A Week With Black Turtles & Gray Whales in Baja

This article was originally written by Kathi Koontz for SEEtheWILD’s WildBlog

Wow. I just returned from a week (just a tease!) in Baja California Sur where I participated in Grupo Tortuguero’s annual meeting, sea turtle conservation, and whale watching trip with RED Sustainable Travel. What an amazing trip – marine life, salty sea, fun people, great food, adventure, and connectedness.  

I chose to go on this trip because I love the ocean and all marine life, especially the charismatic megafauna. I believe in conservation and the impact each one of us can have. I appreciate an authentic and sustainable trip with local staff and not some big corporation. Plus, a good friend of mine was going and she had been raving about Baja, the people, and the turtles for years. I wanted to experience it firsthand.

I arrived in Loreto during day 1 of the Grupo Tortuguero annual meeting. Even though I was thousands of miles away from home, I found familiar interests, faces and friends. I felt very welcome and included. I was amazed at the enthusiasm, pride, respect and dignity of the 300 plus attendees (many of them former turtle fishermen turned conservationists!). Everyone was proud of not only their work, but each others efforts. Applause and cheers were common background noise.

On day 2, I went on a panga ride around Isla Coronado, stopping several times to jump in and snorkel. We even stopped on the beach for a little hike, followed by the best fish tacos I’ve ever had!

Day 3 sent us across the peninsula to Bahia Magdalena. We took a panga ride to our own private sand dune, where we camped for the next 3 nights. And when I say camping, I mean mattresses, sinks, gourmet cooking, and a loo with a view.  The first night, I watched bioluminescent whales frolic at the surface and heard them blow through the night.

On day 4, we started the sea turtle “work”.  (I want my work to be more like this).  We monitored the Eastern Pacific green sea turtle, which is also called the Pacific black sea turtle, and may in fact be a separate species.   Bright, and early (but not before first breakfast), we went out to set the net to capture the turtles.

While the net was being set, we learned about the history of Grupo Tortuguero. By the time the net was completely set, we had caught a turtle. We immediately took the turtle to shore to get measurements, weight, tag number (if tagged) and other information. Afterwards the turtle was released. I was amazed how strong the turtles were, yet, you can put one into a comatose-like state by gently applying pressure on the ventral side of the neck.

We continued the turtle monitoring for 24 hours with turtle checks every two hours.  The late night trip to the net was my favorite.  In total, we caught seven turtles, six of which were previously tagged.  This information is shared with the Grupo Tortuguero network and scientists to track growth, occurrence, and distribution of turtles, as well as inform population studies.

In between turtle checks, we went (gray) whale watching.  It was very cool to see the whales so young that they were shiny, and barnacle free.  These are the same whales we see heading north along the California coast in the spring.

Sand dunes of Magdalena Bay
Having fun in the sand dunes of Magdalena Bay

On our last day, we took a panga ride through the maze and went bird watching.  We saw some cool ibis before the the whales escorted us back to Lopez Mateos.

From there, two friends and I returned to Loreto before we flew back to Northern California.  I have new friends and a stronger appreciation for the reptiles in our seas.