from Observation Post #2
Baja California, Mexico
Adrienne DeLiso and Caroline Armon report:
Guide Report: April 10, 2009
Laguna San Ignacio! Spring is here! It's
the end of the whale watching season, and the whales seem very
active. At least 7 pairs
moms with calves are still here, and 5 of those pairs are very
friendly! We are still going out to the mouth of the lagoon and
the ocean where the whales are gathering. One trip out, a young mom wanted
attention more than her calf; she was very relaxed and mellow and she stayed
by the side of our
panga for over an hour while her calf swam back and
forth, dancing and rolling over mom. We all had so much fun getting
soaked by mom’s
blows and surfing
with the whales! We saw them again with 4 other pairs of moms and calves
who were jostling for position next to the panga, vying for our attention!
Huge mamas and their roly-poly calves lined up on one side of our little
22-foot panga!! It was overwhelming to track
of 10 whales within a hand’s reach and
watch them go back and forth and rub under the boat!
We started to drift into the sandbar surf with the flooding tide, so Roberto
the boat. The
whales followed like submarines charging! We finally had to break off and head
back to camp. The whales followed for a bit, leaving us with one of the calves
spy hopping as if to say, "Where are you going? We were having so much
fun playing with you!" We hollered, “See you tomorrow!”
calves have been breaching a lot too; not just a few times, but several breaches
really building up their strength and stamina.
People ask me when I think the best conditions for whale interactions are,
whether morning or afternoon. The state of the tide and wind seem to be the
most influential factors. My favorite time is slack tide,
at the end of the tidal cycle, where the water can be like a glass pond.
Those times have been the best whale encounters. These intelligent animals
and in harmony with their environment because their survival depends on it.
I like to share quotes that inspire me, and I leave you with one of my own
in response to the question of why I think gray whales approach us humans,
when we are known
predators: I think gray whales are the ambassadors of our water planet. That
which you experience, come to know, touch and are touched by, you care
YOU are the ambassadors… Carolina
Guide Report: March 30, 2009
Hola from Laguna San Ignacio! We have enjoyed
calm mornings on the water with nice whale interactions.
my photo of a calf we named “Barnita.”
She is a very friendly calf who played with four boats that day. Her head and
of her back are already covered in barnacles. It’s amazing how fast
the barnacles grow and how the amounts vary from whale to whale.
afternoon trips have been windy with low tides, so we go to
the mouth of the lagoon and into
the Pacific Ocean, surfing with the whales! Each day it seems another pair
heads north. We see lots of endurance swimming, spy hops,
and calves breaching, but rarely do we see a raised tail fluke,
they are feeding.
We were watching a mom and calf as they approached a single
feeding whale in an area we call the whale snack bar
(it's a sand bar). The adult female swam right
the top of the feeding whale, touching the upraised pectoral fin with its
body and tail fluke. The feeding whale didn’t even
flinch! Then the 2 adults fed side by side with the calf
snug between them, a touching sight, as the calf
went down and came up with small mouthfuls of sediment. That appeared to
be very social behavior, as did a later scene of 6 pairs
of whales swimming and surfing
quite close to each other with calves rolling over one another.
The last census on March 25 counted 17 pairs of moms with (big!) babies
and just 5 singles, for a total of 39 whales
in the lagoon.
The wind has stopped some evenings. The other night, I was star gazing and
listening to the whales breathe; they were deeper in the lagoon with the
I hope all is well with you! Carolina
Carolina's Guide Report: March 23, 2009
Hola from Laguna San Ignacio! We have enjoyed nice,
fairly warm weather until yesterday afternoon, when the wind
up from the west-northwest. It’s
still blowing! As we were heading out in calm conditions to the whale watch
area, we noticed brown pelicans (see photos) gliding on
the upper air currents. Our boat driver Maldo explained they were riding
wind from the
Pacific Ocean and much more
wind was coming. Within 15 minutes the wind really picked up. Within an hour
all the boats were radioed by the shore monitor to return
the camps. Winds blew up to
30+ mph! I am still learning and awed by how the birds and animals will tell
us about the weather if we are paying attention.
We enjoyed pond-like conditions on many of our previous whale watch trips,
catching slack tide. (That's when the tidal flow has finished its cycle,
and leaves about an
hour with little current.) With little wind, visibility is
excellent and some of our best interactions with the whales occur. One afternoon
were 3 distinct groups of mothers with calves, rather than the norm of whales
spread out from each other. There are still a few singles
lingering in the lagoon. On two afternoons, endurance and speed swimming
breaching, lunging, and spy hopping by 20 + calves, seemed to be the lessons! Calves
would briefly swim by the boats, returning to their moms, very focused! I
wondered if some were heading out to begin the big swim north?
I hope all is well with you!
Guide Report, March 19:
Hola from Laguna San Ignacio!
The weather has resumed its normal pattern of north-northwest winds off
the mountains at night and morning, until the sun heats up the land and
of no wind,
then the ocean winds from the west-southwest. So we still go through our
layers of clothes throughout the day and evening. We had thick fog and
dew this morning,
I suspect it may be hot this afternoon.
The last whale count, taken March 12, 2009, showed 40 pairs of mothers
with calves, and 46 single whales, 126 total still in the lagoon. Again,
on a minus low tide, where many whales were outside the mouth of the lagoon
in the outer bay, so not included in the total. Most were moms and babies,
are less solo whales each day, as they leave and head north.
I appreciate the scientists’ patience, observations, and years collecting
data to see patterns emerge. I’m not sure if I am noticing new things or
wasn’t paying attention in previous years! Watching the grays spy
hop, the way they lean their heads backwards as they go back down in
the water, I have noticed for many years they spy hop more frequently when the tidal
currents are running at full force. It recently occurred to me that they
the currents. Does that help them keep their massive bodies vertical?
I am including photos of a female, mom with calf, which has survived
a killer whale attack. You can see the tooth or rake marks on
her dorsal ridge. She
also bears scars on the dorsal knuckles. She’s a fighter for sure!
I have really noticed this season it is not uncommon to see these scars
on the adult grays,
especially the edges of the pectoral fins and tail flukes. I have said
in the past, that my opinion was, attacking other whales is an energy
the part of the killer whales, it may not be their first choice if other
prey, i.e.; seals, are available, and we might see more documentation
of the attacks
as much of the grays migration route is past very visible and populated
know I speak up in defense of the transient killer whales! This season
I have some decent photos I took from the Salish Sea- San Juan Islands
with guests, along with vocalizations of both resident fish eating and
transient mammal eating ecotypes of killer whales, thanks to Ken Balcomb
and The Center
For Whale Research.) As well as the life in this ecosystem, there is
that predator – prey
relationship between the grays and orcas. Now my questions: are there
more attempted, but unsuccessful attacks by orcas on the grays? Or more
other prey is unavailable?
The new game this season is splash the tourists back!
The whales, especially the calves, seem to enjoy having us
splash water on them. Well, one frisky
boy flicked his tail fluke and splashed me back! I am convinced these
a sense of humor! They are flicking water at us regularly, albeit gently,
they are much better at it than us! Some of our guests are getting
soaked, with good
On another trip, a guest was leaning over the bow when a big mama whale
surfaced, exhaled, and blew Mike’s baseball cap right off his
head!! Sometimes we can get a pretty good soaking by those powerful
blows! IN REPORT???
We are starting to see the moms teach the calves how to feed
off the bottom. They prefer a sandbar by the mouth of the lagoon, 6 to 12 feet
where we see them turn sideways with a pectoral fin or tail fluke above
they vacuum up a mouthful. Then we see the sediment-mud circle in the
water as they
surface and push their tongues against the baleen. Just a little snack,
I think, as birds aren’t following them for critters that are stirred up and exposed.
I see surf scoters here; in the Salish Sea they will feed off of what the grays
turn up, but not here- which tells me there’s not much prey in the bottom
sediment. I think of the feeding gray whales as the gardeners of the ocean. I
have not seen any more ‘skinny whales’, although some of
the moms are looking lean, which is normal at this time, for the blubber
they are turning
into milk for the calves. Learning how and where to feed is an important
skill, and grays are opportunistic feeders— strong and resilient
like their name —robustus!
Guide report, March 11:
Hola from Baja California Sur, Mexico – Laguna San Ignacio.
The end of February and first part of March were nice
and hot, with daytime temperatures into the 90’s! Thank goodness for our
natural air conditioning and constant companion— the wind! Then a front
through bringing cooler temperatures
and more wind. We didn’t
miss any trips on the water, just delayed a few morning trips until the wind
and whitecaps settled down. It still amazes me how this desert habitat can
vary in temperatures by as much at 40 degrees. We also saw rain on the other
of the lagoon, with a few drops at camp. We seem to be having a normal weather
Fun to Watch
whales don’t seem to mind the weather too much! Although
I wonder that it takes more energy to clear the wind-waves
and to breathe in choppy waters.
great whale watching trips, seeing most behaviors: spy hops, breaches, resting
lots of mom-calf pairs, and a mating group just a few days ago. Some
new things I’ve noticed this season are a few groups of 3 whales
mom, calf, and (from the full-grown size) I’m guessing an older female.
(The females are larger in baleen whales.) We have also seen a kind
lunge-then-roll behavior, several times.
The San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Project has estimated 10% to 12% of the
whales in the lagoon are “skinnys,” which means they didn’t
get enough to eat and are showing loss of blubber- indentations where they
out. Their shoulder blades are showing, and in extreme starvation cases,
the rib cage shows. The tiny amphipods they prefer to eat are not concentrated
the previously favored areas of the Chukchi Sea, so the whales have to travel
food. The southbound migration has shifted a week later. Questions of carrying
capacity for the estimated population of 20,000 +/- have been raised as well.
I saw a “skinny” calf for the first time. Its mother was quite small,
so that may have been a factor. Otherwise, the moms and calves are looking healthy
and robust, just like their name “Robustus” — strong. I
do admire their resiliency and adaptability!
May you all be well!
Carolina Armon, BajaEcotours
are still single whales in the lagoon, although the majority
are the moms with calves. The census total of 302 whales in
the lagoon on February 13 (see table below) was the highest
count on that date in many years! I suspect the next census
20) was taken on a low tide where many of the whales were just
outside the mouth of the lagoon. That seems especially likely
when you look at the dramatic drop in the mom-calf numbers,
as they are usually the last to leave the lagoons. We are waiting
for a new census. (A good count isn't possible with the conditions
Guide report, Feb. 27:
Lots of changes in the lagoon in these two weeks.
We are seeing less mating behavior and more friendly moms and
calves. We are still waiting on the new census but we saw a
whales. After the peak of 302, it went down to 100 and now
it seems like it is up again. We have seen many adult sized
together. By the close
and nuzzling it seems they are juveniles (young whales of
non-breeding age) that traveled down together. We also had
a very large female
a smaller but not calf-sized female also traveling close.
They all seemed to have a very loving relationship. Possibly
year’s calf? Is this mom here to mate, or is she skipping
a year and just hanging with her calf? We just don’t know,
but it’s fascinating to study.
and Mom Breathing
|Photos Adrienne DeLiso, BajaEcotours
have had many calm days and it seems the whales spyhop more
during these conditions. I have including some of my
favorite whale spyhops to date, as well as a nice size
a mom spy-hopping and a baby surfacing to breathe next to
her (above). It’s
moments like these that make me never want to take my eyes
of these whales! Being here I am constantly reminded I am
people on Earth!
Guide report, Feb. 15-19:
Wow! So many whales! You can see from the census below that
we have an unusual amount of whales so early in the season.
This is a good sign! We have also been seeing so much mating
activity for lots of baby whales for next year! One afternoon
we had three adult whales swimming near and under our Panga
(boat), defiantly checking us out. They all
seemed to be swimming together, and from their size, appeared
to be females.
young non-breeding juvenile whales hanging out together?
We have seen few mothers and calves as it has been very windy
of the mothers are keeping their babies clear of the
boats. This is smart, as the babies are very small and are
not yet strong swimmers. We had one completely windless morning
one day a cow/calf pair came to the panga to say
hello. We saw a very tiny baby that could not have been more
a few days
old; his mother’s head dwarfed him as they rose to
breathe together. Beautiful. With very few boats on the water
far, it is lovely for us and the whales too!
2009: We have official numbers, thanks
to Johnny Friday of BajaEcotours.
many whales have
so far in this nursery lagoon?
(Add the numbers to get the totals and remember this hint:
how many whales in a cow/calf pair?)
here to check your totals. Then scroll down that page
to see how this week's totals compare with this time in
February 2008, 2007,
2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, and 2002.
3, 2009: Maria of Malarrimo
Ecotours reports about 900
whales already in the lagoon, with more arriving daily. "Records
could break if the number of whales
expecting more news and will post as it arrives. Please check
San Ignacio, Baja
outline of a mama and baby gray
whale is made out of shells. It is by the airstrip
at the lagoon!
baby whale's eye
help forecast winds?
2.5" and Mom
Photo Adrienne DeLiso
family of seven coyotes is here this season;
we counted them out on a low tide sand bar one
The coyotes here go clamming too! This young
male strolled by my trailer and through camp, looking
a bit bewildered. He’s healthy with nice
fluffy fur; the older males tend to look pretty
skinny and beat up, competing for territory and
food. Perhaps it was this coyote’s time
to leave the matriarchal family and strike out
Photo Caroline Armon