Archive for March, 2012

Old Friends

Thursday, March 15th, 2012
Sea lion napping

Siesta. Photo by Susan Simcox.

There’s been more paddling than usual in the last week or two since our friend Gail has been here and Leif and Susan have taken her under their wing so to speak and introduced her to their foot-propelled kayaks. We paddled or pedaled down to the Vista al Mar on Tuesday and though we didn’t see much wildlife on the trip south, on our way back we did encounter the big sea lion, who has been scarce recently. He was having his afternoon nap, just as Leif has described him, sleeping on his back but with one flipper prominently raised, lifting his head twice a minute to breathe. Our three boats gathered near and we watched him until he woke, whereupon he snorted a bit and dived, but didn’t seem inclined to hasten off. He sounded a couple times to check for fish but it was the humans who eventually turned for home. We heard him speaking again a short time later, but believe that his remarks were intended for another sea lion and probably concerned his claim on that particular volume of water.

Nearer to Punta Nopoló I spotted one of our local raven pair and was lucky to see her returning to her nest, on a ledge near a big bare spot on the east-facing cliff. Though we have been on speaking terms for several years they never mentioned their address. They have at least one youngster and I suspect two; the time they have been spending among the palapas down at the beach must be regarded as work and not play, or at least not all play.

Bahía Magdalena

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Gray whale at Magdalena BayOur location here on the Sea of Cortez puts the Pacific Ocean not far off; and today we motored across the peninsula to Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos  to visit the gray whales who come there to bear their young.  I had always assumed that whales would find pangas full of tourists intrusive at such a time, but it appears that the babies are curious and the moms enjoy showing them off, or maybe teaching them some elementary lessons about the world.  Thus it was that we came to to be able to touch a large cetacean in the wild for the first time.

For their part, the humans involved are very well organized. The boats wait like taxis in a rank and a well-spoken agent matches passengers with their captains. Food and sanitation are available before or after the trip and though neither is free there are probably few complaints. No special clothing is required, though some insulation is a good idea because the boats travel rapidly on their way out and back. Decorative life jackets are provided.

In the big area at the north end of Magdalena Bay, we probably competed with about eight other boats, but there were plenty of whales to go around. We quickly found our first baby, who seemed to be glad to see us and in fact wanted to be sure to be petted by each person aboard the boat.  Another youngster had a different idea of play, pushing our panga along through the water, first from the starboard side and then the port, while we enjoyed our new role as bath toy.  Mothers dote from nearby, or sometimes enjoy interacting themselves.  It is an interesting feeling to realize that you have the attention of someone who weighs forty tons.  The males, who are somewhat smaller, wait further offshore during this time.

The babies, who are about sixteen feet at birth, the length of our kayaks back in Loreto, are as playful as any mammals at this age.  Good sportsmanship is exhibited by all, remembering that in the other, Atlantic, ocean their species was totally wiped out by ours, and that in the western Pacific only a small fraction of their population survives. At the height of their slaughter grays were apparently quite belligerent toward whalers.  Is today’s goodwill gesture on their part at all purposeful?  One would like to take a whale to lunch, but a closeup glimpse of their baleens reminds us that some cultural differences are likely to remain.