Gray Whale Adventure

What a start to the year! From gawking at orcas in Norway straight to playing with gray whales in Mexico. 

gray whale calf, baja, mexico
Inquisitive gray whale calf with its mother visible in the background (License image)

Each winter, the eastern Pacific population of gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) travels down the west coast of Canada and the United States to have babies (and presumably make more babies) in and around calving lagoons along the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Reports I've read recently suggest that there's been a bumper crop of babies this year. I'm pretty sure those reports are correct, 'cause we sure saw a lot of little whales.

Many, like the one pictured above, were happy, healthy and inquisitive, approaching boats of tourists for a bit of fun...with their mothers' blessings of course.

gray whales, baja california, mexico
My friends admiring mommy and baby gray whales (License image)

No one knows why these marine mammals, which were hunted extensively in these very same lagoons, are so friendly and relaxed around people. But the fact that they are makes for a unique experience.

When the mood strikes them, females with calves seem to nudge their babies toward boats and encourage them to interact. Some mothers (which can be around 15m, 35 tonnes) also participate.

And when I say play, I mean full-on interaction—mothers and calves rubbing against boats, reaching up to people, babies gurgling and reveling in the attention. As accustomed as I am to being among wild animals, it's still difficult for me to wrap my mind around the intimacy of such interactions. Play is initiated, and ended, entirely by the animals. It's just mind-blowing

On our final day, a lone male wandered over for a visit. In 23 years of being on the water, said our captain, it was only the second time he'd seen a male approach a boat. It was, to say the least, a special experience.

The male was somewhat smaller than the adult females (that's typical for baleen whales). When he came over, the whale didn't just pass by for a casual chat. Nope. He gave us all he had, and then some!

The male gray rubbed our boat, pushed it slowly in circles; he rolled around to the left, to the right, upside down...rolled and rubbed every which way until our muscles ached from the effort of engaging him.

Then he left. We waved goodbye, thanking him for his time, then moved on.

adult male gray whale
Adult male gray whale playing "Peekaboo" (License image)

A few minutes later...our friend came back for a second sensational session of rubbing, rolling, reveling.

Then he left again. And we waved again. And we left again. And he came back again.

Only this time, he breached about five metres from the boat. Everyone screamed with excitement, which may have contributed to his next stunt.

He breached about 1.5m from the boat, splashing the bow. Woohoo!

Then he left, this time for good.

I know that attributing human traits to non-humans is generally frowned upon (by humans of course), but d*mn if the whale wasn't saying "So long, and thanks for all the belly rubs!"

gray whale watching baja california
Gray whale and whale watching boat, Baja California Sur (License image)

I have to finish packing. I'm heading out the door again in a few hours. So I'll wrap-up this short post with a photo of my friends dressing me up and making fun of me while I'm trying to work. No respect...sheesh.

nana, julian making fun of me
Troublemaker "friends" preventing me from concentrating on work

Thanks Maria, Serene, Juanita, Nana, Julian, Ildi for a terrific trip!