News from Observation Post #2
Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California, Mexico
Guides Adrienne DeLiso and Caroline Armon report:

Carolina's Guide Report: April 10, 2009
Hola from 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 of 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 into 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! Incredible. 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 moved 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!”

The calves have been breaching a lot too; not just a few times, but several breaches in a row, 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, that magical window 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 are so aware 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 for. Now YOU are the ambassadors… Carolina

Carolina's Guide Report: March 30, 2009
Hola from Laguna San Ignacio! We have enjoyed calm mornings on the water with nice whale interactions. In the column at right, see my photo of a calf we named “Barnita.” She is a very friendly calf who played with four boats that day. Her head and part 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.

Our 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, unless 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 over 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 flooding tide.
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 really piped 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 the first wisps of 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 to 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 there 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 against the strong tidal currents, 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!

Caroline's 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 a period 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, the census was taken 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, there 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 are leaning against 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 expenditure on 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 areas. (You 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 to share 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 attacks because/ when 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 whales have 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 humor too!
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!
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 of water, where we see them turn sideways with a pectoral fin or tail fluke above water, as 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!

Caroline's 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 came 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 side of the lagoon, with a few drops at camp. We seem to be having a normal weather pattern now.

Fun to Watch
The 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. We have had great whale watching trips, seeing most behaviors: spy hops, breaches, resting whales, 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 together —a 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 of 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 should be filled 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 or abundant in the previously favored areas of the Chukchi Sea, so the whales have to travel farther to get enough 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

PS There 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 of 175 (on February 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 we’ve had.)

Adrienne's 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 drop off in 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 whales swimming together. By the close interactions and nuzzling it seems they are juveniles (young whales of non-breeding age) that traveled down together. We also had a very large female and a smaller but not calf-sized female also traveling close. They all seemed to have a very loving relationship. Possibly Mom and last 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.

Baby and Mom Breathing
Photos Adrienne DeLiso, BajaEcotours

We 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 comparison between 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 one of the luckiest people on Earth!
Adrienne DeLiso, BajaEcotours

Adrienne's 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. Possibly young non-breeding juvenile whales hanging out together? We have seen few mothers and calves as it has been very windy and most 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 and it was the 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 than a few days old; his mother’s head dwarfed him as they rose to breathe together. Beautiful. With very few boats on the water thus far, it is lovely for us and the whales too!
Adrienne DeLiso, BajaEcotours

Feb.18, 2009: We have official numbers, thanks to Johnny Friday of BajaEcotours. How many whales have been counted 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?)

2009 Season
Census Date
Cow/Calf Pairs
Total Whales
Feb. 13, 2009
(Do the math!)
Feb. 5, 2009

Jan. 30, 2009



Jan. 22, 2009



Click 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.

Feb. 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 keeps going up this quickly."

We're expecting more news and will post as it arrives. Please check back!


Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California Sur
(26.80N, -113.25W)


Photo Caroline Armon
Photo Caroline Armon

This outline of a mama and baby gray whale is made out of shells. It is by the airstrip at the lagoon!
Photo Caroline Armon

Photo Caroline Armon
Photo Caroline Armon
A baby whale's eye
Photo Caroline Armon
Do pelicans help forecast winds?


Baby "Katy 2.5" and Mom
Photo Adrienne DeLiso


A family of seven coyotes is here this season; we counted them out on a low tide sand bar one day. 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 on his own.

Photo Caroline Armon



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