luggage. Whale Camp would be our home base for three nights.

Whale camp in Magdalena Bay — provided by the author

After we dropped off our luggage, we climbed back into the panga and cruised over the crystal clear, flat waters of Magdalena Bay. Before we even started the official tour, Crispin spotted two juvenile whales playing and snacking on krill in the shallow water. We watched them in awe as they rolled under our panga and popped up right next to the boat to say good morning with sprays from their spouts.

Have you ever smelled whale breath up close?

Let me just say, you don’t have to be close to smell it. It’s a combination of rotting fish and stomach gasses.

Gray whale in the shallow waters in Magdalena Bay — provided by the author

We said goodbye to our juvenile friends and headed out to the deeper water in search of the playful whales. But, we were delayed. What causes a delay in an open bay? The sight of a mama gray whale and her new baby. The baby was only 10 days old, but she was already about 1,500 pounds and 15 feet long. Mama whale was so proud of her baby that she brought her up to the surface to show her off. “Congratulations on your baby! She’s beautiful!” Crispin shouted from the boat in Spanish. Mama whale gave us a sweet smile and then we drove away.

Mama whale and her baby — provided by the author

Just a few minutes later, we were out in the deep water and surrounded by gray whales. Everywhere I looked I could see whales! It was so quiet in the bay that the sounds of the whales spouting resonated around us like a surround sound system. My head was on a swivel. I didn’t know where to look! Whales swam by and then dove, showing us their giant tails. Whales swam by and then stopped, popping their heads up out of the water to look at us.

A gray whale saying hello in Magdalena Bay — provided by the author

“Good morning in the morning!” our Captain shouted. His love for the whales was evident and I truly believe Crispin was just as excited as we were to be with them. He kept talking to them and calling out to them as they swam by.

Crispin explained to us that the whales like to interact with people and they especially love it when humans talk to them and call out to them. Oh, how fun! As the whales swam by the three of us were calling out, “Ballena Bonita!”, “Good morning in the morning!”, “I have kisses for you!”.

Our calls out to them were in both English and Spanish but the whales responded to, and understood, more Spanish than English. Makes sense since most of them were born in Mexico.

So here we are, the three of us, in a tiny panga in crystal clear water, surrounded by whales singing out to them. I’m sure we looked crazy. I know we sounded crazy. But you know what? Crazy works.

Whales love crazy.

Getting love from a gray whale in Magdalena Bay — provided by the author

All of a sudden Crispin shouts, “There are two under the boat! They want to play!” Now we are hanging our heads over the side of the boat, inviting the whales for kisses “come up for kisses ballenas” we sang.

Both whales popped their heads up out of the water, looked us in the eye, and swam over to the boat and into our open arms. Crispin started shouting, “beso! beso! beso!” I leaned down and gave the whales kisses. Over and over again.

Leaning in and kissing a gray whale — provided by the author

The whales were loving the kisses, scratches, and hugs. After about 20 minutes, they swam away into the deep water.

Throughout all of our time on the boat, friendly whales visited us. Juvenile whales would come up to the boat and push it around to play with it. They would sit right under the boat and blow bubbles up to shake it. They would pop their giant heads up out of the water to look at us and say hi. I never imagined that gray whales had such a fun sense of humor.

The author’s husband in Magdalena Bay — provided by the author

As interested as the whales were in engaging with us, they were more interested in engaging with each other. These whales were here to mate and mate they did. The acrobatics that these 35-ton animals displayed during mating were unreal. Several whales would “dance” around in circles, splashing wildly with their tails and bodies.

How does a male gray whale impress a female? With his acrobatic breaching skills of course! When there was a break in the mating and socializing, it was time for breaching. We saw one male breach five times in a row. One even breached right behind our boat. The breaching was very impressive. I can see why the females are so attracted to it.

After six hours on the boat, Crispin dropped us off at Whale Camp for a late lunch. The kitchen is an “open” kitchen, so anytime you’re hungry, you can eat. There was a menu you could order off of, or you could just let Jose work his magic.

Once he knew we loved seafood, he created the most unique meals. We devoured Choco clams and lobster and humongous shrimp that tasted like lobster. All of the seafood was fresh and local. Since there is no refrigeration on the island, all of the seafood is kept alive, in small baskets in the bay, just before they are prepared.

One morning, Jose treated us to his favorite breakfast meal: chilaquiles. What are chilaquiles? They are basically a plate of nachos. But since they are called chilaquiles, it’s ok to eat them for breakfast.

It’s ok to eat nachos for breakfast in Mexico.
As long as you call them chilaquiles.

Whale camp offered so many other fun activities such as hiking, kayaking, and fishing. We had planned on doing so much more than whale watching, but we were always so exhausted when we returned to camp that the only extra activity we fit in was a hike over the mountain to the Pacific Ocean.

It was only a 20-minute hike up to the saddle for the view, but we couldn’t stop there. We had to touch the water of the Pacific Ocean. So we hiked down the steep, ok, slid down the steep, trail down to the water. It was a great trail if you were a goat. But the reward of being the only people on a secluded, rocky beach on the Pacific Ocean was definitely worth the effort.

Deserted beach at the end of our hike — provided by the author

Every night we were in bed and asleep by 9:30. Loving on whales is exhausting and we were thankful that our tent was equipped with a real bed. I am not a morning person, but I happily woke up to catch the spectacular sunrises over the bay.

Every sunrise included the added bonus of dolphins and whales swimming by. One of the best parts about our tent at Whale Camp? We could see and hear the whales swimming by at all hours of the day.

Our tent at Whale Camp — provided by the author

Whale Camp —
Sleep. Whale. Repeat.

Every day on the panga was more incredible than the one before. I could not have dreamed of a more perfect whale experience. You hope to see a few whales and if you’re lucky, touch one. But at Magdalena Bay, we got four days full of non-stop gray whale love.

Adios ballena!
Safe travels.
See you next year.

Gray whale tail in Magdalena Bay — provided by the author

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Lisa Cyrier

Wife, explorer, animal lover. Eternal optimist. Award winning author. Storyteller of lessons learned and laughter experienced on my journey through life.