Grey whales are a baleen whale species with a fascinating history. Found along the coasts of Russia, Japan, and North America, a tour to visit the Grey whales in Baja California, México is a unique experience that draws thousands of people every year.
Despite being nearly hunted into extinction in the early 1900s, thanks to conservation efforts and protections by the Mexican governments, the population of Grey whales that make their way to Baja for the winter are no longer endangered. Today, grey whales are considered a “least concern” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
About Baja’s Grey Whales
The Grey whales (Eschrichtius robustus) found off the coast of Baja California are a relatively small species of baleen whale native to the North Pacific Ocean. Grey whales get their name from their greyish color, they are known for their unique migration patterns and most of all their friendliness with humans.
Grey whales have one of the longest migration patterns, but also tend to stay close to shore at all times, unlike their larger cousins, such as the Humpback whale, that prefer deeper waters.
The Grey whales that visit Baja every winter are relatively small for a marine mammal, only growing up 15 metres long (50 feet), and weighing up to 40 tons. They feed by rolling on their side to filter small crustaceans and other invertebrates through the baleen plates in their mouths.
Spending their summers in the Bering and Chukchi Seas of the Artic ocean to feed and store up their blubber layers, Grey whales will then migrate more than 20,000 kilometres (12,500) miles in a year. It can take as long as 3 months to make the journey one way.
In the fall they move south along the coast to breed their young in the warmer, safer, shallower waters of the lagoons all along Baja California. Once the calves are stronger, in the spring Grey whales will make the return journey north to feed for the summer, and then repeat the process again!
If you are lucky, on your Grey whale Expedition you might have the chance to witness a Grey whale courtship ritual. It is a beautiful and fascinating experience to watch, and goes a little like this:
- Males will approach a female Grey whale and begin rubbing along the female whale’s body. This is like a handshake, it serves to familiarize the whales with each other. As the males are doing this (sometimes more than one male to a female) they will use their pectoral fins to try and roll the female into a mating position.
- This process can take days! But eventually, if the female Grey whale allows herself to be moved by a male, he wins the game! The male will hold its fin out of the water as a sign of triumph and dominance ✊.
- But there’s more! Mating in the water isn’t always easy, so for buoyancy reasons a third whale comes to offer support and hold the female in the mating position. The mating position is belly to belly, so you can imagine how awkward that is for these whales, they need a helping pair of fins.
Mating typically takes place in November and December, when the female Grey whales are in their fertile phase of reproduction.
Reproduction and Life Span
The gestation period for Grey whales is just over a year, about 13.5 months. After completing the mating ritual south in the winter, female Grey whales will migrate north to feed, then south again where they will give birth in the early months of the year.
Grey whales can begin reproducing as young as 8 years old, their puberty phase runs from ages 6-12. Most will live between 50-70 years old, but have been known to live as long as 80!
Are the Grey Whales worth visiting?
Absolutely. It’s our humble opinion at Dive Into Mexico that visiting the Grey whales in Baja California is one of the best animal experiences you can have in México – or anywhere else! The interaction we have with this species is just incredible, and you won’t find a comprable experience anywhere else in the world.
What makes visiting the Grey whales awesome? This specific population of Grey whales that visit Baja every year has been nicknamed “the friendly ones” because of their unique interest in and trust in human beings. This is particularly interesting because we nearly hunted them to extinction less than 100 years ago. Logically, they should be terrified of us!
Yet, for some unknown reason, the Grey whales will approach our small pangas and exhibit extraordinarily curious and friendly behaviour such as:
#1 Approaching the boat
It is illegal everywhere in Mexico to chase whales, and that is not what this tour is about. Your tour guide and boat captain will stop at the required 60m distance from the Grey whales. Then, while sitting quietly in the boat, you just wait and watch and the whales will come right to you.
#2 Presenting their young
Another beautiful and bizarre behaviour from the whales is that the mothers will sometimes bring their young calves to the boat, put them on their backs, and raise the babes slightly out of the water. Almost showing off their babes for appreciation.
#3 Desire for Connection
We promise you that a Grey whale Expedition to Baja is unlike any tour you will ever take. There is no other species or spectating adventure that will make you feel like the whales want to socialize and connect with the world out of the water like this one.
Interesting whale behaviours:
- Bumping the boat
Grey whales will rub along the bottom of the boat or bump into it gently
- Spy hopping
This is a move where the Grey whales position themselves vertically in the water with just their eyes and nose popping out. This is super interesting to watch, and often allows you to make eye contact with the whales!
As you continue to research this particular adventure, you will probably notice a theme – emotion. This tour is emotional. It’s thrilling. Exciting. And you will even hear many stories of people being moved to tears when they reach out their hands to feel the welcoming and curious nose of a Grey whale.
The history between the whales and humans is so fascinating and beautiful. From mortal enemies to now co-existing in (relative) peace, the Grey whales in Baja teach us a valuable less about forgiveness and the benefits of working with nature, instead of against it.
Want to learn more about whales and their importance for the planet? Join Shev for a virtual PADI Whale Defender Distinctive Specialty course. Learn more about that here.
The Best time to take a Grey Whale Tour
February and March are the best months to see the Grey whales in Baja, but the season runs from December to April. This is an important time of year for the whales, as they come to the lagoons to mate and give birth to their young. The shallow waters provide a safe and protected environment for the whales to raise their calves to gather strength before starting the long journey back north.
- December to April – Grey whales are hanging out in Baja California to relax, mate, and care for their young.
- December – Grey whales have started to arrive in Baja California Sur. This time of year is your best chance to see a mating ritual.
- February and March – peak population for the Grey whales. This is the best time of year to be guaranteed a whale interaction.
Where To See the Grey Whales in Baja
The friendly Grey whales that spend their winters along the Baja California Peninsula concentrate around three main lagoons: Ojo de Liebre, San Ignacio Lagoon, and our favourite: Magdalena Bay.
These lagoons are unique ecosystems where mangroves and shallow water provide protection for the whales to safely birth their young.
Magdalena Bay – The Best Place to See the Grey Whales in Baja California
While the Grey whales can be found in several places along Baja, our favourite tours go to Magdalena Bay, or Mag Bay to the locals.
Magdalena Bay is a large bay on the Pacific side of Baja California Sur, Mexico and is protected by two islands, Magdalena Island and Margarita Island.
Mag Bay is known for its rich biodiversity, including a variety of marine mammals that frequent its protected waters. Depending on the time of year, these species either pass through or call Magdalena Bay home.
- Grey whales
- Humpback whales
- Blue whales
- Sperm whales
- False Orcas
- White-sided dolphins
- Common dolphins
- Bottlenose dolphins
- Sea Lions
- Mobula rays
- Sea Turtles
Ojo de Liebre Lagoon
Also known as Scammon’s Lagoon, Ojo de Liebre borders Baja California and Baja California Sur on the Pacific side.
This region of Mexico is wild and fairly undeveloped, which is part of what makes it so beautiful. Tours here are not plentiful, but this camp and whale-watching tour is worth checking out!
San Ignacio Lagoon
San Ignacio Lagoon is a part of the largest wildlife refuge in Latin America – El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve. This location is pretty remote, so if you are interested in visiting San Ignacio Lagoon we recommend this 9-day expedition from the Oceanic Society!
The Best Grey Whales in Baja Tours
You have a few different options to see the Grey whales depending on where you want to go. As you may have noticed, most of the lagoons are fairly remote, so chances are you are going to be staying in a bigger centre like Cabo San Lucas or La Paz and taking your Grey whales in Baja Expedition from there.
Here are our favourite Grey whale Expeditions from Baja’s most popular towns!
🌟Dive Into Mexico’s Best Grey Whale Expeditions
When booking a Grey whale tour you have the option for a one-day there-and-back from Cabo San Lucas or La Paz, or you can choose a longer, multi-day expedition to ensure you have an incredible Grey whale experience!
From Cabo San Lucas
🥷 Dive Ninja Expeditions – We ❤️ Dive Ninjas! This dive shop is well-known in the global dive community for collecting passionate and knowledgeable dive leaders and for being leaders in sustainability and ocean conservation.
Dive Ninjas also donates a lot of funds each year to local researchers, their own eco-projects, and larger initiatives like Project Aware, so you know any money you spend on a tour with them is going to good use.
Our favourite Dive Ninja Grey Whale tours:
Cabo Excursion have been in Baja for quite a while, they are a lot of fun and really know what they’re doing! On a Baja Grey Whale expedition with them, you are guaranteed to learn about the species you see and have a great laugh at the same time!
This two-day expedition from Cabo San Lucas to Magdalena Bay comes highly reviewed from past travellers, you can check out this expedition here.
There are several tour operators based out of La Paz that also make the trek to Magdalena Bay to see the Grey whales! Here is what past tourists have to say about their Grey whale Expedition from La Paz
Grey Whale tours from Puerto San Carlos
If you happen to make it to the Magdalena Bay area on your own, we highly suggest booking a Grey whale Expedition with our favourite locals at Mag Bay Sport in Puerto San Carlos. The owner, Gabino is well-known and respected in the San Carlos community and if he can’t take you on a tour, he will make sure you go with another trusted captain.
Grey Whale Tours to Ojo de Liebre Lagoon
Baja Jones Adventure travel is based in Southern California and arranges group tours to Ojo de Liebre Lagoon during Grey whale season. They make all the charter arrangements and come highly recommended!
This tour flies into Guerrero Negro, then arranges transportation to the camps along the beach of the lagoon.
What to Expect from a Grey Whale Experience
Tours to see the Grey whales in Baja come in a variety of forms, from one-day adventures to multi-day expeditions!
Regardless of where you are coming from, you will most likely leave from Puerto San Carlos in Magdalena Bay, so that is the tour we will describe for you.
For longer expeditions, check out these tours.
What to Expect from a Grey Whale Tour in Magdalena Bay
The best Grey whale tours will be in Magdalena Bay. When selecting a single-day Grey whale tour in Mag Bay, you will usually have the option to choose a 4-hour or 8-hour day.
Most tours will arrange transportation for you, and you will depart from the marina in Puerto San Carlos. Once you are on the boat, it is about a 1-hour ride to La Boca. So when you are selecting your tour length, remember you need 2 hours just for the commute, so the longer the tour the higher chance of seeing the whale interactions!
La Boca is Spanish for “the Mouth” and refers to the mouth of the bay where Margarita and Magdalena Island meet. This is the best place to see the Grey whales.
Picture: The longer tours include a stop at Bird Island, a sandbar between the two islands where thousands of birds (mostly Pelicans, Cormorant Ducks and Seagulls) flock together.
Once you arrive at La Boca, your captain will stop near where the whales are spotted, and wait for the magic to happen. If you are going during high season, you will likely have already spotted a few on your journey out!
It is never legal to chase the whales or intentionally come within 60m of any kind of whale in Mexico. That is what makes the Grey whale experience so magical, the whales come to you!
Once your captain turns off the boat motor, you will sit quietly in the water and watch as the Grey whales come close and closer to the boats, before eventually reaching out of the water to check you out.
The Grey whales like to rub their backs along the bottom of the boat (a very unique feeling!), or perform a move called the “spyhop” where they float vertically with their noses sticking out of the water.
If you opted for the longer tour, after playing with the whales you might head to check out Bird Island, then make your way to Magdalena Island to cruise through the mangroves, see the sand dunes, and maybe even spot a Mexican Coyote!
Post-Dive Debrief: All About the Grey Whales in Baja
There you have it, everything you could possibly need to know to plan an epic expedition to see the Grey whales in Baja California Sur. We hope we got you as excited about these beautiful ocean giants as we are, and you feel comfortable and confident to book your adventure!
If there is anything you take away from this, we hope that it is excitement about the many wonders the ocean holds, and a desire to explore it!
A tour to see the Grey whales in Baja is an experience everyone should get to experience, and we hope you share your stories with others to help grow the appreciation for this species around the world.
Whales in Baja FAQ
Is visiting the Grey Whales Ethical?
If you’re an ocean lover, you probably saw these photos of whales right next to boats and alarm bells start ringing – and we feel that! Generally, we never want to promote humans getting too close to wildlife, on land or in the sea.
The difference here is that the boats truly do let the whales come to the boats. There will be no chasing, trying to maneuver the boats closer or anything like that. The tours just get you there and let these gentle giants control the experience!
A Grey whale expedition in Baja is completely controlled by the whales, so while that is what makes it so exciting and unique, it also means that nothing is guaranteed. Be sure to enjoy every moment of the expedition, regardless of how the whales behave that day!
Can you swim with the Grey Whales in Baja California Sur, Mexico?
No – these tours are not swimming or snorkelling expeditions. Seeing the Grey whales is an observational experience, though it can become interactive at the discretion of the whales and always with tourists inside the boats.
You can read more about Mexican whale-watching laws here.