Sighting Of Whales In Conception Bay
By JOHN M. DERBY
Times Founding Publisher
January 24, 2019
Twenty years ago we sailed into Conception Bay. We had
been out at sea for 32 days, after leaving San Franciso
around the middle of October in 1999.
We saw lots of Gray Whales on the way around the tip of
Baja, and up the coast of the Sea of Cortes, however, when
we sailed into Conception Bay, there were no whales.
Gray Whales were close to extinction at the turn of the
20th century, and in the mid-1800s, whaling in Mexico hit
a peak when some 7,000 whales were killed. There were less
than 1,000 in 1949 when a prohibition on killing the Grey
Whales was put into place by an international commission
— but not all governments abide by it.
Slowly the numbers increased, and today the Grey Whales
number in the thousands. At one time the Grey Whales were
thought to conceive in Conception Bay, and that is how the
bay got its name.
Conception Bay, about 500 miles south of the border on the
Sea of Cortez, is 35 miles long or about the size of the
San Francisco Bay. It is also shallow like most of San Francisco
Bay, which makes it ideal for the whales at mating time.
Today, most of the Gray Whales mate on the Pacific Coast
during their 20,000 mile migration, and give birth in the
shallow lagoons on the coast of Baja. They are so gentle
that the mothers come up to the tour boats, and lift their
babies up so they can see people inside the boats. Baby
whales are very curious and with their eyes as big as medium
size plates, they actually are attracted to humans, and
especially small children.
Occasionally there have been sightings of a single Grey
Whale in Conception Bay.
We have seen one or two but never a whole pod of whales.
This was a first for us:
As the sun came up one recent morning, a pod of whales swam
south on the far side of the bay. The whole community was
shocked because the sight was so rare.
There is not enough food for a whole pod of whales now in
Conception Bay. Shrimpers have dragged their nets across
the bottom of the bay and destroyed the sea bed. It’s
surprising that the Mexicans have not learned that they
can earn more money taking tourist on whale sighting tours
then they earn from the shrimp.
Whale Sharks (not actually whales) have returned in greater
numbers each year to breed in Conception Bay. Their diet
is somewhat different and they are more accustomed to humans
jumping in the water around them and running power boats
right next to them.
Just the same, this first whale pod may be followed by another
and another if people will give them space and stop destroying
the sea bed.
The Mexican government has set aside some bays as sanctuaries
for the Gray Whales, and in these bays, nets are not allowed.
Loreto, which is only 60 miles to the south, has been made
a sanctuary in the past 20 years. Netting in Conception
Bay is also against the law, however, the last time the
netters came into Conception Bay, they took boat loads of
anchovies, and they were only fined $200 per boat.
This is like a slap on the hand, and the Mexican government
needs to get more serious if it expects the Gray Whales
to return to Conception Bay to give birth.