A Whale of a Tale
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Baja California Information Pages
Tales of Baja California
A Whale of a Tale
reference to the Califonia Gray Whale, coined by early whalers.
- Whaling in Baja California -
In the late 1800's whaling was on the decline, with few "good"
whales left for slaughter. Captain Scammon however, found a
veritable jackpot, the breeding grounds of the California Gray
whale in San Ignacio Lagoon, and the surrounding lagoons on the
Pacific side of the Baja California Peninsula.
The warm water and high salinity bathed the newborn calves and
kept the inexperienced, blubber-deficient newborns bouyant.
Though the Gray Whale was not the best whale commercially,
yielding comparatively few barrels of oil, it would have to do
in face of the alternative for the captain: to become a merchant
The Gray Whales however were not such an easy target as other
whales they had encountered, which basically rolled over and
gave up when harpooned. The Gray Whale, when harpooned, would
lash violently against the boats, overturning them, bashing them
to bits and leaving the cowering whalers to drown with broken
arms and legs. The whale soon earned a name for itself, the
Another curious and noble thing that the whales would do, would
be to protect their young at all costs, even death. The whalers
soon learned of this unfortunate(?) trait and capitalized on it
by rounding the calves away from their mothers toward shallow
water, where the mother could be harpooned from the safety of
the beach. The whalers became so proficient at this technique
that the whales all but went extinct. Luckily the price of the
whale oil was dropping, and the whole operation became less and
Now the whales are under protection in the United States by the
Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act. Under
this protection the whales have increased their numbers to about
20,000 individuals, thereby becoming the best success story of
the Acts protecting them. This increase in numbers has also
created a huge tourist market in Baja California, in a lagoon
now called Scammons Lagoon, where the whales visit like
clockwork for the mating and breeding every year during the
winter. The whole operation in the lagoon is heavily protected
by Mexican Federales with M16's so that no unauthorized boats or
swimmers even touch the water.
- A Modern Tail of the Whale -
A friend of mine, lets call her Michelle, recently went to a
site nearby Scammons that is not protected, and with some of her
friends went kayaking in order to see the whales more closely,
to try and get that whale-human contact connection. One of the
kayakers, Mike, who didn't know anything about the Devil Fish,
and thought whales were all friendly and our peaceful brothers
of the sea, took off from the group to get closer to a cow/calf
As he paddled closer, the other kayakers yelled from the
distance to get away, to stay far away from the calf, all to no
avail. Oblivious to any danger, he paddled between the cow and
calf. A sin no worse than murder to the Gray whale - and
punishable by death.
After a bitter breath the mother whale disappeared from the
surface only to appear again, but with the kayaker on its back,
teetering perilously. Mike, in utter terror, obviously teetered
to one side and then fell off the other, losing everything not
tied in his boat (along with his bowels).
With the whale between him and his kayak, he tread water at the
mercy of the rage of the cow. At that moment, the cow raised
her fluke (tail) menacingly 20 feet over Mike's head, wavering
the fluke with little drops of lagoon dripping onto Mike's head,
like the ultimate Chinese water torture.
Mike, in complete paralysis, tried to keep himself above water.
Just the weight of the falling fluke would batter his frail
human body to chum; and imagine if the whale felt like adding
some of the muscle forces which power the creature with 600
horsepower of force!
The cow let Mike get away with his sin alive, but definitely
left Mike a changed man. He decided that he wouldn't kayak
anymore on that trip (I think he didn't have any shorts to
replace his soiled ones).
Fabian Rousset (email@example.com)
(Received April 30, 1997)
Ed.: Fabian has prepared an informational web site about the
California Gray Whale. The site is sponsored by the Museum of
Natural History in Santa Barbara, California, and may be reached
Copyright 1997-2011 Fabian Rousset
Baja California Information Pages - Contents Page: http://math.ucr.edu/ftm/baja.html