This time of the year we receive one of the most popular visitors of the Baja Peninsula: gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus). Every winter, gray whales embark on an epic trip from their summer home in Alaska´s waters to the warm waters of Baja California´s lagoons. This is one of the greatest migrations in the animal kingdom, a round-trip of around 20000 km (12000 miles), an epic journey full of dangers. This week I would like to share their story, because it is one of hope, one that shows us that if we act soon, there is still time for life to bounce back.
During the mid-1800s and early 1900s, gray whales were slaughtered for their meat and fat to almost extinction. In their nursing lagoons of Baja California, they were easy prey. Fishermen called them “devil fish” because when losing their calves to whalers, the mothers would destroy their boats. There was an open war between whales and humans, one that whales were losing.
Finally, gray whales became internationally protected in 1947. After almost disappearing, the population rebounded, going back to almost pre-whaling numbers.
The war was over and, after decades, the whales changed the way they saw humans: in San Ignacio, gray whales started approaching fishermen’s boats, not to attack them, but to greet them. The whales seemed to want people around and even allowed fishermen to pet them. Such a special interaction brought ecotourism to the fishing villages, which are visited every year by people from all over the world.
Today, gray whales and people are intimately connected, they are part of the local culture and are highly regarded, being one of the most iconic species in Baja California.