Gray Whales of San Ignacio Lagoon
By: Liisa Juuti
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.