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The Most Phenomenal Wildlife Experience: Grey Whales of San Ignacio Lagoon

Helen travelled to Baja California for a life-changing experience to see the ‘friendly’ grey whales of San Ignacio lagoon and in this article she describes her encounters …

We have a swear jar in the office. Not just any swear jar. It is shaped like a whale and is affectionately known as my ‘Ba-jar’. My colleagues introduced it not long after my return from Baja (get it?!) last year, in response to my incessant chatter about the trip! It has now been filled many times over, due to the overwhelming impact that this simply wonderful part of the world and its cetacean inhabitants has continued to have on me since my return. If allowed (and small change permitting), I will talk about it for hours as my encounters with the grey whales of San Ignacio lagoon have to be, quite simply, some of the most phenomenal experiences – wildlife or otherwise – I have ever had! {img_alt}

I had been working at Wildlife Worldwide for three days when I was first shown a video of the ‘friendly whales’ of San Ignacio lagoon. As the footage unfolded in front of me, my whole body came out in goose bumps as I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. Wild whales interacting with overcome humans? As a former safari guide in Africa, watching and learning to ‘read’ the behaviour of wild animals from a respectful distance is second nature to me but, here I was, wide-mouthed, and desperate to see these whales for myself. {img_alt}

Fast forward five months and I’m sitting in a panga (the date and time are indelibly etched into my memory: Tuesday 11 April, 8.05am!), enjoying the breeze and sunshine on my face, with evidence of whales all around us. Blow holes are erupting constantly, near and far, adults are spy-hopping and giant fluke prints float past us like elephant tracks on the water. Our anticipation is palpable as we bob in the lagoon for 20 minutes before, out of nowhere, a huge (this was a calf!) grey head appears at the end of the boat and, after a reassuring rub from the fisherman/guide, advances down the side of the boat watching us as we scramble frantically at the water desperate for that first touch! I have to stop myself from laughing out loud at my reaction that day. It was as if all my Christmases had come at once! {img_alt}

Time and time again we went out. Time and time again we had extraordinary encounters with the whales … and still we couldn’t get enough! Traversing one quarter of the lagoon at set times of the day for 90 minutes each visit, there are strict limits on the number of pangas out at any one time, and there is categorically no ‘chasing’ of these magnificent creatures. We waited respectfully for them to come to us, and come to us they did. Their skin is soft yet hairy, and gradually their personalities became evident to us as we watched and interacted with them – some of the calves are shy, some cheeky and playful, and all the time the mothers watch, sometimes wanting to join in on the action too. But above all, it is their eyes that capture your attention. {img_alt}

Never have I ever had such an emotional reaction to a wild creature. This is grey whale-watching with bells on. This is grey whale-watching on their terms. I can’t wait to go back. 

Join Helen in 2020 on a wildlife trip of a lifetime for extraordinary encounters with the grey whales of San Ignacio lagoon