It's whale watching season in Puerto Penasco, Mexico and that has an increasing number of people enthusiastically setting sail for the Sea of Cortez.
More commonly referred to as Rocky Point, it's only a four hour drive from Tucson. I headed down earlier this week, video camera in hand, to witness these amazing mammals in their natural environment.
Unfortunately, tourism has dropped in recent years due to cartel violence in various parts of Mexico. However, those familiar with Rocky Point say it's not only a safe place to visit but to also live, "I really feel very very safe, I drive down here by myself all he time with no problems," Gillian Panasewicz tells me as we disembark from the fishing marina in Rocky Point aboard a sail boat named "Gato Loco."
Panasewicz, and her husband Mike, split their time between Prescott, AZ and Rocky Point; living half the year south of the border, "it's beautiful out here. There's so much to offer. There's dolphins, whales, sea lions, it's beautiful."
Her favorite pastime, whale watching, has almost become an obsession, "their power is unbelievable, not so much when they come out of the water, but the explosion of the water when they land is amazing."
Gillian snapped some amazing pictures last year just a few short miles off the coast of Rocky Point showing a humpback whale breaching the water in a spectacular show of mother nature, "in English terminology, it was gobsmacking, it just took your breath away."
Captain Bill Hensler is behind the helm of the "Gato Loco." He sets sail several times a month taking friends and neighbors on whale watching journeys that can lead to dramatic sights of whales breaching the water and dolphins swimming right alongside the sailboat, "I could stay out till the sun sets watching them," he says with a smile.
Hensler says January and February are the best months to watch the whales because it's mating season. He says the humpbacks and finbacks have made their way from the cold waters of the northern Pacific Ocean into the warmer waters of the Sea of Cortez, "the finback is the second largest whale in the world and the humpback, they're smaller but they're more active. Sometimes you'll see them rollover on their sides, they have the big pectoral fin and they'll slap the water."
During our trip we stayed behind the same whale that would surface every few minutes with its blowhole-spray giving us a trail to follow for more than an hour. Dolphins joined in, along with other boats, full of excited whale watchers. As Capt. Hensler maneuvers the "Gato Loco" to keep up with the whale his smile returns, "it's really an incredible experience," and an unforgettable day on the Sea Cortez.