Bahia de los Angeles
February 10 - 17, 1991
Dennis had always wanted to go to Baja in the winter to see the whales. In February each year, for a few weeks, gray whales gather to give birth to their calves. We'd lashed a canoe to the top of the camper and were disappointed to learn that no private boats are allowed in Scammon Lagoon. Although we drifted among 50 or so surfacing and sounding whales in a commercial skiff, we longed to have our own boat in the water.
A storm had whipped up tremendous waves on the Pacific side, so we crossed to Bahia de Los Angeles on the Sea of Cortez. February 15 was a quiet day on the bay, overcast. The water was glassy. We launched the little canoe and motored to a desert island. Dennis and I climbed to its highest point, carefully avoiding the cactus.
"Listen," he said at the top. In the silky silent air, we barely heard the sound of hundreds of sea mammals drifting across the water. We listened carefully and located a small distant island that seemed to be the source.
We hurried back to the canoe and paddled toward the island. The sound got louder and louder; then we saw them—sea lions. Almost every resting place on the rocky island was occupied, and there were hundreds more sea lions in the water on their backs, flippers fanning the air. We didn't want to frighten them, but they seemed unperturbed. We stopped paddling and just drifted, taking photos with our tiny cameras. Silently, we paddled around the island. A few big animals lifted their heads, then laid them back down, closing soft sleepy eyes.
The island was also a bird rookery. We watched dozens of different species watch us and occasionally take flight. I accidentally bumped the aluminum canoe with a paddle and attracted the attention of sea lions in the water. They swam toward us, daring to come closer and closer for quick peeks, then diving and swimming around and under the canoe. We could see their sleek bodies below us in clear water.
It was already one of the best days in my life. As we turned to go back, I heard a big blow. "That has to be a whale," I said. We looked and yes! Three finbacks were swimming directly toward us! Unfortunately, a Mexican fishing boat spooked them and they dove. We waited for them to resurface and were about ready to give up when the largest one surfaced not far from the canoe. Each time he came up, he was closer, until he was only about 100 yards away. His huge head surfaced and he blew, then his body kept coming and coming, 75 to 80 feet of it. Only blue whales are larger than finbacks. He finally dove and we saw him join the other two whales in the distance and continue south.
Go on to read Sailing the Sea of Cortez
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