Baja California Whale Adventure: Discovering More Than Just Whales

By Lisa Gilfillan, Education Specialist

Our annual Baja California Whale Adventure, a collaboration between Birch Aquarium at Scripps and Andiamo Tours Mexico, is a naturalist-guided adventure to the lagoons of Baja California. Guests witness gray whales playing, resting, and investigating their curious visitors before heading north to their Arctic feeding grounds.

Guests get up close and personal with a mother gray whale and her calf in the carefully regulated lagoons in Baja California, MEX

Guests get up close and personal with a mother gray whale and her calf in the carefully regulated lagoons in Baja California, MEX

Greetings! My name is Lisa and I’m an Education Specialist with Birch Aquarium. This means that after many years of sitting in marine science classes I landed my dream job that allows me to share my “nerdy” science AND my outgoing educator side. My “day job” involves developing and implementing public programs, running our summer High School Internship program and training our 400+ volunteer staff. As wonderful as those things are, the highlight of my career occurred a few weeks ago.

Education Specialist Lisa with a gray whale.

Education Specialist Lisa Gilfillan with a gray whale.

From February 18 to 23, 2015, I traveled as a whale naturalist with 36 Birch Aquarium members through Baja California Sur, Mexico, on a mission to see gray whales in the Guerrero Negro and San Ignacio Lagoons. I thought I’d share my experience through pictures. What follows are my Top 5 Reasons Why You Need to Visit Baja California Sur, Mexico. Enjoy!

  • The food is amazing. During this trip we were exposed to a wide variety of authentic dishes of the regions we were traveling through. Flavors were rich, fish was fresh, and cold cervezas were abundant.
  • The people are wonderful. On our journey we covered a lot of miles and visited quiet towns such as San Vicente, San Quintin, Cataviña, and San Ignacio. The people of these towns were vibrant, kind, patient, welcoming, and so hospitable. At one stop, we were treated to a cultural presentation from the local middle school students.
Cultural presentation from Baja California, MEX middle school students.

Cultural presentation from Baja California, MEX middle school students. Credit: Lisa Gilfillan

  • Exploring local desert habitats is fun. Baja California is home to over 4,000 varieties of plants (650 of which are endemic), and as we drove south, we had opportunities to walk around the Boojum Desert. Our knowledgeable guides enhanced the experience by pointing out flora and fauna.
The unique and beautiful deserts of Baja California, MEX. The Boojum tree is an endemic species and is the tall bristley "tree" in the center to the left.

The unique and beautiful deserts of Baja California, MEX. The Boojum tree is an endemic species and is the tall bristley “trees” in the background of the photo. Credit: Lisa Gilfillan

  • You will make lifelong friends. At the start of the trip, we were strangers who agreed to share an adventure and by the trip’s end, e-mail addresses and hugs were exchanged. It is amazing to build friendships with like-minded, whale-loving people.
  • Seeing a whale up close will change your life. The gray whale behavior in these lagoons is very different than that of the whales during their migration. In these protected lagoons, you are primarily encountering moms and new calves. Scientists aren’t sure why, but these duos will often freely choose to approach the boats and even allow you to touch them. Obviously they are wild animals and this is not guaranteed, but if it happens you will be humbled by their size and deeply appreciative that you shared that moment with them.    

Can’t travel to Baja California to see the gray whales? Go on a whale watching cruise right here in San Diego with Birch Aquarium and Flagship Cruises and events. Download a coupon for $5 off whale watching at aquarium.ucsd.edu. 

A curious adult female gray whale interacts with guests. Credit: Lisa Gilfillan

A curious adult female gray whale interacts with guests. Credit: Lisa Gilfillan

A grey whale calf takes a good look at guests in the birthing and breeding lagoons in Baja California Sur, MEX. Credit: Caitlin Scully

A grey whale calf takes a good look at guests in the birthing and breeding lagoons in Baja California Sur, MEX. Credit: Caitlin Scully

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego