I've thrown together a web page with links to my 2013 Baja whale watching trip photos.
Here are the post production videos I took during the trip. Note that the titling at the beginning might be a bit squirmy because I asked YouTube to de-shake the video. If given the choice, 720p and 1080p playback is very good quality (but also require a good internet connection).
I also cut the videos a little longer than the typical youtube upload. The sound quality is quite good and often there are people talking in the background providing good commentary.
FriendlyWhales1 - (video) First day at San Ignacio Lagoon (long).
FriendlyWhales2 - (video) Second day at San Ignacio Lagoon (long).
BeachOfTheDead - (video) Second day, Sand Bar hike & Hula Hooping.
Humpbacrobatics - (video) Mama and Baby breaching (medium long).
DolphinsAndSkiff - (video) Dolphins and their pet Skiff (medium long).
BaitPools - (video) Dolphins & Whale (& birds) dining out
BirdAndFish - (video) San Jose del Cabo Estuary.
BajaDancers - (video) San Jose del Cabo Town Square.
Original RAW photos - For professional printing (download will be slow)
With the quick links out of the way, here is a more detailed look at the highlights, from my memory.
Elizabeth and I met the searcher in the afternoon after spending two days in San Diego seeing the sights, dropped off our luggage, then went for lunch. In the evening we all gathered for a pleasant cruise out the harbor, passing by shipyards and a submarine base, then bunked down for the overnight trip to Encenada.
Seas were a bit rough but the trip was designed so people would bunked down for most of the long-range cruising. Except for two days we would travel overnight and then wake up anchored in a new place!
The weather gods had not smiled on the three prior trips taken by the Searcher this year but our trip looked to be hitting a nice weather window going into the next week, and indeed that is how things turned out. The weather got better and better each day and even the more seasick prone passengers were mobile after the 4th day!
We woke up in the morning as the crew were readying the boat to depart Encenada, they had collected our passports the previous nice and were able to clear customs and get all the necessary permits while we were still asleep in the early morning. Those were handed out to us as we headed out to a nearby island for our first foray.
The highlight today was a nesting pair of Peregrine Falcons. I had seen the same pair two years ago. Amoungst the other wildlife, we were able to witness a Falcon kill in mid-air by the two working together. One distracted the poor Morning Dove while the other stooped straight for the kill. I managed to get two pictures after the capture, 20130310-0237 and 20130310-0240. Note the feather in the first picture. Poor Dove, but that's life.
Dolphins were plentiful and curious, and I got some wonderful pictures while they bow-rode the searcher as we headed out for another overnight motor. We encountered pods of perhaps a few hundred animals (two years ago we encountered pods 1000+ strong). Still an amazing sight.
In the evening I snapped a few pictures of the crew and passengers (and continued to spend some time focused on people throughout the trip).
We woke up with Islas San Benito about 2 hours away. This island has a seasonal fishing village and is abandoned off-season. Two years ago fishing season had ended and there was nobody around. This time the village was populated. The captain knows the locals very well, having come to the island for decades.
We disembarked for a nice hike over to the northern elephant seal colony, and then up past the new lighthouse to a much older abandoned lighthouse. The lighthouse was falling apart 2 years ago and was somewhat worse for wear this time too, but the stairs up to the light were still intact and although obviously not anything one would consider safe, they looked solid enough so we climbed the stairs and puttered around the remains of the Fresnel Lens. Here's a picture from the set of Elizabeth and I: 20130311-7242.
On the way back we went around a different way to try to find the fur seal colony but there were elephant seals at the second location too. We did see one lone fur seal (20130311-0422), and the osprey nest was hard to miss (20130311-0434).
In the afternoon we rembarked and started south again, getting our first look at a big blue whale. These first few days we needed to motor a lot to get around the corner and into the Sea of Cortez, with one major stop to see the friendly grey whales at San Ignacio lagoon.
After another overnight travel we woke up with the San Ignacio breakers in the distance. The lagoon is something like 16 miles long and protected, the birthing grounds for the grey whale. Several hundred whales were in the lagoon at the time. Once we got in and anchored I think this was the first real respite for our seasick Cathy and Carolyn an they recovered quickly just in time!
I took most of the pictures in this set from Pangas. The Pangas (big skiffs), mandated by the Mexican government to be run by the locals and are a big part of the economy in the area. Because of this the locals have a vested interest in keeping the area protected.
San Ignacio Lagoon is known for the 'friendly' behavior of cow-calf pairs. Two years ago everyone got to touch a whale and if anything the whales were even more friendly this time around. Males do not usually engage in this behavior, it is strictly a female trait. The males in the lagoon were more interested in mating and dominance behavior, as seen here in (20130312-7312) and (201303-0522A) from the next day. The males usually didn't approach the Pangas.
Experiencing the friendly behavior of the calfs was an incredible treat, one that very few people in the world can have due to strict limits on the number of boats allowed in the lagoon. Here are a few from the set of Elizabeth and others getting to touch a calf and/or mommy. (20130312-7367), (20130312-7364), and (20130312-7359), And to put it all in perspective, mommy was hanging around supporting the calf and making sure the encounter went smoothly. Mommy was really rather large as you can see with (20130312-7368. All the more impressive because mommy had to be careful not to jostle the panga too much, and so would often just sink down if her momentum carried her in the wrong direction and go right under the boat.
In the evening we were treated to a view of the comet, visible through binoculars to the left of the moon. This was the best night to view it with the new moon. In succeeding nights the moon would become fuller and fuller and start to wash the comet out. The comet was discovered by Nasa's Pan-STARRS and so is named after it, the PanSTARRS comet. Although boats are never stable enough for a long exposure, I was able to take pictures of the comet in the evening and also with higher ASA settings later that night, (20130312-0502) and (20130312-0511). There are a few more shots in the set as well.
On our second day at San Ignacio we got to see a lot more friendly behavior. Later in the late afternoon we visited the sandbar and went shell hunting... well no, I took lots of pictures of shells because we couldn't take any home with us, but what we were really after were the remains of a baby grey whale that we had seen two years ago. We were almost disappointed, having hiked about a half mile down the bar to where we had seen the whale last time, but not finding it. But on the way back we found the remains deeper insland and a half mile away from where they were before. Here are the remains from two years ago (IMG-4007) and what we found this trip (20130313-0621).
We needed to be motoring out well before sunset because the breakers leading into the lagoon are extremely dangerous, but Michael still had time to Hula hoop a bit (20130313-0646). Now the boat really had to hoof it down the coast to make the corner and head up into the Sea of Cortez. This would require motoring from late afternoon today all the through tomorrow and tomorrow night.
We are motoring today to make as much time as possible down the coast, taking timeouts whenever we see a whale. The photos in today's set are mostly of whales, blues and humpbacks, and various birds. I totally forgot to take people shots! I'll make it up the next day.
I was able to get some quite excellent video of blue whales. In one encounter there were literally five blue whales around the boat. I don't recall seeing so many blue whales within shouting distance of each other on the trip two years ago.
As I was organizing the pictures for today I could have sworn I had pictures of the couple with the bird feeder on the mainland! That prompted a bit of an investigation, and I realized that there was a sequence number overlap between two of my cameras which overwrote about 200 photos on my computer! Fortunately I had not erased the cards and was able to get the missing photos!
We finally got into the Sea of Cortez today after rounding Cabo San Lucas.
The main attraction in the morning was a humpback family cavorting in the sea. Ok, well, humpbacks don't travel in big family groups but there was a mom and a calf and a frisky male. The mom and calf were doing gymnastics, with the mom mostly smacking the water with her flippers (sometimes with both at once while swimming on her back) and baby mostly jumping completely out of the water over and over and over again, then taking a look to see if we were still watching. But the mom also got into the act and so did the big male. I got excellent video of the event as well as many excellent photos, such as (20130315-0923), and (20130315-0940A).
We were quite close to shore and a Pelican (20130315-0906) hitched a ride with us for a while. He clearly wasn't afraid of humans. After winning the staring contest he flew off to do what pelican's do after they win a staring contest.
We anchored at Los Frailes which is an area with a beach that humans have ready access to. Many of the people camped out in trailers were American's on extended vacations, but Mexicans following the fishing also camped out there to fish. Not wanting to be left out, two pelicans were also camped out and concentrating heavily on a staring contest with the sea (which they lost) (20130315-7489).
We met several people including one interesting couple who were camped in a wonderful shady area and had plants and a bird feeder out to attract birds. I was able to get a very difficult shot of a humming-bird in the well-shaded area (20130315-0955A). We also encountered a roadrunner soon after and spied some wonderful birds on our hike, including this hooded oriel (20130315-0974). This photo set contains a number of other spectacular photos of birds as well!
As the afternoon wore on we returned to the Searcher and continued on our journey, northward in the Sea of Cortez. The deep scattering (marine) layer moved up the water column and the rays began to get very excited, feeding and leaping out of the water (20130315-1018). Night fell and the ship's plow and wake churned up bioluminescent creatures, a spectacular sight that was difficult to impossible to photograph. (20130315-1110)
I remembered to take pictures of people this time, and near the end of the set we are also treated to a great sunset.
Your earstwhile photographer made the rare mistake of sleeping through the dolphins bow riding in bioluminescence in the early morning. Ouch! But here we are, the weather has gotten really quite nice (and hot on the hikes), with very bright sun. The sandstone had multiple layers of fossilized shells and other creatures.
We noticed that other islands in the distance appeared weirdly distorted (20130316-1138), they looked bigger and there were rocks floating in mid-air! It was a mirage which can only occur in particularly calm days. The water closest to the island is still and reflective, then gets roughed up by the wind further away. This created a false horizon (the real one is the one above, the false one is the one below) and a hugely distorted reflection of the island looked like part of the island when viewed with the naked eye.
Shells, birds, flowers... no dessert island is complete without a vulture (20130316-1149)! As we continued on our journey we were treated to a daylight moon, still fairly new, a fluking blue whale, tropical bird, and a hammer head shark, amoung others.
Santa Catalina is known for its Barrel Cactus (I stole that line from Michael's synopsis), but more to the point I think we saw the most diverse animal life on the trip to-date on this island. The birds seemed to love perching on the tops of cactus plants, but with most of our group not particularly birders they didn't get close enough until the hiking group fragmented and spread out a bit.
The first treat was (I think) a flycatcher who posed for me (20130317-1327). Then an encounter with a rare rattleless rattlesnake (20130317-7629), a flight of pelicans with a hitch-hiking gull in their formation (20130317-1334), and more birds many of whom kept their distance but not all of them (20130317-1316).
Upon returning to the Searcher the group split into two, with some people going snorkeling and others taking a skiff ride around. I went with the skiff, and it turned out to be fortuitous because we encountered a small pod of dolphins (perhaps 50 animals) who were rounding the island and doing acrobatics (20130317-7643). The crew gunned the skiffs and the dolphins played around us (20130317-7641).
As we continued on our journey we did more whale watching. The Sea of Cortez clearly had a ton of food in the water and we saw blue whales feeding at their all-you-can-eat buffet. As with most coastal excursions (even aroudn the heavily populated California), there were virtually no other boats visible. It was just us and the marine life. I spied one sailboat way off in the distance on this day (20130317-1440), you can see the waves of heat in the air.
This is an area on the mainland. Michael caught a lizard (20130318-7699). We headed inland towards a rancher/farmer we had met two years ago, looking for birds along the way. The group was making a lot of noise which kept the birds at a distance but a few of us hung back a bit and had some nice sightings, including this one (20130318-1486). Two years ago we met a rancher and his wife and kids here and they had chickens and goats. This year we met them again and it turns out that water had become scarce and they had had to sell off the goats. (20130318-7718). However, things have modernized just a little. Still the same ramshackle abodes, but I spied out something different this time. A solar panel! (20130318-0982). Our destination was a cave with cave drawings, but nobody is really sure whether they are ancient drawings or more recent. You can see the Searcher in the distance on the water to the right with this picture from the cave (20130318-7734) and poor Elizabeth overheated on the hike up (20130318-7735).
Later that evening as we continued our trip on the Searcher we were treated to Jaegers and a red-billed tropical bird (20130318-1538), and a medium sized pod of dolphin trapeze artists (20130318-1586), (20130318-1587), and (20130318-1588).
As it got later in the day we noticed a large number of bait-pools on all sides. These are large pools of bait-fish, mainly anchovie, feeding on krill as the deep scattering layer moves up the water column in the evening. The dolphins plus a wayward juvanile humpback were going from bait-pool to bait-pool, blasting in with mouths open and disrupting the pool, then moving onto the next. The birds moved in and went after the anchovie too by skimming bare inches above the water and just grabbing them in-flight without even having to get wet (20130318-1595) (20130318-1598)! Also in this set we had Margharita night (20130318-1606) (20130318-7763) and BBQ on the aft deck and another wonderful sunset. This was our second to last day on the water. Only one more day of adventure before we would have to return to the real world!
(p.s. some of the telephoto shots from today were incorrectly uprezed during the JPG generation, I'll try to fix those up in the next few days).
We visited this island before, but on the way back down south towards Cabo San Lucas we stopped over on the other side of it to visit the mangroves in the morning (20130319-0989). Lots of birds, and lots of great photos with my favorite being this one (20130319-1769) of (I think) a king fisher. This was an almost impossible shot, he had just taken off from a nearby branch and in another 2 seconds he would have been around the bend and out of sight. We saw numerous green heron's (20130319-1709) who very kindly posed for us, and puffer fish floating near the top of the very shallow water (20130319-1765). The crew caught one and after a staring contest which the puffer fish won we put him back in the water and he kinda floated there like a balloon until he was able to expell all the air he had inside. Glub glub glub glub, he sank down slowly under the water (20130319-1766), expelling air along the way.
In the afternoon we motored over to Los Islotes which is known for its sea lions. This was the first time where we saw a significant number of other people. The place is apparently close enough to major towns in the area that it gets a lot of tourism. So we popped out our tourist hats and took a skiff ride around and a number of people also went snorkeling and played with the (sea) lions. Elizabeth got a love bite from one playful tike (didn't break the skin of the wet suit but it startled her). On the skiff ride we dragged a rope and gunned the engine a little and the sea lion pups played with it (20130319-1797). Unfortunately everything was not honey and flowers, we came upon two sea lions very badly entangled in fishing net. A very sad sight. Apparently it happens commonly here and researchers do come out and try to capture and help the caught marine life, but I think these two were probably gonners sorry to say. So if you are prepared to shed a tear, here are two more links to push into (don't if you don't want to) (20130319-1808), (20130319-1807).
This was our last evening. We had a pow-wow after dinner with everyone and the crew to talk about the trip (20130319_1861), Armando got choked up while singing us a song (20130319_1857), and generally noshed until people began to drift off to their bunks hoping the boat would have a break-down so we wouldn't have to leave!
We will wake up the next morning docked in Cabo and at the end of the official trip.
But we aren't done yet! Elizabeth and I decided to stay for three more nights and several other people from the trip also stayed for varying lengths of time. We did not stay in Cabo San Lucas, it's excessively touristy and has degraded over the years. Instead we took a cab to San Jose del Cabo and had a wonderful time. The pictures in this set are of various sites. It was a holiday and there were ceremonies and big wigs around, and an estuary nearby with a great deal of wildlife to see. (20130321-1926)
Push into the set to see more!