Voyages of Discovery - Julie

Our boat had just 6 foot clearance over the sandbar at the lagoon entrance. It was, we had been told, the reason for 34 of us being squeezed onto a former coastguard, now fishing boat, just 95 feet long. We could enter this unspoiled natural place and stay moored for a day or two. I had voyaged a third of the way around the world to be here. 150 years ago the whaling ships were manhandled over the sandbar. The few that risked their ships on the shifting sands saw exactly the same treeless shores, the giant, pale coloured sand dunes and mangrove swamp that we do today. It is a human-less place then and now. They set up temporary rendering factories ready for the slaughter. Today there is a small temporary tented camp for whale watchers.

For in this sheltered haven the grey whales come to carve, long before the whalers and hopefully now forever. The thin blubbered calves fatten up and grow strong on their mother’s rich milk in just a few months. We watched in awe as mothers led their calves by our anchorage heading for the channels in the sandbars. They make the calves swim against the strong tides to strengthen them for the long summer swim back to the Artic feeding grounds. The whalers picked them off like a barrel shoot, calling the desperate mothers “devil fish” as they fought to protect their young.

Economic extinction and a call up of sea captains for the American Civil War ended the killing. Since whales numbers have been slowly increasing. Several thousand come to this place on the Baja coast, sharing it with a dozen small panagas from the camp. And then the most miraculous thing happens. You sit in your small, metal panga slapping the calm waters and the whales come. 40 foot long, longer than the panga, they lie on their sides in the water beside you, looking up with a large leashed brown eye. They have bristles along their jaw reminding us they are mammals too, not fish. The bristles are stiff like a garden broom set in a dimple an inch across. Barnacle-encrusted they want a scratch. So you dutifully scratch and rub, they cat-like, roll right over, closing that large eye seemingly in bliss whilst gently opening and closing their huge baleen filled mouth. A wild animal choosing us.

I scratched the head of a great beast at its biding not mine. I rubbed its soft rubbery lip and stroked the bristly baleen, my heart bursting with joy. Her enormous head rose up out of the water and I kissed the devil fish, crying salty tears to match her salty blow. Forgiven are we? Or just a convenient rubbing post? Later back on our boat watching the whales go by I had flashes of bloody seas, terrible screams and overwhelming feelings of guilt. Today two distance species have discovered peace and love, and scratching, and the slaughter must never happen again.