San Ignacio Lagoon
March 05-09, 2011
By Tom O'brien
Gray whale mating generally involves three whales: two males and one female. The groups travel and roll around together for days, often swimming notably more quickly than the other whales, then swirling into a splashing, thrashing tumble of body parts. It’s hard to distinguish fluke from flipper and one whale from another as we watch from cautious distances, because mating is the one time that the whales abandon their otherwise precise spatial awareness of their peripheral body parts. The males cooperate more than compete, with one mating while the other supports the female as a “bolster pillow”. They then switch roles and take turns with the consenting female.
What we see on the surface is a turbulent confusion that is both chaotic and graceful at the same time. Finally a huge tailstock will rise up from the sea surface, seemingly defying gravity, then another with an emphatic slap and splash, then the whole group submerges for an anxious moment. “Now keep an eye out for the Pink Floyd when they surface . . .” we warn in anticipation. A head surfaces with a snorting blow, then a pectoral fin, edge of a fluke and rolling, rolling, rolling. “Oh my God, there it is!” everyone cries with excitement. Our urologist smiles with satisfaction, confirming in his camera screen that this one will end up on his office wall.
By Tom O’Brien, Campo Cortez naturalist guide.
Photo A: “What a Big Head”, by guest Jonathan Muller
Photo B: The Pink Floyd, by guest Krista Billinghurst (March 9 – 13 trip)