The Whales of Magdalena Bay
A post by Lady Felicity
I’ve always loved animals of all shapes and sizes, I find the majority of them both beautiful and fascinating.
I’ve also always been somewhat obsessed with the sea.
It makes a sort of sense therefore that some of my favourite creatures live within the oceans. I could talk all day about sharks, but that’s more an appreciation of their evolutionary perfection. When I talk about cetaceans however, it hits a strong emotional note within me. Everything about them intrigues me.
Like most things living in the sea, there is an air of mystery around whales that draws a person like me in. The more I learn of them, the more my level of intrigue and appreciation grows. It is for this reason that visiting the grey whales of Magdalena Bay in Mexico had been on my ‘bucket list’ for well over ten years.
The grey whales of Magdalena Bay were once known as ‘Devil Fish’, due to the fact that when they were hunted there in large numbers, they didn’t go without a fight. The grey whales grow to about 40-50 feet, and while the famous blue whale tops that with its whopping 80-90 feet, the grey whale is still in the top ten biggest animals on Earth. So it is more than capable of putting up a good fight if it is hunted.
The species can also live for up to seventy years, so some are old enough to remember the whaling. Now that the whales in Magdalena Bay are no longer being hunted, they have stopped fighting humans and instead curiously approach the boats that once hunted them. They have grown so accustomed to the tourist filled boats that on occasion they even surface beside them for a cuddle.
Another aspect that some members of the cetacean family have which fascinates me are spindle neurons (this is where Greg often jokingly rolls his eyes as he knows I can go on for far too long when on this topic).
Put very simply, spindle neurons are a type of brain cell found in highly intelligent species. Humans, great apes, elephants and some cetaceans have them. They are linked to intelligence, communication, emotions, empathy, memory and that thing which gives us a sense of self. I personally believe they play a part in giving humanity our better qualities.
Research has shown that those species of whales which have these cells have up to three times the amount of any other creature on the planet. So much so that orca actually have a section of brain linked to emotion that other creatures just don’t have. I also believe it is thanks to these cells that whales such as humpbacks display a high level of altruism, not just towards their own kind but any creature they perceive to be in need of help.
That’s where I will stop on that particular topic for now, this being a travel blog rather than a marine enthusiast blog. But hopefully this will help explain why Mexico was such a big thing on my ‘bucket list’.
Magdalena Bay Whales are a family run company. They own a small B&B on the mainland as well as a campsite on Magdalena Bay Island. They have a small team of captains and small fleet of boats allowing them to take whale seekers out on the water to get close to the grey whales – or rather, to allow the whales to get close to us.
Greg and I opted to camp for a few nights on the island as it gets you closer to the regulated whale watching areas.
This amused Greg greatly, as I had never actually been camping. While the camp and our yurt were well maintained (the camp comprised of two yurts and maybe ten tents, an open restaurant/ palapa with fresh supplies brought over from the mainland and two toilets sharing one sink). Our ‘private bathroom’ consisted of an emergency ‘middle-of-the-night-wee’ chemical toilet and ten-litres of water each per day in a solar bag to shower with, hung at chest level. A bit of a surprise to a novice camper like me!
All I can say is that the hospitality of everyone that worked for the company made up for the lack of bathroom facilities, as did watching dolphins play in the bay as we sat beside our yurt on a quiet island, with humming birds feeding from the plants beside us. One day I want to return there and do it all again!
Each day started with a freshly made breakfast and then our captain took us out for six hours of whale watching. It was fantastic. We watched as many a whale dived, giving that classic view of their fluke. Some whales swam along beside and beneath our boat, so majestic for such a large animal. We even had the chance to watch a large group of whales ‘spy hopping’ (they rise vertically from the water, sometimes rotating as they do so, to get a good look above water. I like to think that they enjoyed watching us even half as much as I enjoyed watching them), but the unexpected appearance of a lone humpback (the wrong time of year for them to ordinarily be in the area) that happened to breach in their unique way, at exactly the moment that Greg and I were looking in the right place at the right time… that was pretty breathtaking. It was our last morning on the water and such an incredible treat.
The whole experience was unforgettable and I highly recommend it for anyone that admires whales.
Thank you for reading, and safe travels.