Extent of whale and dolphin watching
In January 1972, the Mexican government created the world's first marine protected area (MPA) specifically to protect cetaceans: Laguna Ojo de Liebre (Scammon's Lagoon).
Whale watching had just started here and long range trips from San Diego brought Americans to see gray whales on their mating and calving lagoons. Initially the protection of the gray whales and the lagoons was only superficial - on paper. However, in 1979 and 1980, protection of nearby Laguna San Ignacio and Guerrero Negro followed, and in 1988, the entire lagoon complex was officially designated as El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve. UNESCO World Heritage status followed in 1993.
The first trips were in the 1970’s. US tourists travelled from San Diego on self-contained 7 to 10-day cruises down to the lagoons of the Baja California coast1. Local Mexicans earned nothing from the trips but these pioneer journeys at least showed that there was a market for whale watching in Mexico and helped to promote more whale watching tourism through word of mouth. In the late 1980s one of the US companies began hiring local Mexican boats to take tourists into the lagoons; at the same time tourists began arriving overland and hiring boats on the spot. In 1991, partly as a trade-off for banning fishing in the lagoon during the tourist season, locals were given the sole permits to work as skiff drivers in the lagoon. The outside companies and cruise ships had to hire the pangas and their drivers. From the late 1980s onwards, local Mexicans began to profit more directly from whale watching, by offering tours from their own boats to tourists arriving by land, air and sea. Over the past two decades, the industry has grown and diversified, spreading out from the initially targeted lagoons to southern and eastern Baja and the mainland coast, especially around Puerto Vallarta.
Mexico is now one of the top ten tourism destinations in the world and the high volume of international tourism has helped Mexico to become the most popular whale watching destination outside the United States2.
Target species, peak times of year and locations:
More than 33 species of cetaceans have been documented in México’s Pacific waters, including three of the migratory species most attractive for whale watching: the gray whale, off the west coast of the Baja California Peninsula; the humpback whale, along the southern coast of the Baja Peninsula and the mainland; and the blue whale along the west coast of the Baja California Peninsula and the Gulf of California.