My camera and eye have always been inspired by Nature. All my art from the Brush/Lens collaboration comes from the Long Island landscape…and now it is in process of becoming a book. Involvement in the Fire Island National Seashore project to nominate it to become a World Heritage Site has nudged me to look back to my early photography days with film and rewrite this post to share with you: A Whale of a Tale.
Have you ever petted a whale?
I have! It was fun and didn’t scare me one bit. Actually, it was more than fun. It was magic.
The California Gray Whales, colloquially known as the friendlies because they seem to love to be petted and as far as I know, it is not understood why they bond with the human hand.
As these whales migrate south each year from the Arctic, they pass through Bahia Magdalena in Baja California, which is part of Mexico on the Pacific side. Nature has conveniently designated this place as the maternity ward for pregnant female whales because it is a secluded cove with calm waters and significant salt content. These conditions are perfect for the travel schedule of the birthing mothers and the survival needs of the newborn calves, as they are immediately propelled to the surface to breathe air following their birth in the water. They are mammals and haven’t yet discovered that they have selective breathing.
The mother whales, called cows, feed their babies milk with an extremely high fat content. The milk consistency is like cottage cheese and with this nourishment, the calves gain 40-50 pounds a day!
An adult gray whale weighs 35-40 tons and is between 35-50 feet long. The baby weighs one ton at birth and is between 10-11 feet long.
To the touch, whales feel like ripe zucchini…firm yet a bit squishy. Up close their hair follicles are obvious and the young whales even have hair. As they mature they lose their hair…just like some people.
Magdalena Bay attracts visitors who are curious and interested in having close encounters with these enormous yet remarkable gentle giants. International regulations monitored by Mexico supervised tourism when I visited.
I do not know of any other place on earth that provides whale opportunities this up close and personal.
With my camera I have visited Mag Bay on two photography adventures, first in February 1993 and again in February 2002. Scanning my chromes and negs I am back in Baja feeling the mist of the friendlies’ spouting all over my face. After returning home I didn’t want to launder my blue jacket!
Having parented three children, I find a similarity of behavior to the curiosity of young children who approach strangers fearlessly. During both of my visits our guides documented whale behavior and sightings. The mother whale often swam between her calf and our panga to nudge her child away from us. Sometimes the calf obeyed and swam away but most of the time the calf didn’t listen and returned to be petted. The mother whale then escalated her displeasure and pushed the calf away or tapped or splashed our panga to encourage us to leave. On one occasion a mother whale swam under our panga and lifted us into the air with her tail and then let us splash into the water. We were directed to sit on the floor of the panga for stabilization. It was a very exciting adventure. On another occasion the mother whale came to us to be petted along with her child. It was an amazing morning and after we enjoyed the intimacy we moved our panga away and the mother and child followed us to continue the petting. It’s fun reliving the adventure and enjoy sharing my whale of a tale with you!