Laguna San Ignacio

Mar 19, 2018 - National Geographic Sea Bird


After sailing north from Bahia Magdalena, the National Geographic Sea Bird dropped anchor at sunrise. Waking up to a cloudless sky and mild conditions, we geared up for an exciting day on the water at one of our most anticipated destinations—Laguna San Ignacio. 

Located almost halfway up the Pacific coast of Baja, San Ignacio Lagoon is a critical habitat for the charismatic gray whale, Eschrictius robustus. Each year, gray whales migrate from their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic, all the way down to the warm, shallow waters of Baja’s coastal lagoons for their winter breeding and birthing—the longest migration performed by any mammal. A species once brought to near extinction by commercial exploitation at the turn of the 20th century, the gray whale is now the keystone species of a sustainable tourism industry found at San Ignacio, offering one of the most spectacular marine animal encounters on the planet.

With the help of local guides, we headed out into the lagoon in search of these friendly whales. Whale watching can often be a tedious game of patience…but not in San Ignacio. From the start, there were whales everywhere we looked. Blows scattered all around us as mother and calf pairs broke the surface of the water. Approaching carefully and respectfully, we were privileged to enjoy countless close interactions and brilliant photo opportunities with these gentle giants. Recently born here in these lagoons, the calves are learning how to be a whale and getting in shape for their upcoming migration of 6,000 miles north. Together with their mothers, the calves came curiously close to our boats, swimming alongside close enough for us to reach out and pet them (for those of us willing to put the camera down!).

Spending a day with the gray whales of San Ignacio is an experience that truly employs (almost) all of your senses. With a day full of watching playful behavior as the whales spy-hopped, rolled around, blew bubbles, and showed off their large fins as they swam upside down underneath the boat… you can’t help but take in all the sounds, smells, and touches that come along with the incredible sights. There’s nothing quite like looking a whale closely in the eye, or turning quickly away to avoid the spray from a blowhole blast. A wonderfully entertaining day for whales and humans alike, it’s a rare and remarkable privilege to interact with an animal that appears to be as curious about us as we are of them.

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About the Author

Maya Santangelo

Naturalist/Expedition Diver

Maya was born and raised in Southern California, where her love for adventure and curiosity for the natural world was encouraged from an early age. At 11, she relocated to Sydney, Australia, where she learned to scuba dive. Maya’s love for life underwater grew exponentially with every dive and she knew early on that diving would play a large part in her life. 

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