Gray whales have arrived in Baja California! Every winter these marine mammals visit the lagoons of Ojo de Liebre, San Ignacio and Bahía Magdalena to reproduce and give birth. Over the past 15 years, WILDCOAST has worked diligently to conserve gray whale habitat, train local whale watching guides in proper management techniques, and even help boat operators obtain less polluting outboard engines for their skiffs.
During their stay in the lagoons of the Baja California peninsula, whales are visited by thousands of tourists each year that want to get a glimpse of this majestic leviathans up close. Unfortunately, sometimes the desire to get close to whales, can sometimes stress the animals.
Therefore, in response to the growth of whale watching in Baja and in an effort to reduce impacts to these marine mammals, the Mexican government stablished strong whale watching guidelines (NOM- 131-SEMARNAT-2010). These guidelines are not only to regulate sightings, but to also promote the conservation of whale species, including the gray whale.
Although the guidelines are directly for the whale watching providers, it is also the responsibility of tourists in Baja to ensure that their guides comply with these standards.
How can we support local whale watching providers?
Authorized local whale watching guides in Baja receive training on “good sighting practices” to obtain their federal permits. Most local operators have a lot of experience in the field and are very respectful of the regulations. Therefore, whale tourists should help to verify that guides comply with rules and not not pressure him to break the rules. Therefore, it is important for us to be aware of good whale watching practices.
Here are the following recommendations to help reduce impacts to gray whales while you are whale watching:
We know that we all want to get that close-up photo with the gray whales, but do not get carried away by all the wonderful pictures of kids and adults kissing and touching the whales. It is very rare for tourists to get that close to a whale. If you are lucky, a gray whale might reach out to your boat on its own, only then will the service provider be able to tell you if it is okay to touch the whale. Pressuring your guide to get close to the whale could not only hurt the whale, but could also hurt the business of the whale watching provider because they can have their permits taken away.
Photos by Claudio Contreras-Knobb