Last night I asked my fellow guides what do they feel when being
around the whales. We were in the middle of the desert at night, staring at the
sky with beautiful shooting stars, waiting for the car engine to cool down to
get back to our camp. Our attempt to get to the village to celebrate the whale
festival had failed and we were contemplating our experience of the camp under
the stars. "Joy. Happiness." says Rubi, pouring the last bit of water
to the radiator. "Well, they just totally crack me up every time I see
them" says Hayley while making odd movements and singing a song with
whale-related lyrics. It is our second last night at the camp.
The next day, on our last day at the camp, Cuco kindly offers to take
us, guides, to a whale watching trip so that we can touch, kiss and play with
them, too. But to our surprise and amusement NONE of them approach us. Not a
single one of them! We sing to them, splash, call for them in different tones,
just as we encourage our clients to do. But they keep hiding. Hayley wonders if
they have already left the lagoon. But I know they are still out there. Maybe
they are too sad to come and say goodbye, I reckon. We end up having a wonderful
yet nostalgic whale watching trip, without seeing any whales.
It is difficult to leave the lagoon. I have gotten used to the busy
routine, ever changing sunrises, the sound of the bell calling for whale
watching or happy hour, the stingy look of the coyotes, the red mangrove seeds
floating in the water, the whale smell on my face and the "norteña"
music. Not to mention the gorgeous night walks to the bathroom lit by the stars
and moon, the daily interaction with the whales or the many giggles with the
guides and the family at Campo Cortez. It has been such a positive and intense
experience and I have difficulties assimilating it. All I can say is THANK YOU.
Thank you whales, thank you family at Campo Cortez, thank you Hayley and Rubi,
and thank you clients! Not only have I learned from the whales, birds,
invertebrates and plants around the lagoon, but also from the many interesting
and inspiring guests. Oh, and what do I feel when around the whales?
Peace. Bliss. Grace. And Love. What else can one ask for? I am ready to migrate
to my home, just as the grays. See you next year!
We just finished
another very busy week at Campo Cortez full of interesting people from all over
the world. People hear about the gray whales being friendly in San Ignacio Lagoon,
but it is truly an experience that picture and videos cannot do justice. It is
something that does not get old, and will always move you. Every group asks me
if this job gets old, but the whales are healing and make everything worth it.
Each time a whale approaches the boat I become giddy and cannot stop laughing
and loving every move these animals make.
Campo Cortez is a
leader of ecotourism in Mexico. On the final night of the groups Maldo gives a
talk on Campo Cortez. He has been taking people out to see the whales for 28
years and has run Campo Cortez for 15 years. All of the people who live in this
lagoon are the stewards of the wildlife. Maldo camp is one of the few places in
all of Baja to obtain an eco-friendly certification. This involved around 2
years of work where Maldo and his family redid the camp so that everything is
recycled and reused. Maldo passes this love for the environment to everyone in
his family and all the visitors to the lagoon. It is because of people like him
that this tourism has developed in such a pure and beautiful way.
What an exciting week in the lagoon full of mothers with their curious
and playful calves begging for attention. The representatives of CONANP (the
National Commission for Protected Areas) do an official counting of the whales
in the lagoon every week. They run the boat at a slightly higher speed than the
whales swim, scanning through the entire lagoon and counting them by their
blows. At the moment there are 131 whales in the lagoon; 57 cows with their
calves and 17 males.
The calves are growing up fast! When born a couple of months back, the
grays in this lagoon were around 4 meters (12 feet) long and weighted about 800
kg (1800 pounds). During the first months they drink 150 liters (50 gallons) of
their mothers’ 53 % fat milk per day and can grow 80 kg (180 pounds) per day.
Now they measure about 6-8 meters (18-24 feet). The gray whales are born with
their tail first to avoid drowning. There is always another female, “midwife”,
assisting the birth. The mothers wait until the calves are about the half of their
total size before they start heading back to their feeding grounds in Alaska. I
read that once the calves are a bit older, the mothers take them to the
Southern parts of the lagoon where the current is stronger as to train them for
the North-ward trip. It is estimated that only 50-70% of the calves make it to
the North though, due to the deaths caused by the orcas.
One of my sisters just had a baby and so she asked me whether I think
the mother whales feel the same bliss with their new born around as we humans
do. When you see the calves resting on their mothers back, swimming in perfect
synchrony or the mothers lifting their babies to get them closer to the boats,
I don’t doubt the love bind between them at all! During the whaling period the
gray whales were known to be the hardest whale to kill, defending their life
and that of their babies to the end.
As the season gets
closer to its end, I am getting keener and keener on this beautiful lagoon.
Needless to say, I have completely fallen in love with the whales. I
truly feel blessed to interact with a wild animal in its breeding ground in
such a direct manner, and most of all, to have the privilege to share the
experience with all our guests visiting Campo Cortez.
The grays have been
around for thousands of years. You can see images of them in ancient cave
paintings in Baja Peninsula. In the 18th
and early 19th century whaling became
a popular industry around the world, mainly because of the whale oil used in
lighting the European and American houses. The three breeding lagoons in
Mexico, San Ignacio Lagoon included, quickly became slaughter houses for
thousands of whales. The whole species nearly went extinct but the banning of
commercial whaling by International Whaling Commission in 1946 and a switch to
petroleum products saved the gray whales. On the other hand, if it wasn’t for
the visionary and conservationist Pachico Mayoral’s (RIP) courage to approach a
friendly gray, maybe the whole whale watching industry wouldn’t have started.
Gray whales live up to
80 years. Only 25 years passed between the end of the whaling period and the
first friendly contact with a gray whale, so possibly the very same whales that
witnessed the massacre of their whale brothers in these lagoons are the same
ones that came to get their tummies scratched in the early 70s and maybe even
today. I find it irrelevant to discuss whether the grays remember their past.
What is for sure is that we do remember.
It is critically important to
protect these breeding areas. Besides the killer whales, humans are gray whales’
biggest threat. Big corporations have always had an interest in these lagoons.
Thanks to the local people Mitsubishi’s plans for the world’s largest salt mine
in San Ignacio Lagoon 20 years ago were stopped. The project would have had
hazardous consequences both for the lagoon and to its whales. However, the salt
plant was never made illegal and the threat of a large corporation coming in is
still very real. Those who have had the opportunity to visit the lagoon and
interact with the grays know how unique and fragile this place is. We need your
help! Keep this lagoon always in your hearts and stay up to date with the
issues that San Ignacio faces.