Ballenas Jorobadas: Whale Watching in Mazatlán

©2.DSC_0552-EditDo you know that only two types of whales sing? Lucky for us, the humpbacks that frequent the waters of Mazatlán are most definitely singers! The males are the ones that sing, and they do it to attract a mate. They invent new sounds in order to get noticed, and then, just like humans, other whales then copy their innovations.

Our family goes whale watching at least once each year (lots more info and pics in my posts from 2015, the trip with thousands of manta rays, swimming with dolphins in 2013, and a trip back in 2009 in which the whales approached nearly close enough to touch, and engaged in a lot of slapping and wrestling). We go out with Onca Expeditions, and they have a cute little gizmo (amplifier) they stick into the water to allow all of us on the boat to hear the whales’ singing. It’s awesome!

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Not only do the humpbacks sing, they also love to do acrobatics. Often you will see them curling up out of the water and then diving down, tail raised into the air. When they’re competing for mates you can watch them slapping each other around. The humpbacks will breach, often with their full body in the air above the water, in an attempt to impress a female. Once couples pair off, the acrobatics tend to die down as well; lovers in love are more gentle than that. Often times mothers arrive here with their calves, which is gorgeous to watch. Click on any photo to enlarge it or to view a slideshow.

Whale watching season here is during the winter, and it is one of the activities I most highly recommend for you to do here in Mazatlán. Onca’s guides are marine biologists who are actively engaged in researching the cetaceans that frequent our waters. According to Jesús, who took us out this time, Onca has catalogued 420 whales since Oscar Guzón started his research in our waters, but they’ve only gotten through 2010 data. Jesús told me he believes they have photos and data on 1100 unique tails!

While I’ve been told humpbacks live to be about 50 years old, Jesús said they can live to be 80 or 100. He told me the age of a whale is determined via DNA testing and sometimes via photo ID. They’ve also found whales with bone harpoons stuck in them—sort of reminiscent of Moby Dick, don’t you think?

The official viewing distance for whale watching is 16 meters; no boat in our waters should approach closer than that, although if the whales approach your boat, lucky for you. I was told the humpbacks swim about 10 knots per hour, and the babies drink eight liters of milk per day.

Do not miss your chance to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat! We do it every year, and never tire of the experience.

 

Wednesday Hump Day

 

Mid-week. Wednesday. “Hump day.” We decided we needed to get out, see a bit of the “interior” of our beloved Mazatlán that we hadn’t seen in a while. Not like we don’t often do that, but, hey, it’s Wednesday and we’ve been working hard …

We ended up driving toward Infiernillo. We were so very psyched to spend time noticing just how clean everything looks, we suppose after it was cleaned up from the flooding last year. Danny’s Scout troop has gone out there many times cleaning up. But this was obviously a clean-up of larger, more mechanistic proportions. Well done, city!

We stopped at a little mariscos and taquería that Greg had noticed yesterday, when he was refilling the gas for the grill. It is called El Pariente, and it did not disappoint.

The owner was very gregarious, and worked busily on the outdoor grill. His wife worked the indoor kitchen.

Despite the pull of the ceviche de jaiba and other cold dishes, we all ordered shrimp: camarones rancheros and

camarones a la diabla. Both were really tasty, portions were huge (we couldn’t finish), and

prices were definitely right: 80 pesos per plate.

Plus, the view was very pleasant!

After lunch we drove around the other side of the estero, past the fishing pangas,

the waterfowl,

the recycling truck,

the gas delivery truck,

the roof dog protecting a roof-top camper shell (?),

and a hand painted and festively decorated mural of the Virgen.

All in all, a most welcome mid-week respite to recharge our batteries and ground ourselves in the reality and security of our beloved city before we headed back to work.

 

El Faro/The Lighthouse

At 160 meters above sea level, the El Faro de Mazatlán is said to be the highest naturally located lighthouse in the world. I don’t know for sure that this is true, but neither can I find evidence to contradict it (see my notes on Gibraltar at the end of this post). What I do know is that a hike up our beloved El Faro hill is WELL worth it. In every season of the year it is gorgeous!

The view from the top of the hill is of course SPECTACULAR. You can look west to the Sierras, out over the city and waterways of Mazatlán, or east to the vast expanse of the Pacific. It’s a great place to sit and have a picnic, and take some panoramic photos of the pristine beaches of Isla de la Piedra while they remain undeveloped.

Your hike up the hill will only take 15-20 minutes. There are plenty of people who run the route. It starts out as a dirt path, and higher up turns into about 300 concrete steps which wind their way around a few switchbacks. Each turn and each elevation provides you a different vantage, and all are delightful. It’s as pretty on a clear day as on the rare cloudy or rainy one.

You’ll see ferries, cargo ships, shrimping boats, fishing boats, party boats, sailboats, and pangas.

You start your hike on the east side of the port. This is where many of the fishing excursions and party boats load their passengers, and there are a few dry docks and boat repair facilities to catch your interest.

At the entrance to the lighthouse walk, at the base in front of the port, is a coconut seller. You might want to join him for some refreshment on the way up or down.

The flora and fauna on your hike will delight your senses. In the early spring the cacti bloom. The green contrasting with the brilliant blue of the ocean will make you so glad you came! In just about any season of the year you’ll see something flowering.


We climb the lighthouse hill at least once a week, we enjoy it that much. Two weeks ago I told everyone we were “Wasting Away Again in I-gu-a-na-ville,” because we saw at least eight different iguanas sunning themselves during our climb to the top. We saw lime green, deep green, yellow, orange, brown and black iguanas.

This week I had to change that to “Arañaville,” as the spiders were out spinning their webs in whatever direction you cared to look. It was incredibly gorgeous!

Along the route people have graffitied the stairs. Near the top of the stairs is one of my favorites: a Spanish lesson. It teaches the difference between “top” and “abyss,” which sound similar in Spanish (or at least the Mexican version of the language).

Once you reach the top, and after you take in the view to your heart’s desire, there is also a trail that takes you down behind the lighthouse, on the other side. There are several resting places, and a steep climb involving rope at one point that leads down to the water.

Here you can see our much-worshipped cervecería, the Modelo beer brewery, from lighthouse hill.

NOTE: The highest lighthouse in the world, some have told me, is the Europa Point lighthouse on Gibraltar. However, though the Rock of Gibraltar is 426 meters high, the lighthouse is located on the waterfront, not the top. There is only an aviation beacon at the top of the Rock of Gibraltar. Thus, I’m not sure how our local El Faro ranks globally. It may indeed be the highest.

Tortugas Marinas/Sea Turtles

One of the many fortunate aspects about living on the beach in Mazatlán is that often, whether we’re walking the beach or the malecón, or sitting on the beach eating lunch or dinner, a marine turtle may suddenly crawl up to shore to lay her eggs. It is always cause for joy. It is such a gorgeous miracle to witness, and one we can easily take for granted.

The season starts in September each year, and yesterday I saw my third sea turtle so far this year. The turtle is usually fairly strong as she crawls up onto the beach. She is obviously made for the water, and struggles in the sand, but she crawls up to well above the high-tide line. She settles on a nesting spot, and then begins to dig a hole in the sand.



The turtle then buries her backside in the sand, above the hole, and lays her eggs. They lay a LOT of eggs at once. After she lays her eggs, the turtle usually rests for a few moments, but she is also usually very eager to get herself back into the ocean, where she is more mobile and less at risk of harm. It is so very heart wrenching to watch the mother sea turtle make her way back over the sand and into the ocean. She has no energy left, she is so very tired, and she just struggles something awful. Most people who watch tend to start cheering her on from a distance. It’s a nice community-building event.

Here is a photo taken from our terrace of a turtle’s tracks, in and out, to lay her eggs. You can see the spot in the sand where she laid her eggs. This photo was taken after the Aquarium official had already removed the eggs for safe-keeping.

Sea turtle eggs unfortunately fetch a high price on the black market. I think people eat them as an aphrodisiac. Some people also kill the endangered turtles; “caguama” is a beloved, though black market, dish for many Mazatlecos, sadly. People use turtle hide to make things, and they use the oils in skin lotions and creams. Years ago I remember seeing a lot of turtle lotions and items for sale in the beach areas of Mexico. Fortunately these days we see a lot less.

I am no naturalist, but in doing some research on the internet, it seems we have three primary species that nest here on the east coast of the Sea of Cortés, Green Sea Turtles, Hawksbills, and Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles: http://www.greenpacks.org/2008/08/25/sea-turtles-endangered-marine-life

The sea turtles are endangered:
http://www.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/marine_turtles/
There are signs everywhere on the beach that if you see a turtle, please call the police or the aquarium immediately, as they will come to keep the people away (so that the turtle can lay her eggs in peace), and they will make sure no one steals the eggs.

Despite the best efforts of most people, who keep a respectful distance away, there seem to be plenty of idiots who try to “help” the turtle by getting in her face and crowding her. Just what any birthing mother wants, right? Watch this YouTube for an example of some people’s heartbreaking behavior:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXka-FQJvsQ&feature=related

The turtle eggs are taken to one of three local spots that I know of for hatching, the Mazatlan Aquarium (click on Mazatlan on the map): http://www.grupotortuguero.org/imap.php?l=1

Down south to Estrella del Mar (a golf resort that has a sea turtle hatching facility), and up north in Marmol. They regularly hold baby sea turtle “release” events, where the babies are released into the ocean. Danny’s been fortunate enough to release baby turtles several times, including with the Scouts. Each year his troop hikes north on the beach for 6-7 hours or so, releases baby turtles, then camps overnight and celebrates with a huge bonfire on the beach. Below are some photos:

And there is a YouTube video of a baby turtle’s quest for the open waters:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xthy69jHKOQ

Crane Convention

As I was driving Danny to school this morning, it seemed every crane, heron, wood stork, ibis (scarlet and white) and roseate spoonbill on the Pacific coast wanted in on the party. Was it a birthday? Quinceañera? Maybe a wedding? Or a discussion of how big birds should respond to the flu pandemic? No doubt it was the fact that something edible had just spawned in the water there, but it was beautiful!

In the estuary north of Insurgentes, behind Howard Johnson’s and Cherry, south of Mega. Right in the middle of town!

Link to the photos themselves or a larger slideshow.