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Baja Whales and Dolphins
Photo Tour
on board the SEARCHER



Whales, dolphins, sea lions, birds, snorkeling,
and spectacular landscapes in one of the richest
marine environments in the world!

Check out our 2015 Trip Report to have the most
thorough information on what you can expect on this trip.

Limited to 24 Participants
aboard The Searcher
(see the bottom of this brochure for
important details on registering for this tour)


Hundreds, if not thousands, of Common and Bottlenosed Dolphins in one of the most exciting wildlife spectacles I've ever seen, a migration or movement across the sea, eventually joining up with our ship and bow riding in front of us.

24 Participants!?!?!?!?

Our group will be part of or make up the entire contingent of guests aboard the Searcher, one of the most famous and experienced ships that regularly do tours to the Baja of Mexico. The Searcher is a sea-going vessel that regularly hosts thirty guests for their regular voyages from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, and into the Gulf itself. Whether our group takes up the entire boat or not makes little difference, although it would be wonderful to fill the vessel with our friends and dedicated photographers.

Trip Highlights

wThe Baja is famous for its whales, particularly the Gray Whale which was nearly hunted to extinction in the first half of the twentieth century. Summering in the coastal waters of western Alaska and the Bering Sea, Gray Whales travel off the western coast of North America, eventually arriving at their calving grounds in several bays or gulfs on the southern half of the arid Baja Peninsula.
There, incredibly enough when one considers the persecution and destruction these whales have seen by man, Gray Whales can be surprisingly tame, and it is common for calves and their mothers to sidle up to a zodiac, close enough to be petted and for participants to experience the fishy shower of a whale's exhalation. Touching a whale, patting its rubbery skin while your zodiac is lifted slightly from the sea, is to many one of life's most memorable experiences. In the distance, or sometimes right beside a zodiac or the ship, Gray Whales may lift from the sea in unexpected breachings, and these whales regularly 'sky hop,' rising vertically from the water to inspect the area around them.

wIn addition to Gray Whales, we're likely to see several other species. One year, a pair of the world's largest animal, the Blue Whale, lounged in the sea close to our boat. One of my big regrets is not immediately grabbing a snorkel and going in, with our Captain who shares my regrets, to swim with the whales. When the thought finally came to mind it was too late, and the whales began to swim off. Blue Whales, like the other baleen whales that we're likely to see, the Sei and Fin, are the fastest of all whales, and until the introduction of the destructive factory ships and explosive harpoons, these whales were abundant and safe. When the fast factory ships started whaling these whales speed meant nothing, and within thirty years were reduced to less than 5% of their original numbers.

Orcas, if we encounter them and we usually do, are curious and visit the boat.

Orcas, or Killer Whales, are often seen, and the most memorable experience I've had anywhere with this beautiful black and white species occurred on one of these trips. A pod of Orcas arrived just as we were sitting down for dinner, which was then abandoned. For the next hour, as the light began to fade, the pod circled our boat continuously, sometimes with a whale swimming directly underneath and turning, belly up, to give us close scrutiny as it did so. I was so moved, and so tempted to enter the water and to be a part of their world, but common sense ruled, and perhaps by keeping me out of the water I did not, quite literally, become 'a part' of their world. There are no known attacks on humans from wild Orcas, but then again, there may be no witnesses, or no one stupid enough to do what I thought of doing!

dDolphins of several species are one of the main attractions for this cruise, as individuals, small groups, or even congregations in the thousands may swim along beside or in front of the boat. The last time I did this trip I was still shooting film, and I can't wait to return, shooting digital, where misframes won't matter. When a dolphin bow rides and leaps from the water, if you hadn't started shooting before it cleared the sea you were too late, and all you'd catch is a tail or a splash. If you fired beforehand, chances were good that the dolphin you were following wouldn't even jump, and the film was wasted. But now, with digital, it won't matter, and I know we'll be firing with abandon, and by doing so, capturing some spectacular shots.

dMother and baby Common Dolphin -- part of a huge pod that greeted our boat in 2015.

An Elephant Seal hauled out on the beach -- so what's with that eye?

We'll also be photographing three different species of seal, the largest, the Northern Elephant Seal, at nearly sixteen feet, the California Sea Lion, an eared seal, and the Harbor Seal. On some of the islands inside the Sea of Cortez we will have the opportunity to swim with the Sea Lions. This experience, swimming with the sealions, is simply fantastic, and we'll be urging everyone to do this. We used a GoPro (and we'll show you how) and then made screen shots of the sealions swimming underwater, and the entire event was truly one of the trip highlights.


Additionally, there will be shore excursions for landscapes and birds, including the strange and beautiful red sandstone cliffs of Punta Colorado, and the island where the world's only rattleless rattlesnake lives, an animal I would very much love to see. At night in calm waters we'll be treated to the wonders of bioluminescence, as millions of aquatic creatures, when disturbed, give off their cold living light. One year, long after dark, we were treated to the most unforgettable sight when a Sea Lion, far from its normal haunts, circled our boat, diving and splashing, creating a comet-like trail of bioluminescence in its wake. Incredibly, we had not seen a Sea Lion during the day, nor did we the next, but during the night it had appeared, presenting a magic show of light that no one will ever forget.

But there's more. Ospreys nest on sea stacks, sometimes at eye-level, and we may have an opportunity for photographing these birds as they circle or return to their nests. We'll photograph beach life and cactus, colorful sunrises and sunsets, and numerous birds. Weather permitting, and it should, we may witness the Green Flash, an 'inferior-mirage' phenomenon that occurs at sunset in clear skies -- this shot is from Wikipedia, photographer BrokenInaGlory.

Our time on the Searcher, and cruising the western and southeastern shores of Baja and the Sea of Cortez will go too quickly, but there will be an incredible variety of subjects to photograph while we're there!


Trip Details

NOTE: There are no single supplements on this trip. There is only double occupancy on the boat.
Maximum People: 22-25 photographers

SPECIAL NOTE: We are not chartering this boat for an exclusive trip. Instead we will be a subgroup of the photography trip that the Searcher Natural History Tours run at this time. However, we can register as many people as we can so if we end up with 10 or 25 people, it won’t make any difference. Everyone on board the boat will be there for photography, for the same goal, so we will all work as a team.

The boat is big enough to accommodate this many photographers without compromising anybody’s shots. The captain, Art Taylor, is incredible and he will go around and around for hours if there is a huge school of dolphins that want to play with the boat. He loves it when everyone is ‘clicking’ away. Plus there will be a marine naturalist on board who will give lectures on what we see. It is ‘the ultimate Baja experience’.

Sometimes the shooting can be fast and furious, as when we have hundreds or thousands of dolphins zipping by (note the baby leaping in tandem with its mother), and sometimes the shooting is filled with expectation -- as when this Humpback breached over 70 times. Sometimes, with Orcas, the shooting is almost relaxed!

The price of the trip includes:

  • All meals included from breakfast on Day 2
    to breakfast on Day 12
  • Accommodations, double occupancy, on the boat

The price of the trip DOES NOT INCLUDE:

  • Transportation to San Diego and Fisherman’s Landing (where the Searcher is docked) on Day 1 and return from Cabo San Lucas on Day 12
  • Dinner on Day 1, lunch on Day 12
  • Extra hotel reservations prior to, or after, the main trip
  • Cab fee to the airport in Cabo San Lucas
  • Possible shuttle service to San Jose del Cabo for lunch on Day 12 and then service to the airport

SPECIAL NOTE: For all those who register, you will receive the following:

  • Information on what time to meet in San Diego and Fisherman’s Landing
  • Information on where to store your luggage on that day prior to boarding (I’ll coordinate luggage transfers for the group)
  • Recommendation on where to stay in San Diego if you choose to come in early
  • We will meet, as a group, for dinner on our last day. I’ll tell you where to meet.
  • Information on what time you can fly out of Cabo San Lucas
  • Suggestions on where to stay in Cabo if you choose to stay an extra night after the tour
  • Information on taxi service to the airport OR information on the shuttle option I mention above

If you would like to read a sample itinerary of what our trip will cover, please go to the link below. You can read the itinerary for the 2017 trip. Just click to expand the itinerary. 

Celia Condit, from the Searcher, will be handling all of the money transactions for this trip. Once our office receives your initial registration form, Berni will forward that form on to Celia. She will then send you the formal registration form from their end. At that time you will be required to complete and sign their form and to send in your deposit. Only at that time, after you have completed their registration formalities, will you be officially on the trip. So it is imperative for you to complete everything as soon as possible once you hear from The Searcher’s office.

You will receive a Welcome Packet of information from us. In that packet will be information on flights, hotels, etc. If you have any questions in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact us at (717) 543-6423. If we aren’t home, and Berni can’t answer your questions, she’ll consult with Celia at The Searcher’s office.

We are so excited about this trip and I hope that you are as well. We look forward to you joining us in 2017.

About Your Leaders

joe and maryMy wife Mary Ann and I strive to provide the most comfortable and thorough safari you will experience. Both Mary and I are photographers, and I'd hope you've seen our credits. These included Audubon, National Geographic, National Wildlife, Ranger Rick, Natural History, Living Bird, Birder's World, Wildlife Conservation, and most nature/wildlife calendars.
In 1994 Mary Ann won two first place awards in the prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, in Endangered Species and in Bird Behavior. In 1998 she had three highly commended images published in the BBC competition, ALL THREE from Kenya! She won first place in the Cemex/Nature's Best photo contest in the Humor Division for Professional Photographers. In 2003 she won first place in Mammal Behavior in the Agfa All Africa photo competition with a dust bathing bull elephant from Samburu. Mary has written a number of children's books, including Leopards, Grizzly Bears, Woodpeckers, Flying Squirrels, Sunflowers, Cobras, Jupiter, Boas, Garter Snakes, Pythons, Rattlesnakes, Ducks, Chickens, Horses, and Cows, and a coffee table book, Out of the Past, Amish Tradition and Faith.
I've written several how-to wildlife photography books -- A Practical Guide to Photographing American Wildlife, The Wildlife Photographer's Field Manual, The Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography, Designing Wildlife Photographs, Photographing on Safari, A Field Guide to Photographing in East Africa, and The New Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography. In 1999 Todtri published African Wildlife, and in 1999 we produced our first instructional video, A Video Guide to Photographing on Safari with Joe and Mary Ann McDonald. The video has received rave reviews, and it is the definitive guide for preparing yourself for a safari. I've won several times for highly commended images in both the Cemex/Nature's Best and the Agfa all Africa photo competitions. In 2003 I won 2nd place in the World in Our Hands category in the BBC competition with an image from Africa.
Mary and I were featured in the book, the World's Best Wildlife Photographers, and we write regularly appearing columns in Nature Photographer magazine and in several web magazines. Our latest book, Digital Nature Photography, From Capture to Output, is a PDF file that covers EVERYTHING you need to know about digital nature photography, including workflow, file management, RAW conversion, and maximizing the digital image. It is available directly through our office.

Contact our office at