Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Whale Tales Part 3: Friendly Gray Whales

One would think that we would have had our fill of whales after a week in the Sea of Cortez. This was not the case, however, and we could not pass up the opportunity to see the gray whales when we arrived at the west side of the Baja peninsula. There are 2 major lagoons on the Pacific side of Baja where the gray whales spend the winters, mate, and give birth. In the spring, the whales migrate north to their feeding grounds in the Bering Strait and Chukchi Sea around Alaska. As a species, the gray whales have the longest migration route of any mammal.

Gray whales are also unique because they are bottom-feeding baleen whales; they scrape the sea floor searching for small crustaceans. They are covered in barnacles, and have an interesting habit of bringing their heads straight out of the water until their eyes are exposed, and looking around above the surface.

When we first went out into the lagoon this morning, we saw many whales looking around like this. We also saw tons of spouts and a few breaching whales in the distance. George described the lagoon as "whale soup" because there were so many whales in the lagoon. Our guide said that there are around 1600 whales in this lagoon. We could see many pairs of mamas and calves swimming nearby. Gray whales are considered "friendly whales", and the mama whales will often bring their babies up to the boats. We did not have this experience, but we did find 2 very friendly adult whales who took a shine to our boat. They frolicked and wallowed under and around us for about 40 minutes, until it was time to go. Click here to see the video I took of the whales when they first joined our boat.

Here's a few other short videos of our experience.

We even got to touch these whales. They brought their heads up right by the boat, and would stay still for us to "pet" them for several seconds. They seemed to love the attention.

Here are some good shots of the whale's eye as they would look right at us.

These whales are so friendly that it's hard to imagine that they were once called "devil-fish". However, these amazing animals were hunted to near extinction. In the late 1850's, an American whaler named Charles Scammon found this lagoon and the one just south of here, which were the last refuges of the gray whales. In just a few short seasons, he killed nearly all the whales here, and they named this lagoon "Scammon's Lagoon". (I call it it's Spanish name: Ojo de Liebre: Eye of the Jack-Rabbit.) When hunted, these whales become very aggressive and have been known to attack whaling boats; the only other species of whale known to do this is the sperm whale.

The gray whales have made an amazing come-back now that most countries, besides Japan and Iceland, have ceased commercial whaling. Their increase in numbers is obvious in this "whale soup", but this Pacific population of gray whales is still considered "critically endangered". I'm hoping that these endearing mammals continue to be fertile and well fed until they regain their proper numbers. Let's wish them well!

1 comment:

  1. How could you not love a planet where creatures like this exist. Beautiful.