Whale Watching Season Opens in Cabo San Lucas
I hear that sentence several times every December, courtesy of friends who spend the better part of each day working on the water. It signals the unofficial beginning of Cabo San Lucas‘ most celebrated season, when migrating whales make their way south from Alaska and the Bering Sea to breed in the warm waters off the Baja coast. Whale watching season officially stretches from mid-December through mid-April, and sees an estimated 10,000 gray, humpback, blue, fin, sperm, and pilot whales – even the occasional orcas – cruising majestically through the local waters.
Grays and humpbacks are the whales most commonly sighted. The breeding grounds for gray whales are centered around Magdalena Bay, off the Pacific Coast of Baja Sur, while the humpbacks continue on into the Sea of Cortez. Humpbacks are more flamboyant of the two species, prone to spectacular breaching – leaping almost completely out of the water and displacing large amounts of water upon splashdown – but both grays and humpbacks make their presence known through behaviors like sounding (waving an enormous fluke) and spy-hopping (raising the head out of the water to check out the surroundings). The whales send up a huge white spray before breaching, and the trick for tour captains is to anticipate where the whales will surface based upon the the preceding spray.
Although whales can occasionally be seen from shore, most visitors interested in up-close-and-personal looks at these gargantuan creatures sign up for one of the many local whale watching tours. From December through March, seemingly every commercial boat in San Lucas offers some sort of whale watching excursion, from small pangas (water taxis) and fast inflatables to fishing boats, sailboats, and luxury yachts. There are advantages and disadvantages associated with each variety of watercraft, but depending upon whether you prefer high-speed action and adventure or comfort and style, there is a tour type that will appeal to virtually every taste.
There are often brisk winds outside the protected bay – the best place to see the whales, particularly photogenic humpbacks, is beyond Land’s End, where they turn to enter the Sea of Cortez – which is why, for my money, the best way to whale watch in Cabo San Lucas is aboard a sailboat. Sailboats don’t have the same degree of maneuverability enjoyed by pangas and high-speed inflatables, but they offer a mores stylish, exhilarating, and amenity-laden experience. The area’s premier charter company, Cabo Sails, offers private whale watching cruises aboard their fleet of 28′ to 44′ sailboats, each of which boasts a bilingual crew, an open bar, and a selection of snacks that include appetizers and sandwiches. The charters can accommodate two to twenty guests, with morning, afternoon, and sunset cruises available.
For the high-speed inflatable experience, join Cabo Adventures for one of their whale watching photo safaris. Their Apex boats were designed for whale watching, and will get you as close to the deep-sea leviathans as is legally allowed – The whales were born in Mexican waters, and locals like to joke that they are therefore Mexican citizens. That may be stretching the point, but the whales are legally protected, and there are rules and laws designed to protect them from overzealous boaters – That said, these tours are as intimate as whale watching gets, with excellent vantages from which to see and photograph these magnificent mammals. The tour guides are experienced and knowledgeable, and hydrophone listening technology is available for those who would like to hear the “songs” of the whales.
A little unsteady on your “sea legs?” For those seeking stability, a smooth ride, and plenty of service, sign up for one of the whale watching cruises aboard Caborey. The luxury triple-decked catamaran is best known for its dinner cruises – complete with five-star cuisine and a Las Vegas style floorshow – but the 144′ ship also offers seasonal whale watching excursions. Relax on the top deck with cocktails and sushi rolls, and keep an eye peeled for the cetacean crowd as they continue on course towards their traditional breeding grounds. This is without question the most luxurious way possible to whale watch, and considering the complimentary food and beverages, surprisingly affordable. The tours are offered at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., January through March, and cost $50 U.S. for adults, $25 for children.
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