Brian Keating explores Magdalena Bay's grey whale 'nurseries'

Alberta naturalist Brian Keating will have a whale of a tale to tell when he returns to his hometown in a couple of weeks.

Three lagoons along Magdalena Bay offer perfect environment for raising young, naturalist says

A grey whale calf swims alongside its mother in this underwater footage captured by naturalist Brian Keating. (Brian Keating)

Alberta naturalist Brian Keating will have a whale of a tale to tell when he returns to his hometown in a couple of weeks.

Keating, who is the regular wildlife columnist for CBC's The Homestretch and Radio Active, has spent the past week on a ship owned by National Geographic exploring the flora and fauna of Mexico's Baja Peninsula and surrounding coastline.

Each winter, three particular lagoons along the Pacific Ocean's Magdelena Bay are converted into nurseries as hundreds of female grey whales travel 11,000 kilometres from the cold waters of the north to give birth and raise their young.

"This is where all of the grey whales that migrate past our own western Canadian coast from the Bering sea further to the north (come from)," Keating said Monday.

The giant cetaceans are so common in the area this time of year, it only took about 10 minutes for Keating, traveling aboard a local fishing boat, to spot the first mother-child pair.

"The first whale that we encountered had a little tiny baby," Keating said. "And when I say 'little tiny' I'm still saying 600 kilograms or so. It was at least three-and-a-half, four metres long."

Keating's guide estimated the baby whale was likely six or seven days old.

A predator-free refuge for calving young

Typically, the mothers and baby whales remain together in the warm, shallow bays on the Baja Peninsula for about seven months until the babies are weaned and ready for the trip back north.

For each day prior to weaning, the mothers supply about 1,000 litres of milk, "which is a lot, when you consider especially that the milk has 53 per cent fat in it," Keating noted.

For comparison, a human mother's milk contains only about two per cent fat. That extra fat content allows the grey whale calves to  grow incredibly quickly, Keating said.

"The object of those mothers is to exercise those babies up and down the lagoon, get them fattened up, get them a good layer of blubber on their little bodies so that they can withstand the cold waters they eventually will be encountering on their return to the north."

The three shallow bays are also virtually predator-free, giving the young calves the best chance of surviving to start their long journey.

Over the course of a single day of scouting, Keating spotted so many whales he eventually lost count. He even managed to capture video of a mother-calf pair resting just metres from his boat.

"You can just see that incredible mothering ability of these huge animals, and to have them that close to us so they were virtually a couple of metres away from us, just gives you a sense of awe."

And awww, no doubt.

You can follow Keating's adventures online on Twitter and Facebook.