Whalers Tour 2022
By Geoff Smith '71, Class Vice-president
A group of intrepid classmates came together in Loreto, Baja California, on the Sea of Cortez in late February to tour the southern half of the Mexican peninsula, experience close encounters with whales, sea lions and whale sharks, but most importantly to share the unique, isolated nature of this place with interesting classmates. Joining the tour were: Nancy Martin and Tim Tosta, Mike Ladra, David Schankler, Jon Tittler and Susan Hill, Henry Barkhorn, Diane Haines and Bill Armiger, Barbara and Tom Sinclair, Duncan Payne, Paul Diebel, Rich Hollingsworth and Kathy Molony and Julie and Geoff Smith.
Crossing the peninsula to the Pacific side, the group had several close-up encounters in Scammons and San Ignacio lagoons with Gray Whales that migrate from the Bering Sea each year to mate and give birth. At one time, five of the 45-foot, 40-ton whales cruised around the awed Whalers aboard 25-foot Pangas. The encounter was totally at the whales’ option and for whatever reason, they chose to hang out with a small group of humans for over an hour, occasionally drifting close enough to have their heads rubbed. During another encounter, one mother whale guided her weeks-old baby whale next to the boat to be petted. It was an amazing interface between giant wild creatures and humans.
The tour stopped in small villages where the group walked narrow streets to sit in tree shaded patios of restaurants for exceptional meals. At other times, amazing fresh seafood was served on white-sand beaches next to the crystal-clear Sea of Cortez. Other stops allowed the group to wander through the Baja desert next to an ancient lava flow, viewing multiple species of cacti indigenous only to Baja.
Boat trips out to the Isla Coronado National Park and to Espiritu Santo Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site, provided encounters with sea lions and many birds, allowing bird-watcher, Schankler to add a Blue Footed Boobie to his list. The tour took the explorers for an encounter with whale sharks, the largest fish in the ocean. Though not all were able to see one, several were able to snorkel within a few feet of one of the 40-foot gentle giants gliding by with a 5-foot-tall-tail slowly swinging back and forth. Even more fun was a swim next to a sea lion colony that is used to the presence of humans. The 200-400 pound sea lions delighted the group with their incredibly fast, fluid and gymnastic swimming, often within inches of the again-awed whalers. At one point all raised their heads and removed their snorkels to offer a Class of ‘71 locomotive for the friendly sea lions. A few of them barked in response.
Of course the best part of the trip was sharing experiences and stories with classmates over meals and margaritas in unique settings that many will only see once in their lifetime. And there will be tales to be told by the Whalers at future Class of ’71 events.
Visit the Class Photo Gallery for additional photos of this adventure in Baja.