We set our alarm (always an “ouch!”) this morning to make sure we’d get to the meeting spot for our van ride out to Ojos de Liebre (Eye of the Jack Rabbit) lagoon for a whale watching trip. Last year we went on a trip to see Gray Whales at San Ignacio Lagoon a little further south, but also on the Pacific side. We’ve since heard several people rave about this site, and we’re interested in avoiding the 90-minute drive on a washboard dirt road from last year, so decided to go from Guerrero Negro where we stayed last night instead.
During the 25-minute van ride, Arturo, our “tour guide” told us all about the city of Guerrero Negro and the Gray Whales in the lagoon, in English. He promised a Spanish version on the return trip for the Mexican folks who made up slightly more than half the clients going out today. Caution: there are lots of numbers in the following paragraph, and we may have gotten some of them wrong, and others may suffer from being run through the local Chamber of Commerce.
Guerrero Negro is a “company town”. It exists because of the vast lagoon, the largest salt lagoon in the world, which produces almost 60% of the world’s salt supply, including most of that used on the west and east coasts of the U.S. on the snowy winter roads. Jobs with Exportada de Sal, owned 49% by Mitsubishi and 51% by the Mexican government, are the most coveted jobs around. Benefits include great pay, paid housing and utilities, discount groceries at a shop much like the PX stores on U.S. military bases, and new trucks every couple of years for managers. There are MOUNTAINS of salt at the lagoons, and Guerrero Negro even makes the specialized trucks that carry 20 tons of salt to the storage facility which houses 250,000 TONS of salt. There the salt is loaded onto barges which carry 100,000 tons and take it off-shore to a storage facility of 2.5 MILLION TONS that is then loaded into ships to its’ final destination, 55-60% of which goes to Japan for food, metallurgy, agricultural chemicals and other uses.
Oh yeah . . . we came to see whales, not salt! OK, so at 8:30 a.m. we actually boarded a panga with our boat captain and 7 other tourists including 2 gringos and 5 Mexicans from the mainland. We spent about half an hour moving at a good clip to the mouth of the lagoon. Here we found swells of about 6 feet, and it was quite the ride.
We began seeing distant whale blows and occasional sightings far away. Another half hour later the density of whales increased, and they were often within 50 feet of our panga, frequently with “mama” and “baby” whales swimming very close together, even touching one another. The sea began to calm a bit, although there remained a steady swell of 2 to 4 feet with some chop.
At this point the whales were very close to the boat, and it began to get exciting! Arturo had warned us not to become alarmed if the whales rubbed against the boat, as they would be simply trying to dislodge some of the barnacles that attach to their skin, as you’ll see in the photos. We spent at least 40 minutes with half a dozen whales in very close proximity, a thrilling sight! By the way, none of these photo’s have been cropped. Each one was take with an 18-55 mm lens.
Overall we’d rate Ojos de Liebre equal to last year’s visit to San Ignacio Lagoon. The weather and water conditions were better last year, but we do think there were more whales here then at San Ignacio. It can probably be chalked up to the day-to-day variations that are bound to happen. But as you can see from the pictures, WE SAW SOME WHALES! One fellow in our boat even leaned out far enough to touch one, and said it felt like hard butter. These guys didn’t look incredibly large after our experience with Blue Whales two weeks ago, but somehow looking into the eyes of a whale, any whale, provides a profound experience that’s hard to describe or replicate. Altogether a splendid, memorable day.