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Reisverslag The gray whale
21 februari 2017
The gray whale
Not only humans are crazy enough to travel such distances. Another mammal that migrates from Alaska to about where we are now, is the gray whale. These guys go more or less in a straight line as they follow the coast quite closely for navigation purposes. Although they go slower than us, they continue 24 hours a day and thus are overall quite a bit faster. We’ve seen them go south whenever we hit the Pacific ocean in California. We would see a large mass in the water that gives out a fountain of breath every couple of minutes. We’ve learned that about three months a year they spend going South on their roughly 10.000 km journey, then about three months they spend here in the Baja, followed by three months of journeying back, and three months of feeding in seas between Alaska and Russia, where the ice will be gone when they arrive, and plenty of little shrimp wait at the bottom to be consumed by these vacuum cleaners. What they do here in the Baja? We went to investigate…
There are a couple of lagoons here in the Baja that are the major destination for these whales. We went to Scammon’s lagoon, close to Guerrero Negro, a city where our route passed through anyways. The tour was highly regulated to protect the welfare of the whales. For example, only twice a day for three hours could maximum six little zodiacs be in the area with the whales. However, our tour guide forgot to tell his story in English, so that we didn’t know where to NOT touch a whale, which would have came in handy. But more about that later. The main reason the about 1500 (!) whales are all here in this lagoon is that they are mainly pregnant females who come here to birth. The entire population of these whales is estimated to be more than 23,000. The females birth about every other year, and carry their baby for about a full year. The water is these lagoons nice and warm and the salinity high, meaning it’s relatively easy for their “little” babies (4.5 meter long, and weight of about a ton at birth) to float. At birth their muscles are not trained, but they have to come up regularly to breath. High salinity means better floating, but also, we saw that the moms help by pushing their offspring to the surface and holding them there on their moms’ backs. Super cute. The babies drink about 200 liters of milk a day, which consists for 40% of fat. Their moms spend time with them swimming to develop muscles and learning them all the other secrets of being a whale. Mom and baby like touching and spend a lot of time close to each other, which is great to observe. Apparently, they also like human touching and will sometimes come up to the boats to get a pet on their nose. Sometimes the moms even encourage the babies to get near the boats. Unfortunately, we did not experience that, but we could come pretty close without feeling we disturbed them. When the babies grow a bit older, mom will take her little one out of the lagoon to the ocean, to face some larger current and get used to colder conditions. And one day, she won’t turn around at the end of the day, but just keeps on swimming north…
While moms and babies are enjoying some prime time in the lagoon, it’s also busy at the mouth and in front of the lagoon. This is where the adult males and young whales are hanging around. One favorite thing for them to do is breaching, which is standing up for about 3/4th out of the water and then falling to the side. To impress the ladies or to get rid of parasites and barnacles on their skin? Nobody knows. But it’s a very impressive sight to see a 12 meters long creature appear from the depths and causing a gigantic splash. They might just have fun? There is also mating going on, I guess this is the main reason the males are hanging out, and we also got to have a look at that. We thought some grown whales were just playing, but then we saw a certain body part sticking out of the water when a whale rolled around its axis, and all four of us in the little boat realized at the same time what was really going on in front of us.
Overall, it was a truly amazing place to be. If there are 1500 whales in a lagoon with you, that means wherever you look, you see fountains of whales breathing and you want to be everywhere at the same time. We boated to the mouth of the lagoon, so saw moms with babies on the way, and lots of breaching and mating in the mouth. At some point I was in the nose of our zodiac, and saw through the somewhat clear water a whale swimming under us. I thought I would be able to touch him, but one movement of the tail and he was gone. Seeing the entire body made the creature seem so large! A while later, a whale was surfacing next to us, giving us the tail (meaning he was planning on a deep dive). The tail came out of the water so close that Leigh managed to give him a little rub over the tail. Like he was being tickled, he suddenly speeded away with somewhat quick movements of the tail. We learned later that eyes, breathing hole, fins and tails were spots where whales don’t like touching. Ah…
Another incredible place in the world that was definitely worth the visit!
Foto's bij verslag (4)
22 februari 2017 08:21 | Door: lodey
Wat spannend en grooooots!
Ha det bra,
22 februari 2017 15:37 | Door: Marjolijn
22 februari 2017 19:38 | Door: Ton van der Weerd
Hoi Annette, ik hoor je nog zeggen toen we in Finland waren: "Als ik terug ben ga ik maar eens naar de Noordkaap fietsen". Mafkees was mijn antwoord. Geweldig wat je doet!!!!
26 februari 2017 01:35 | Door: Dev
So great to hear updates from your adventures. What an incredible experience! Really enjoy hearing from you and seeing your photos. We have all missed you at Brookvale this winter and hoping lots of skiing still to come. Keep the updates coming!