Mexico’s Baja Peninsula is home to 75% of the world’s known whale species. Encounters with gray whales and humpback whales are quite common, and if you’re lucky you might also see sperm whales, blue whales, Bryde’s whales and fin whales.
Whale Watch Cabo is the only whale watching company in Cabo San Lucas, a popular tourist destination on the southernmost tip of the Baja Peninsula. Founded in 2011, Whale Watch Cabo has quickly become a local leader in responsible, non-invasive and sustainable whale eco-tourism.
In a nutshell, here’s the WWC story:
Janneke Louwes, a Dutch marine biologist, founded the concept of a small, responsible and educational whale watching company in Cabo. She was joined by Miguel Angel Noriega Garcia, who had spent many years in the whale watching and marine wildlife tour industry, and Peter Wilcox, who had years of experience in running marine wildlife businesses and marine conservation organizations. Together, the team works towards a more sustainable industry by offering fun, educational and respectful whale watching encounters while supporting conservation and research initiatives.
Wilcox is originally from Victoria BC, and was kind enough to fill us in on how Whale Watch Cabo is creating a better future for whale watching in Cabo San Lucas.
How/when did you first fall in love with whales?
I was born in Victoria, BC and have always been enthralled with nature, especially marine ecosystems and the animals that inhabit them. I remember orcas being my first experience in encountering whales as a young child off of Vancouver Island. My parents would share their knowledge and observations, all of which I found fascinating. It sparked a passion for learning about whales that has followed me through to this day and is one of the reasons we love having families join our tours.
On that note, why do you think other people are captivated by whales?
I believe people see whales as the pinnacle of evolution in our oceans while recognizing that whales are also self-aware. I believe recognition of self-awareness is a unifying factor of fascination that drives human minds and imaginations. We do not recognize many other species as being self-aware, so we find a sort of kinship and a deeper connection to the amazing lives of whales. When you add to this unique self awareness the whales’ fascinating and varying lifestyles, family care, family groups, migrations, maternal care, and the complete majesty of whales displaying their awesome power, I think we humans stand in awe of the whales, with understanding that there is still so much more to learn and mystery to seek understanding.
What makes a good whale watching trip?
I believe that a good whale watching trip mixes the visual and auditory experience of responsibly encountering wild whales with knowledge and insight into the whales’ behaviors shared by knowledgeable and experienced guides/biologists. We focus on the beauty, strength and activity observed during our tours. We believe what makes a whale watching trip good is focusing on the beauty of the moment, enriching the experience with knowledge and observations.
What is the most extraordinary event you have witnessed on one of your whale watching tours?
For sheer power, grace and amazing heart pounding spectacle, three adult humpbacks repeatedly and simultaneously breaching for at least 30 minutes.
For different reasons, closer linked to our appreciation of the whales self awareness, it is hard to beat the many moments we have had when whales spend hours interacting with the boat, quietly and peacefully swimming around the boat as we idle, face to face with a couple of gray or humpback whales as they look up at us from under the glass bottom view ports, as they spyhop mere feet from the boat, or the time a baby and mother humpback shared with us similar attention. These are peaceful and beautiful moments that I know we are very lucky to share with other self-aware beings and times when any connection we might feel is strengthened.
Do you feel a special connection to the ocean? Inspiration from John F. Kennedy: “We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.”
Yes, throughout my life I have always been around the ocean. I spent a decade SCUBA diving professionally and exploring the many animals, ecologies and especially the interactions between marine animals. While I find every single one of them fascinating, whales are the pinnacle of the connection I feel to the ocean.
What is your particular focus and contribution to conservation?
Our focus is to be the leader in responsible, non-invasive whale watching encounters in a region that admittedly does not have a good overall record for responsible practices. We are in the legal process of starting the first non-profit Whale Conservation and Research Society here in Los Cabos. Its primary goals will be to educate the visiting public through articles, flyer distribution and presentations at hotels as to the Whale Watching Regulations, in how to choose a responsible whale-watching operator and to inspire visitors to Los Cabos to support those businesses that follow the Code of Conduct. The first thing Cabo needs is a more sustainable environment in regards to its businesses and their conduct around the whales, and we have chosen to educate the public in the hopes that those businesses that support and follow the guidelines will become the leaders, seeding a better more sustainable future.
Once that first project has been accomplished we will begin research projects, invite students from the Marine Biology University in La Paz, and who knows where this will lead?
How does marine conservation impact all of us?
Huge question there. The oceans are the lifeblood of the planet. We need to improve our practices to help the ocean recover from decades of mismanagement.
Specific to whales, we know there are many challenges facing the world’s whales, and we think there are two approaches to engaging the public: Inspire with beauty and knowledge. Once people understand their dedication to caring, it allows the many operations that focus their time on presenting these challenges to be more successful (with what is often a shock and awe campaign).
It is our mandate to inspire our guests with the beauty, amazing lives and value of whales as the pinnacle of self aware evolution in our oceans—leaving ‘the fight’ to those organizations whose mandate is to shine a light into the darkness of some of humanities relationship with whales.
For instance, Sea Shepherd. While we strongly support their sacrifices and efforts, we prefer to focus on the beauty of the whales, and to inspire our guests to understand and care more for the whales. We have seeded in our guests the values that will inspire them to become active in the support of conservation and protection of the world’s whales.
What are some of the best online resources for marine conservation?
Sorry to be short here, but I follow just about everyone. Seems like WDC Whale and Dolphin Conservation is always at the forefront with information about the current plight of whales worldwide.
Why do whales matter?
Biologically speaking, all nature has a balance, one that evolved without human interaction. Whales are pinnacle predators, proven to be important to maintaining the balance of species lower on the Trophic Scale.
Culturally, (and I am copying some of my earlier answers) I believe people see whales as the pinnacle of evolution in our oceans while recognizing that whales are also self-aware. I believe recognition of self-awareness is a unifying factor of fascination that drives human minds and imaginations. We do not recognize many other species as being self aware, so we find a sort of kinship and a deeper connection to the amazing lives of whales. When you add to this unique self awareness the whales’ fascinating and varying lifestyles, family care, family groups, migrations, maternal care, and the complete majesty of whales displaying their awesome power, I think we humans stand in awe of the whales, with understanding that there is still so much more to learn and mystery to seek understanding.
Why do you think there’s a small segment of the population who are wary of whale watching? (Just saw an article on Lonely Planet that asks “Is Whale Watching Ethical?” – To us it’s a no brainer, but some people really don’t know much about it.)
If so, very small. Most likely they have been exposed either through unfortunate personal experiences on less-than-ethically-run whale watching tours, word of mouth of such unfortunate experiences, or perhaps they don’t have a complete view of the situation. A lot of what we know today of wild whale populations has come from the fusion of private whale watching companies employing biologists and supporting their studies while engaging guests in the whales.
What has been a major key to your success at Whale Watch Cabo?
I think giving the public what they want: informative tours based on educational insight while focusing on the fun, adventure and responsible types of interaction that our guests can appreciate and feel good about.
What are a few of the exciting initiatives you will be taking/continuing in the future?
Other than starting our own (but separate) Whale Conservation Society, not too much. We are a small company and we like to keep it personal. We do like the idea of drones/quadcopters to get some additional footage, as long as the drones do not bother the whales or end up as electronic waste.
As a resident of Cabo, are there any other local companies/attractions you would recommend?
Some of it is seasonal, but there are sea turtle hatcheries that the public can attend and assist in releasing hatchlings, There is swimming with Whale Sharks in La Paz as well.
There is also an ultralight company here that gets great reviews, and for the adventurous there is the JetPack or Flyboard, and for the real adventurous there is renting hard-core off-road buggies to drive the desert route.