INTRODUCTION TO THE GRAY WHALE
With the onset of the southern migration of the gray whale passing
area, we present below a short primer on this magnificent sea creature. As
a Captain, I have conducted many whale watching boat tours and am quite
familiar with these fascinating, awesome, barnacle encrusted mammals
otherwise known as Eschrichtius robustus in Latin and ballena in Spanish.
Gray whales are the most frequently
observed large whale along the west coast of the United States, Canada
and Mexico. Mature gray whales measure between 35 to 45 feet in length and weigh as
many tons. Gray whales belong to a group of whales known as baleen or
Mysiceti (from Latin for mustache) whales. They are characterized by their
large size, two blowholes, and baleen instead of teeth. Baleen is made of
the same substance as hair and horns. Plates of baleen hang down in two
rows from the top of the whale’s upper jaw. They act like a filter to
catch the food. When a baleen whale takes a mouthful of food and water, it
uses its tongue to squeeze out in the water through the baleen. The food
remains caught on the baleen inside.
From June to October, the gray whales feed and grow fat in the
shallow waters of the Bering and Chukchi
west of the State of Alaska. This summer feeding must provide energy for the rest of the year.
Plowing through the soft sand and mud bottom with their snouts, they stir
up clouds of small shrimp-like amphipods, which they strain from the
turbid water with their short, fringed baleen plates. Euphausid krill and
spawning squid provide additional blubber reserves. The shortened days and
declining food supply water of autumn finally signal the start of the gray
whale’s journey south. Traveling in a single file or in small groups
they swim night and day at a speed of 4 to 6 mph usually taking two to
three months to cover the 5,000 to 6,000 miles. We have found ourselves
following a football field size group of grays during one of our past
whale watching expeditions. Bottom contours, ocean currents, prominent
visual landmarks and even the “taste” of inflowing water from river
and bays all act as navigation aids. By late December-early January the
first whales reach the lagoons of Baja. The first to arrive are the
pregnant females, then the mature breeding adults, and finally the
yearlings and immature animals. Often the pregnant females arrive within
days or hours of giving birth to their calves.
The 15ft. calves born love the warm salty water in the Baja lagoons.
Sexual maturity in gray whales is reached at about eight years.
Males may mate every year, but females are on an every other year
cycle-mating one year, giving birth the next, and then mating again the
following year. The calves are born between December and February, usually
in the quiet innermost reaches of the lagoons. Measuring fourteen to
sixteen feet at birth, they nurse on their mother’s rich milk (50
percent fat) and grow rapidly. Buoyed up by the warm salty water, they
practice swimming and diving around the usually resting form of their
mother, sheltered from the rough seas as well as from the predatory sharks
and killer whales. By early March the males have left the lagoons to start
north. By mid-April the mothers and calves (the latter now well padded
with blubber) will also begin their long to 2½ month trip back to the
The main nursery area is Scammon’s Lagoon 270 miles south of Ensenada
as the crow flies, which covers some 250 square miles.
Lower down the coast is the second main lagoon, San Ignacio, where
most of the whale watching trips are located. Magdalena
was a most important whaling spot in the old days, but now only some ten
percent of it is utilized by the whales.
Some whales venture as far as Cabo San Lucas and even a small
number have been seen inside the Sea
In 1885 whalers discovered the Baja calving lagoons.
Some captains managed to sail their ships through the shallows,
others entered the lagoons in small boats.
These lagoons were especially well suited to the whaler’s purpose
because of the narrow channels separated by sand bars.
The men could stand on the sand bars and harpoon the whales as they
swam through the channels. This
method of killing whales was much safer for the men, but it was disastrous
for the whales. In fact by
1900, it was no longer profitable to find and kill the gray whale because
there were so few. With the invention of the harpoon gun and faster ships,
whalers moved to the arctic region and killed nearly 2 million of the
swift, deep water whales: blues, fins, and humpbacks.
During this time, the gray whale population increased enough so
that by 1924, the whalers returned, and the number of grays was severely
reduced once again. Finally,
in 1937, the gray whale was given partial protection, and in 1947, the International Whaling Commission gave
them full protection.
Since then the population has increased to an estimated 12,000 to
17,000 and many scientists believe that it has stabilized.
The greatest threat to the gray whale today is loss of habitat.
Unexplored oil reserves lie beneath their northern feeding grounds
and their southern calving lagoons. Pollution
of these areas, or the waters through which they migrate, or commercial
development of the Baja lagoons could do serious harm the species. The
survival of the gray whale will ultimately depend on human priorities.
Here are a few facts about the swimming and diving behavior of the whale
during migration. When a whale
comes to the surface, there is a blow or spout.
It is a double-plumed, misty jet of vapor up to 10ft. high and can
often be seen against the horizon. The
blow is not a fountain of water, but a mist that condenses from the warm
moist air as it is exhaled under high pressure from the lungs. Gray whales
have a rhythmic breathing pattern. Normally
they will make three to five short, shallow dives of less than a mile a
minute each, and then a long, deep dive.
This repeated breathing pattern enables the whales to store up
oxygen and get rid of the carbon dioxide built up during a long dive.
A general rule is one short dive and blow for every minute spent in
a deep dive. When the flukes
come out of the water, it usually signals a deep dive. The short exhaling
dives are between one to two minutes in length and the long dive is five
to eight minutes and covers approximately three to 400 yards.
Again, the whale travels at between four and six knots and should
be followed and at exactly the same speed. If you are observing the gray
whale on your boat, do not approach the whale within 100 yards or converge
or cross his course, causing the whale to change his course do to your
interference. Power boats with big kickers should motor quietly and sail
boats with little kickers (who are always quiet) should motor under main
sail only. Absolutely nothing compares to the spiritual experience of
tracking and following the silent progression of the gray whale. Your
children will love this communion with the whales and your inner child
will thank you for the adventure.
Winning is like shaving, if you quit, everybody thinks you are a bum.
A NEW MARINA
If you’re at the Marina Coral and suddenly feel remote from the
rest of the world, the Internet is now just a mouse click and US $5
dollars for any 24 hour a day length of time. From 12:01 midnight to 11:59
before midnight that night you can sign on and off as often as you like or
just stay connected for a mere five bucks! To arrange the details, see the
hotel front desk and they will assign you a password and username and open
the connection to your slip phone plug to Telnor, the local phone company.
It may be slow at 52 Kbps, but the connection is very reliable... When I
arrived here 5 years ago, the internet was free. Stealthily the Marina
posted flyers, without my knowledge, and started charging 28 cents a
minute. One rainy cold April day I ran up a bill of over a hundred dollars
doodling around on the Internet!!! Luckily I was given a refund, but had
not been on the Internet at my boat in Mexico
for 4 1/2 years until this new feature debuted recently. As I posted this
new Newsletter and a bunch of new photos on the Photo Album page, I stayed
on all day long and not once was bumped off; how refreshing to experience
a good phone connection to the Internet on these remote boat docks
serviced by all those little long and venerable lines subject to the
marine environs! I'm stoked!!!
(SEE OUR NOVEMBER 2005 NEWSLETTER FOR AN UPDATE TO THIS ARTICLE DISCUSSING
THE AVAILABILITY OF NEW WIRELESS INTERNET IN ENSENADA)
As I posted new
photos today on my Photo Album page, I was reminded of my days spent in
Seattle when I could pick out a cloud on the horizon and watch it for 2
hours until it lazily passed over my location. As you travel south from
the rank air that covers Southern California, you will leave the smog
between south of Puerto Nuevo, Punta Salsipuedes or Punta San Miguel. If
there is no air inversion which will trap the bad air that Ensenada
creates daily, the atmosphere here is surprisingly pristine. Yes, cloud
watching is enabled here and is strongly suggested to help you anti-stress
while away from your normal smog shrouded lifestyle.
COAST TO COAST BY FREIGHTER
In November we met the owners of two catamarans that arrived the previous
day at the same time in the mid-afternoon. Assuming they were buddy
boating, I asked them how was their passage and from where did they travel
to Mexico. They were both on boats from Florida, but only traveled 2 miles to arrive here yesterday!!! The boats were
delivered after a 2 1/2 week trip by freighter from
by a freight line that specializes in boat deliveries through the
. One of the boats, a 45 foot cat, was ferried here for only US $13K and
traveled on her own hulls! This is so much less expensive in money, time,
wear and tear, and the experience of committing your boat to an unknown
Captain of questionable qualification and credentials. If you are joining
the 90 Day Yacht Club with a boat from Florida, this may be an option you will want to explore.
THE PRICE IS RIGHT
Mexican TV can be very entertaining. Versions of many games shows can be
found complete with the same set and format with the host waving arms at
prizes speaking Spanish and mimicking Bob Barker. One evening I was
channel surfing and found the Mexican version of the Price is Right.
Contestants from the audience encouraged to "come on down" in
Spanish, while jumping up and down and in and out of the host's arms.
As the show wound down to the big prize package segment, the curtain went
up to unveil an old style VW bug, say maybe a 1973 vintage super-beetle. I
didn't quite understand the Spanish commentary and commented to my friends
that they were giving away a used car. Later we had a good laugh when we
discovered the old style VW Beetle is still in production and sold new at
local Mexican car dealers. They are one of the least expensive new cars
Mexico. One mile from Marina Coral on Highway 1, you will find an agency that
will provide you with a test drive and the chance to find out if the price
is right on your new nostalgic VW bug.*
*The production of the old style beetle in Mexico
was discontinued in mid-2003
THE BEST SUB SHOP IN ENSENADA
Directly across the street form La Baguette (#49 on our site map)
we have discovered the best sub sandwich shop we have found in Ensenada
called the Subfactory. The servings are generous and won’t break your
ceramic peso piggy banco!
(Unfortunately this little sub store and La Baguette are both now closed, see our more current
Newsletters for restaurants that will replace these restaurants in our coming new printing
of our books).
THE PUNTA MORRO VIEWPOINT
If you would like a walk with new horizons, take a look around the little
point just west of Marina Coral. Stroll along the oceanside
cliffs in front of the King
and continue on in front of the University, and you will find yourself at
the old and new lighthouses of Punta Morro. Rounding this point you will
discover a whole new perspective of the Ensenada
area. Looking NW you will see Punta San Miguel in the distance, and
walking a little farther will find you at a fancy seaside hotel and the
cliff hanger Punta Morro Restaurant. There is a little walkway that
bridges to a huge rock that has a deck with a picnic table, lounge chairs,
and an unbelievable buena vista of the Bahia Todos Santos.
Click on these photos
and the following photo in this newsletter and use your web browser
back button to return to this page
An entrepreneur works 18 hours a
day to avoid working for someone else for 8 hours a day.
INVESTING IN YOUR FUTURE IN
During our travels in Mexico, we have noticed a common feature of the panorama that defines the
backdrop of your memorable Ensenada
experience. In the most scenic and strategic areas of the hills and
beachside communities you will see while cruising on your new yacht, or
traveling through and visiting by car, there exists an alarming number of
unfinished structures. Whether it is a villa on the seaside cliffs, a
hacienda at the riverfront, or the estate by the lake, they are left to
crumble as the local animal and rodent population lay claim to the empty
multi-room, wind swept abodes.
In the future, the narrowing bridge between our two bordering
countries should make these unfinished projects more available to those
wishing to own and occupy these properties and see them complete in their
as yet unrealized potential beauty and refuge from the struggling toils of
lifestyle. Enlightened generations from the north would be wise to find
this short drive south a welcome relief, and an opportunity to forge a new
self-realization of tranquility and the resultant renewal of spirit
necessary for the survival of our race.
ONE OF THOSE MAGIC MORNINGS
Today a truly special event was experienced. Absolute silence!!! I awoke
to the deafening sound of no sound. No seagulls roaming the docks
signaling each other like marina barnyard roosters. No surge or movement
of any kind in the waters surrounding my boat, causing the lines to moan
as they are stretched, the docks to creak, or my friend Chubaca, the board
that surrounds the cement dock pole at my stern, to erupt with his
unintelligible Star Wars speak. The traces of the fishing boat that
awoke me yesterday with diesels roaring and smoke filling my hatches are
gone; thankfully they left and never returned. There is no breeze rattling
my rigging and flapping my Navy Yacht Club burgee. I hear no road noise
from the highway passing by Marina Coral as I roll over and switch on the
radio to get a weather report on KNX 1070 AM, Los Angeles, accompanied by
a traffic report telling me of the clogged freeways that I thankfully
escaped in my move to Ensenada… I turn off the radio and try to milk the
moment, but as 8 bells toll on my ship’s clock, the spell is broken and
my coffee maker beacons me to arise and write you this short note. All the
while, the silence lingers into this clear, sun filled, Ensenada
Mexican magic morning. Gracious Jesus!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!