Spring Training for Babies
by Naturalist Caroline Armon, Baja Ecotours
, Laguna San Ignacio

Tourists watch baby gray whale in San Ignacio Lagoon.
Photos Caroline Armon

Building Strength
I am noticing some patterns of behavior from my years in San Ignacio Lagoon. The whales tend to swim against whichever way the tide is flowing. Perhaps it feels good against their skin. It may even knock off some whale lice. It is definitely endurance swimming practice for the calves before the big swim north. Swimming against the tide makes the calves stronger.
A gray whale's pectoral fin. Do you see the outline of the bones?
Pectoral Fin. See the outline of the bones?

Learning to Feed
We start to see feeding behavior in March. The calves will still nurse for a few months, but they are learning how to find food. The moms show the calves how to “plow” up the lagoon bottom where the water is about 10 feet deep. It’s amazing to see those pectoral fins and tail flukes sticking up in the air as they move slowly along, "grazing" on the bottom. There is very little whale food in these warm waters, but the babies were doing a great job. We could tell by the mud circles they left behind on the water, like a fluke print.
A spyhopping gray whale in San Ignacio Lagoon.

Growing, Growing
The calves are now very active and agile! They are getting bigger, so I now need to look twice before I say "that’s a calf" or "that's a juvenile!" I still struggle to describe the thrill when a mom presents, pushes, or even lifts her baby up to us. Magic can and does happen here in the lagoon!

Journal or Discussion Question

  • Why do you think new mothers and calves remain in the lagoons for several weeks longer than the other whales?