Some Insight on Gray Whales
03/05/2011 76 °F
There were four of us in the panga including our whale-whispering guide, Jimmy, who had a unique ability to coax whales to come close. And it was CLOSE! A Fifty-foot long mother gray whale was floating perpendicular to our boat directly beneath us. It was about two feet away, and despite my gorilla arm length was inches out of reach. So close, yet so far.
I’m ok with that. Close encounters with whales are as moving as watching a gorgeous sunrise light up the alto-cumulus, or finding a mountain meadow full of wildflowers. Her calf was very curious, and surfaced a couple of feet away. In fact, it gave one of us a slap with his tail on her palm. I like to think it was a high five, though she didn’t see it my way.
After our friends moved on, swimming away, practicing for the long migration up to Alaska, we looked about us and saw gray whales everywhere. There were more mother and calf pairs, seemingly synchronized in their swimming, breathing and blowing at the same time. A great big billowing cloud of misted salt snot for mom, and a cute little puff of salty snot mist for the calf. Speaking from experience, the smell of whale breath is far sweeter down here in Mexico than it is in Alaska. In Alaska, the humpback whales are feeding heavily on herring, giving their breath a horrible noxious mixture of rotten fish belches. The gray whales down here aren’t feeding yet. They have to migrate up to Alaska before they feed, and so their breath is relatively clean smelling. It’s weird to think about, but I’ve breathed the same air a whale has breathed.
Look at the “knuckles” on this particular mother. The gray whale is a very unique looking compared to other whales. It doesn’t have a dorsal fin, it has “knuckles” This is an old whale, though nobody is really sure how old these whales are. Gray whales don’t have teeth, which usually tell us a whale’s age, they use baleens to eat, separating their food from water. Some think that the whales swimming in Magdalena bay are old enough to remember being hunted by whalers.
The gray whale was known as the “Devil Fish”, as they would fight harder than any other whale when harpooned. The harpooners who were dumb enough to harpoon a gray whale calf would have to face the angry mother attempting to save her baby, and there are tales of skiffs smashed to pieces by enraged whales.
If these whales remember whaling, the fact that these mothers bring their calves to our zodiacs to let us touch, pet, hug and kiss them, is amazing. These whales should give all of humanity hope that there are beings far more forgiving than man is. Man has spent decades trying to kill whales, and in some countries still are. However, these whales, these magnificent gray whales of Magdalena bay, have crossed over and connected with us. This is unprecedented, and it is one of the coolest, feel good stories of the year.
Everyone who I have talked to concerning touching a whale, has this to say, “It is really, really cool!” or “It’s one of the highlights of my life!” The consensus is, we love whales. I’ve yet to see someone who’s seen a whale up close say, “BAH! So I touched a stupid whale, all it did was come up to the boat, and splash around.” It just doesn’t happen.
While hiking along the western dunes of Isla Magdalena, I came across a couple sets of whale bones. They were very large pieces, some vertebra, and I think a skull. The scouring westerly winds combined with sand, and hot sun had polished and bleached them pure white. I stopped to look at these bones, and composed a few photos, but mostly I was thinking about the life of the gray whale and their bones on Isla Magdalena. It makes sense that if whales are born here in the warm shallow waters in Magdalena bay that they might come home to die as well. This small island is witness to the gray whale’s life from cradle to grave life coming full circle here in Magdalena Bay.
I ran my hands over the smooth bones, pondering my own journey. Isla Magdalena is a very powerful and peaceful place. It’s a great place to wander and think. I love the white noise of the rolling waves, the wind continually shaping and remaking the textures of sand make for a pleasant place to lose yourself, and explore a unique place as well. The island collects interesting bits of ocean life. Next to my whale skull was the skeleton of a turtle. I really liked the skull. It was very cool. I’ve found five turtle shells in my jaunts around the island so far. I really like the shells of Magdalena Bay. Look at the colorful detail of this shell. I knew I was in the right place, and on the right path. My lucky number is number nine, and to find one of such vibrancy, was reassuring that I am where I should be.
I walked on my way, feeling good, and enjoying life. This is how it ought to be.