Boy Are We Spoiled!

blow oncaNot only do we live on this gorgeous Bay of Mazatlán, with the huge variety of flora and fauna we enjoy every day, but we have locals who have left town to study, become experts, and return to give back to and enjoy fully of this wonderful community of ours.

Such is the case with Oscar Guzón, a marine biologist from a local family who not only owns and operates Onca, but advocates tirelessly for the environmental well being and conservation of our port city and its beautiful bay.

We were fortunate to meet Oscar shortly after having moved down here full time. I’ve written previously about Onca’s whale watching expeditions, which are by far the best I’ve experienced, East Coast or West, Europe or Asia. Passengers’ enjoyment of the whale watching experience is part of their larger effort to catalog and study the whales, their habits and migration patterns.

Well, Onca has added another marine mammal to their studies: the dolphin. Going out with Onca, you’ll learn about the dozens of species of this cetacean, and the fact that we have a huge percentage of those species right here in Mazatlán. Onca’s crew are doing for the dolphins what they’re doing for the whales: cataloguing, studying and tracking them, as part of larger efforts throughout the Sea of Cortes and points south.

Their new “swim with the dolphins” program is not to be missed! We were completely surrounded by these amazing creatures, many times over. Now, maybe you can swim as fast as a dolphin, but I certainly can’t! First time in the water, I swam. Second time, I used a life preserver; it was much more enjoyable for me to just sort of float there among the gorgeous dolphins as they swam, frolicked and jumped around me. Trying to keep up with them was obviously not going to work!

The Onca crew are consummate professionals, the boat and equipment top-knotch and safe. They don’t just provide a tour, they provide an education, and are committed to giving us the best experience possible: we swam, we snorkeled, they provided sandwiches and drinks, and they watched over us to keep us safe and happy. It’s beautiful to see how much they love and respect the wildlife as well as this gorgeous place in which we are fortunate to live.

Thank you, Oscar, Belén, Saúl, and Michel. Here is a short video of our dolphin swim on Wednesday.

PS: I’m not being paid or remunerated for this post. It’s just a whole lot of fun, and I want to let you all know.

Whale Watching

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

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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

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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!

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