Petting whales

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I finished my field work at Guerrero Negro a couple of weeks ago and I even arrived and  settled in Monterey, CA ready to keep working on my thesis. I didn’t have the time until now to write about my last days in Baja, where I had one of the best experiences of my life.

I was lucky enough to be invited twice to a whale watching tour at Laguna Ojo de Liebre. On my first trip, I had the boat for my own which allowed us (me and the driver) to stay in the areas we wanted. It was amazing how in one of our stops for admiring the sea and the dozens of water jets coming out of the whales, a mom whale used us for teaching her baby that the boats are nothing to be scared of. Repeating the same pattern 4 consecutive times, the mom was guiding the calf around the boat, making a whole 360º turn around us, then approaching and passing only a few centimeters underneath the gig, going out on the other side and making the whole thing again. Being witness of a teaching and learning process on these animals is an indescriptible feeling, a deep reminder of how amazing nature is.

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As grateful as I could be for being in such magical place, we kept the journey going to another part of the Laguna. Here, as if I was not amazed enough, the best thing happened to me. A curious whale that was swimming alone decided to come close enough to be pet. I have heard by different people that the whales that have been there before and that go back the next year, they tend to approach to boats because they are curious of people.

Thanks to all the existing restrictions in the lagoon, the whales are not scared of us. The protected area obliges fishermen to take out of the lagoon all type of traps, nets, and fishing gear in general before the whale season starts. Also, the lagoon is divided in three areas so the cooperatives that have permits for tours are spread all over the place without stressing certain areas. Furthermore, the reserve restricts the number of permits, the working hours and the number of boats per day at the lagoon. In fact, after 3pm no one can be inside the lagoon so the whales can rest for the rest of the day. As a result, not only whales like to be touched, but the number of arrivals is increasing every year. In fact in 2014 the number of whales at the beginning of February was around 700; this year it doubled reaching 1,460 whales and the number will keep increasing until the beginning of April when they’ll leave the lagoon after giving birth.

The ecological success of this marine protected area is easy to be seen. After interviewing different actors I have no doubt that the salt exporter industry and the biosphere reserve have made a surprisingly good relationship for working together on the conservation of the place, being an outstanding example of how such opposite poles can coexist without a problem. But things are still needed in terms of social aid, specially the fishermen sector. Changes in water temperatures ended with the main fishery of the place, the mussel called “Mano de León”. The effort needs to be focused on new projects on the area for giving alternatives to this sector of the community.

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