First Winter Away - 2005 travel blog

what a thrill

barnacle head

pet the whale

waiting to be petted

Just because you never heard of a spot, doesn't mean it isn't a pretty special place. We are in Guerrero Negro, on a well protected bay about half way up the Pacific side of the Baja. The town is here because the secluded bay was an easy place to evaporate sea water and produce salt. We are here because this is a great spot to watch gray whales. The whales are here because it is a safe spot to have their babies. They pig out on krill in the Alaskan waters and cruise 1200 miles south to give birth. The males stay in the mouth of the bay and keep whale enemies from coming in. The mothers-to-be like the warm, shallow, salty water because it's a good place to give birth and produce the 10 gallons of milk a day they need for their young. The babies do well here because the water is so salty that they are buoyant without much effort. And we are here because the whales feel so safe and comfortable that they allow us to approach and chose to come close to our boats themselves and even allow us to pet them. This has been going on here for at least fifty years and generations of whales have learned that it's OK to let the tourist boats approach and the tummy rubs they get from tourists shrieking with joy feel pretty darn good.

And to think we almost didn't come on this tour. We had been whale watching before and aside from a spout on the horizon or a distant fluke hitting the water, we had to use our imaginations for the rest. When we stopped for lunch today, there were six whales circling us, cruising underneath the boat and rolling over as if to show us their huge bodies from every possible angle. Their heads were surprisingly soft and covered with barnacles. Every so often a deep whale breath would cover us with salty spray and an occasional tail splash made us feel like the whales were having as much fun with us as we were with them.

Our guides explained that these whales had been hunted to just about extinction by the turn of the last century, but these days the population is stable and is governed by the ebb and flow of food availability in Alaska. Tourist encounters like ours are strictly limited to a certain area and the whales can put a stop to the whole thing if they feel stressed simply by swimming away. Our guide also said that this is a special spot for all kinds of water birds that also migrate from the north just like we have, but that is the subject for another blog entry....

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