Mid March of this year, Greg and Barbara MacGillivray traveled to Laguna San Ignacio located on Mexico’s Baja Penninsula to do a little whale watching. Even though San Ignacio is a whale watcher’s paradise, they received a special treat they weren’t expecting. A gray whale mother sought out the small boat of sightseers and introduced her baby to them. At one point she even held her calf to the surface so it could look at them.
Laguna San Ignacio, Part of the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, is where hundreds of gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) migrate annually, traveling about 6,000 miles (10,000 km) from their Alaskan feeding grounds to the warm shallow water of San Ignacio lagoon. There they mate and give birth between January and April.
“There is a constant ‘oofft’ of the exhalation from the blow holes of all the whales surfacing for air. Such a gentle reassurance that nature is alive and well in the lagoon: probably the softest, most gentle and nurturing sound in the world,” said Barbara.
“We would never approach the whales directly, but waited at a respectful distance of about 20-30 feet of a visible whale and calf to see if they would approach us. The initiative was always in the whales’ court.”
If a whale approaches the small fishing boats seeking human interaction, no more than two boats are allowed in the immediate area of the “friendly,” as these whales are called.
“Frequently, it seemed like the mother wanted us to see her calf, actively pushing the calf close to our boat,” Barbara said. Luckily they were able to record and share one such amazing event!
Believing in the importance of striking the right balance between conservation and tourism, Serge Dedina, the Executive Director of WiLDCOAST and author of Saving the Gray Whale, said, “There is no other area in the world where whale watching is more regulated than San Ignacio Lagoon. In spite of the tourist activities there are more whales than ever. Local outfitters, the Mexican government, and conservationists have worked to eliminate most of the major threats to the whales in the Lagoon… Whale watching guides have been the biggest proponents of preserving whales along their migratory routes, and stopping planned hunts of whales. They’ve also supported a major endeavor to preserve 400,000 acres of the lagoon.”
Considering a full grown gray whale can reach up to 52 feet (16 m) in length and weighs about 35 tons, this had to be a breath-taking experience. Ironically, Gray whales were once called devil fish because of their fighting behavior when hunted. You can learn more about the gray whale here.