In the sun-toasted desert of Southern Baja, Mexico, there is a remote lagoon where giant creatures have gathered each year since long before man. It is a place of magic, where dreams are fulfilled and fantasies come true. It is called San Ignacio.
When I need solace and introspection, I find it here, where the vast horizon is ringed with purple mountains and rolling sand dunes, and where coyotes sing me to sleep with towering arias to the moon. It is a land so vast and open as to reduce the mightiest ego to a grain of sand; part of the Vizcaino Biosphere, where a quarter of the Baja peninsula and all of its creatures are under federal protection. For 20 seasons, I have worked among them as a guide and naturalist.
The lagoon is the only place on earth where wild animals, in their natural habitat, routinely seek human contact. It is a place of sanctuary where they are not hunted. These creatures, which weigh a ton at birth and can reach 40 tons at adulthood, return annually in a migration that covers almost 14,000 miles, because they know they are safe here. It is, in fact, a giant nursery where young calves are taught the fine art of being a whale. Born with little instinct, they are helpless as human infants and learn everything from swimming to eating by mimicking their mother. From the time she pushes it to the surface to draw its first breath, mother has six to eight weeks to get her prodigy in shape to swim 7,000 miles through Orcas and sharks to northern waters of Alaska where they will feed for the summer. If she dies, the baby will soon follow as Gray whales are not known to adopt orphans.
Mother whales approach our boats with their calves to show off their handiwork, a behavior not seen on the open ocean. They hold them on their backs or swim upside down with baby on their stomach or pectoral fin. I believe coming to our boats is a reward granted by mother when the baby has had a good day of conditioning. That sort of makes us their bath tub toys as they sometimes push us around, all the while being gentle as kittens. Our acceptance of each other as equals is immediate and lasting. I have been eye to eye with them; seen their intelligence, and felt them press against my outstretched hands. I have had them stay with me for hours, both of us studying the other, all the while feeling safe in each-others’ presence. They are benign giants who desire our companionship, and I have come to know individuals who return here year after year, easily identifiable by color patterns, scarring, and birth marks. The fishermen who drive our boats have named many of them. But, the ocean is a harsh mistress and there is a natural and unexplainable death rate among these creatures that is a heartbreaking fact of nature. (To be continued)