Entering this year I was extremely excited for my 2017 trip to the Gray Whale lagoons. However, I entered it knowing that I may decide not to travel there next year knowing that I may decide on a different trip.
That mindest changed very quickly.
There is something about seeing these whales and interacting with them that inevitably leads one to the conclusion that this "once in a lifetime" trip is something that is worth experiencing again. The experience was different, but equally precious, to my time the year before and I suspect that is playing a role in my decision to return. I did two things differently this year. I made it a point to focus on a shorter lens primarily and take more video with the camera and GoPro, and I also made it a point to PUT THEM AWAY and enjoy the interaction more, alternating spots with my fellow passengers in an effort to get good footage but also to soak in the joy a little more. Both decisions would peove to be wise.
The time frame of my trip was similar to last year, with cow/calf pairs dominating the interaction though a few single adults and weaned juveniles were still present. As if the continued allure of the Gray Whales weren't enough, the people of San Ignacio remain as kind and welcoming as ever and I was humbled to have received their hospitality. The birds were not as present, however I was excited by the more numerous Ospreys and my first officially documented Little Blue Heron. Black Sea Turtles and Bottlenose Dolphin were also once again sighted. Aside from the bookshelf moving to the opposite side of the palapa the camp was exactly as I remembered it. One of the vits of information I learned this year was that the campside, buildings and all, could be removed and all footprint of the site removed in as little as one week. Sleep came easily and mornings came readily as each day began. The weather was so nice on one day we indulged in a second whale watch that paid great dividends for morale.
The food remained exceptional, and I doubt even the top restaurants in Southern California where I hail from could compete with the fresh ingredients, careful preparation, and satisfying flavors. My favorites from 2016, the giant sea scallops and the Chilaquiles, made repeat visits to the menu. As part of my endeavour to learn more I kept a note and wrote each thing I had learned new or had previously forgotten. I gleaned several facts about the migration that will really improve my naturalist presentations on the Gray Whales.
The encounter that stood out the most was on our final whale watch of the trip. After passing a few uninterested whales a very excited calf came over to the boat and, along with a gentle and patient mother who was gargantuan in size, played with the boat for half an hour. The calf played with us for so long the boat drifted out of the viewing area and into a zone where whale interaction is not permitted. Our respectful and observant crew had to take us away from the pair and back into the designated viewing area. This highlighted to me the great respect these animals are given by the locals that they would observe these rules readily and without question. Despite leaving, the friendly whales followed us back into the designated viewing area of the lagoon and played with us until we drifted out again, this time the mother had other designs for her calf and escorted it away.
Words do not adequately describe the joy I felt during this encounter and I consider it the single greatest whale watching experience of my life. The decisions I made earlier paid off wonderfully as I do not think I would have has as much fun taking photos constantly and the footage I did get was spectacular. I barely used my longer lens and I am debating on even packing it next year.
As I type this paragraph on the flight hone the open ocean is to my left, where these Gray whales will travel through before entering the waters I call home in California. I wonder if I will see them again and resolve to categorize my pictures to find out. On my right side is the Sea of Cortez, the last bastion of the critically endangered Vaquita. At barely 3 feet long this porpoise species may not survive beyond the decade as fewer than thirty individuals survive. The species has been decimated by fishing for tototaba, a delicacy in Asia that fetches very high prices and eager fishermen use drift gillnets despite heavy regulations and bans on bad practices. It is a strong reminder that while the Gray Whales I have left in the lagoons, and the surrounding biosphere are a resounding conservation success story, there is a lot of work that needs to be done urgently for the ENTIRE ocean, and not just the whales that take the spotlight.
My spirit rejuvenated, my resolve steeled, my focus sharpened, I am ready to return to the job that I need to do. The age of cetacean captivity is coming to an end and ecotourism with a responsible message is rapidly replacing the marine park at the front lines of Ocean Education. The primary role of the Naturalist is to inspire others with a powerful message and good examples.
Let's do this