Whale watchers head for Baja

While most whale-watchers are lucky to see a whale from far away, those traveling to Baja California with Chuck Nicklin will have an opportunity to get up close and personal with the large Pacific gray whales.

In the protected San Ignacio Lagoon, where gray whales migrate every year to mate and have their young, visitors will have the opportunity to see whales closer than they would anywhere else because whales come right up to the boats to visit their human observers.

"[The whales] have been protected for so long now that there’s generations who have come along who have never been bothered by humans. And so they’re very friendly,” said Chuck Nicklin.

No novice

The 81-year-old Nicklin is a renowned underwater cinematographer and pioneer in the sport of scuba diving. He has shot for National Geographic, IMAX films and a number of Hollywood features, including James Bond films. He owned the Diving Locker, San Diego’s first dive shop, for 42 years.

The Baja lagoons, which he’s visited many times, give humans a chance to get within close proximity of whales and often attract some diehard whale lovers, he said.

In order to attract whales to their boats, Nicklin said, “People will sing, people will bring guitars, there are all kinds of things. And people get really carried away. [They’ll say] ‘I can feel the whale, I can feel its heart, it’s coming right to me.’”

Good timing

Nicklin also said the March 13-17 trip is the ideal time to be making such an excursion in the cycle of the whale migration.

“We’re going at a good time, because if you go too early … then the calves are really, really young and the mothers are very protective, or haven’t been born at all and the mothers are really protective. And then if you go too late, the calves are getting so big that they’re pretty rambunctious,” said Nicklin.

Help for photographers

While Nicklin said that some who take the trip are serious photographers, he estimated that three-quarters of participants so far are people who simply enjoy being close to whales.

For those who want to take pictures, well-known photographer Eric Hanauer will also be on hand to help.

Participants will go whale watching in the mornings, and during the afternoons will have opportunities to go kayaking, hiking, bird-watching or biking.

If you go

  • San Ignacio Lagoon Whale Watching
  • March 13-19
  • Bus leaves La Jolla
  • Cost: $1,995
  • For information, e-mail