Whale Watching

We went whale watching today, one of our Christmas gifts to each other. It was an INCREDIBLE day!!!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We were told we’d go out 3-5 miles to see the whales, but we were barely on the outer edge of the bay when we saw two whales:

All of a sudden there were three:

Before we knew it there were four…

We’d be with a pod of whales, and then we’d see another off to the right, and yet another off to the left. We were surrounded by humpbacks! We were told humpbacks often travel alone, or maybe in twos (most often 2 males or a male and female), but we were so fortunate today and saw several groups. By the end of the day, we way lost count of how many whales we saw.
Below is some video that Greg took of the whales, to give you an idea of 45 seconds of our day. It starts out a bit blurry but gets much better. Or,  click here to view the video in higher def.

Oscar and Belen from Onca Exploraciones RoCK!!! If you haven’t gone out with them yet, you definitely need to. I have gone whale watching about eight times in my life, I’ve seen much bigger whales (blue whales vs. humpbacks, for example), and Danny and I even spent ten days at a marine biology camp, but this was really special. The boat, Oscar, and Belen are pictured below (Belen is in the middle in the photo on the right; Oscar’s photo is blurry because he’s always moving and speaks with passion—surely no photographer error, lol):



Oscar and Belen are both marine biologists. Oscar is working on his PhD research, a project to photo-ID the whales that frequent the waters of Mazatlán. Amazingly, to date this has not been done. Over the past three years, Oscar has photo-identified 174 different whales. Like human fingerprints, whales have unique visual identifiers, often the underside of their tail fins, sometimes also the scars they bear, and this is what they track. I post a couple of photos of flukes below, so you can see the uniqueness, as well as a close-up of some scarring, to give you an idea of how they ID the whales. Oscar, if I’m wrong about this, let me know and I’ll correct this wording. Below you can see:

  1. The first tail has white spots all along the edge.
  2. The second has barnacles or something stuck to the edge of the tail.
  3. The third has specks of white on the outside, becoming more fully white in the center underside of the tail.
  4. The fourth has white on either side, but a black triangle in the center underside of its tail.
  5. The last photo below shows some typical scarring, which can also help identify the whales.




So, anyway, their goal is to take photos of the whales and give each of them a name or identification, so that they can then be tracked and their patterns learned. The good thing for us is we get to ride along. It is a small boat—maximum six passengers, so we were able to get very close to the whales. We were able to get so close that we felt we could almost reach out and touch the gorgeous creatures. Danny and our neighbor Brian wanted to jump out of the boat and swim with the cetaceans.

 

 

 

 

 

Oscar gave us a pre-trip briefing on whales, particularly humpbacks. We learned a lot both before departure and during the cruise. For example, humpbacks are balleen whales. There are three main northern Pacific groups: those that migrate from the Arctic to Japan, those that go from Alaska to Hawaii, and the whales we see here, that migrate along the coast of North America. The humpbacks have striations on their stomachs, the wrinkles we have all seen in pictures. We learned these are like stretch marks (my analogy :)), so that the whales’ stomachs can stretch out when they suck in a bunch of plankton and water, and so that the stomachs resize themselves to normal when the whales push out all that extra water. We learned that when the humpbacks are up north, in the summer, they eat and eat and eat, storing up blubber. Then, when they come south, they don’t eat for four months or more! Down south here is their breeding ground, where they have their babies. The adult males are busy showing off for the adult females, since there seem to be MANY more males than females, and great demand to win the honor of partnering with a lady whale. The men sing to attract the women; the longer the song, the stronger his lungs. The men also fight to attract the women, or at least to establish their ranking in the whale hierarchy and be the first in line to collect their winnings… We saw whales thrashing around a lot. Typical me, I delighted in the fact that they were playing. No, Oscar told me, they are actually fighting with each other–hitting one another with their fins, and we even saw some jumping on top of one another as if they were wrestling. A slide show is below:

Whales Fighting

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Today was the first day of Christmas break, so of course Danny was NOT excited when he had to wake up for a 7:30 am rendezvous in the marina:

But, after a few whales, here’s what the teenager had to say about the day:

The thing that made this trip so different for me was the SOUND. It is quiet out there, with the motor off and only a few people on board the boat. If you’ve been out in a sailboat, you know the feeling. But, when you are in the midst of so many whales, what you hear is silence plus, suddenly, the whales breeching, or blowing; you can even hear them breathing…. it is sooooo beautiful! The first photo below you can see a whale’s blowhole, on the whale on the left. The second photo below shows a humpback’s head.

 
National Geographic Traveler highlighted whale watching in Mazatlán as one of the great adventures on our planet. 🙂

 

Whales Diving

Finally, let me conclude this blog post with one last slideshow, of a humpback taking a dive. Merry Christmas and happy new year!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Las Temporadas de Mazatlán/Seasons of the Year, Updated

 

  • Season of the Curved Tides (January-February): The ocean waves come in with scalloped edges, leaving the sand on the beach with ripples. It’s beautiful! (See the photo above for an idea.)

  • La Temporada de la Neblina, Fog Season (February or anytime as late as May): Starting around Carnavál and continuing for a few weeks, the cold ocean air meets the warm land and….our building disappears, as does Ice Box Hill and many other landmarks, for a good portion of the morning.

 

 

IMG_2985

  • Season of the Crying Screens, in May-June, after the heat of summer begins and before the rains start. We get condensation of salty ocean air on our window screens.
  • La Temporada de los Candidatas, the season of the PARADES!!! (May): Two kinds of candidates: political and royal. The royals are the fun ones—girls (and sometimes boys) from all over the metro area, who want to be queen or king of their school. They walk the malecón, the plazuela, and the Golden Zone collecting donations, usually accompanied by their court if they’re teenagers, and by their families if they’re primary school kids. When the little girls wear nice dresses, boy then am I a supporter of their cause! Parades of course accompany the campaigns of both kinds of candidates. Parades include multiple live bands (not marching but riding), cool cars, loads of balloons, horn honking, and sometimes fireworks. The political campaigns include the standard posters, bumper stickers, t-shirts, etc., and their parades, unfortunately, include the loudspeaker campaign speeches.

  • Season of the Panzas–or Panzones! (July-October): If you are walking the malecon, walking to the market, or basically just standing outside, beware of the bare bellies! Men of all shapes and sizes seem to quite enjoy the air conditioning they achieve by rolling up their shirts and exposing their mid-sections. Unfortunately, six pack abs are few and far between! This is also the season to carry a wash cloth or small towel–sweat rag season. A handkerchief will NOT be sufficient. 🙂
  • Septi-Hambre, Hungry September: The month when those who serve the tourist trade complain because there are neither national nor international tourists around.
  • La Temporada de Venezia, The Season of Venice (August and September): This is when you need a gondola to get your son to school, or to go grocery shopping. MUST wear waterproof shoes and shorts, as streets are flooded at least 1/2 meter deep and more in places.
  • Necklace on the Bay Season (September or October through April or so): Open season on shrimp! US$4/kilo and even cheaper, higher for the really giant ones. You can get shrimp any time of year, but the legal shrimping season is now, so you can get fresh not frozen shrimp now. Mmmm. Our fleet is the biggest in Latin America. Opening day of the “veda” is one of my favorites. The shrimp boats all leave port, and in the darkness of night you see the lighted boats forming a beautiful necklace around the bay. Very difficult to capture on film, but incredibly beautiful and, from our experience, it only happens once a year. Don’t miss it! Opening day of the season….

This is the sixth update to this post. I’ll keep updating this post as I learn more.

Los Pescaderos/The Fishermen

One of our dreams in moving to Mazatlán has been to be more physically active in the course of daily life, to be able to enjoy the outdoors more, and to eat more healthily of fresh, whole foods. With these dreams in mind, we’ve taken a long walk or bike ride most every morning along the malecón, the oceanside promenadehere in Mazatlán. A round trip bike ride from our house to the Pedro Infante statue is about 8 miles. A walk from our house to the pescaderos (fishing boats) and back is about 3 1/2 miles.

What is truly special for me is the fact that we can enjoy the incredibly gorgeous views, people-watch Mazatlecos of all ages and walks of life exercising, and we can buy fresh fish directly from the fishermen as they put in in the morning. This season of the year (June-August) they seem to come in between 7:30 and 8:30 am. Most of them have an axle with two wheels that can cradle their boat as they bring it up on the beach. Once they arrive, they unload their fish, put some of it up by the malecón for sale to the public, and take most of it across the street to what appears to be a cooperative store. They then head back to their boats to make fresh ceviche (cut up fish, carrots, lots of lime juice, onion) and wash it down usually with a ballena (whale, large bottle) of Pacifico beer (our local brew). 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning is already their lunch time. Most of the fishermen are very friendly and happy, and the boat launch beach is quite the community hangout, especially in the morning. You can see this photo I took of a domino game on the beach.

The boats are all small lanchas, with outboard motors, and seem to hold 2-4 fishermen. The lanchas remind us of the fishing boats in Cinque Terre, Italy, but they are not painted quite as colorfully. Most are named after women; we are guessing wives’ names, daughters’, girlfriends’.

If we are a little too early or too late, there is a sort of fishermen’s cooperative store right across the street from the boat launch beach. The prices are amazing, and so far there has always been a good selection. Over the last couple of months the people have gotten to know us already. The store manager is more than happy to teach me about the best methods for cooking which kind of fish. They seem to stay open as long as they have fish, so it’s best to go early.
Another thing that is amazing to me is that in the big supermarkets (Mega, Soriana…), they usually have frozen fish, not fresh. All the more impetus to take my daily walk or bike ride! I have a little basket on my front handlebars, and I carry a little cooler with ice. I can then put in the fresh fish, or pork, beef or chicken if I go to the mercado on the way also, and carry it all back safe and cool.
I’ve tried out a few new recipes, relying mostly on mangoes, limes, onion, chiles, cilantro, occasionally some cream or curry powder. Mmmm. I have not yet tried to make ceviche, as buying it is affordable and just so convenient, but I look forward to trying it out.