Wooing a Whale: Humpback Crooners in Baja

Wooing a Whale: Humpback Crooners in Baja

by Bryan Jáuregui, Todos Santos Eco Adventures

If science had all the answers, poets and dreamers would be out of a job. So when scientists tell us that they’re not really sure why humpback males sing – and it is only the males that sing – then it’s up to the rest of us to look at the evidence and help science along. And here’s what the evidence shows us. Like traditional mariachis, all-male college a capela groups, and the Rat Pack, humpback whales in Baja clearly understand that singing, particularly with the harmonious help of your mates, is the best way to get the girl. Now some scientists theorize that humpback males are singing only as a type of echolocation exercise of the type used by their dolphin cousins, a way to map out the world around them. This certainly

Humpback Happiness. Photo by Erika Peterman

may be true – because how else are they going to find the girls? But that really doesn’t explain why some humpback whale songs are several hours long and, according to the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, grammatically complex and loaded with information. Like a ballad. Or why sexually immature young males join their virile older brothers in song. Like frat boys with their pledges beneath a sorority girl’s window. Or why all the males in one region will congregate in an arena and sing the same song. Like a boy-band in an outdoor stadium. Or why a male escorting a female and her calf will sing. Like a lullaby. These are all great mysteries that the poets are currently best equipped to ponder, but they don’t begin to touch on the greatest mystery of all – how does the female humpback decide which singer is worthy of her affections? Science presently has no answer, but maybe this is why Elvis always sang alone.

This article was originally published in Janice Kinne’s Journal del Pacifico

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jáuregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2014

Nature: Forgiving Us Our Trespasses

by Sergio and Bryan Jáuregui, Todos Santos Eco Adventures

This story was originally published in Janice Kinne’s Journal del Pacifico.

Charles Scammons is the whaler cum naturalist who hunted the gray whales of Baja’s lagoons nearly to extinction in the 1850s and ‘60s. Stories from that time abound of the lagoons running red with the blood of the slaughtered mammals, and of mother gray whales attacking boats in a futile effort to protect their young.  Scammons later regretted his slaughter of the whales and, partly as tribute to them, wrote a book that is now considered a classic, The Marine Mammals of the North-western Coast of North America.

Chris Scammons with Mario and Sara in Guerrero Negro during his 2011 visit.

But guilt continued in the Scammons’ bloodline and in 2011 a great, great grandson of Charles Scammons came to Laguna Ojo de Liebre, or what foreigners call Scammons Lagoon, to apologize to the now-protected whales. Eye witness accounts indicate that four pairs of mother and baby gray whales surrounded his boat and, as he apologized for the actions of his ancestor, the whales stayed with him for an hour, exuding forgiveness and grace. The younger Scammons returned home, filled with the peace he had long sought.

The story of Chris Scammons visit was relayed to us by Rebeca Kobelkowsky, the former director of the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve and current Ph.D. student at UABCS. We thank her for the story and also for so graciously allowing us to use this photo.

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jauregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2013

Sex and the Single Whale

by Todos Santos Eco Adventures

“Pink Floyd” photo by Kaia Thomson

The sexual revolution may have reached humans in the fairly recent past, but the gray whales in the lagoons of Baja California Sur have been free thinkers on the subject of sex for millennia.  Females in estrus commonly take several different lovers throughout their winter respite in the lagoons, and the males actually appear to be quite relaxed about the situation. In fact, when two males vie for the affections of the same female, the “loser” willingly assists the “winner” in consummating the relationship.  Seriously. When the winner is chosen in his romantic bid, he typically waves his 12-foot long penis – affectionately known by Baja guides as “Pink Floyd” – in a victory lap through the air while the object of his affection sidles up to him through the water. Once the lovers are floating belly-to-belly, the winner’s new wingman  – AKA the “loser” – braces the female from the back with his pectoral fins, helping her to maintain a good position (consider the logistical issues of two 40-ton mammals propagating the species in water). The trio can maintain this pattern for up to an hour, during which time the female and her consort-of-the-moment mate several

“Whale Celebration” photo by Kaia Thomson

times with the aid of the second male. All parties then swim away, the “winner” likely satisfied with his contributions to the gene pool and the “loser” probably pondering how to be on the other side of the equation next time. No fighting, no brawling, just that cool gray whale demeanor. And the female? Likely as not casting an appraising eye on the other males hanging about the lagoon.  After all, she’ll be pregnant for the next 12 to 13 months with the duties of motherhood to follow so she’ll want to enjoy this time of carefree romance in Baja as much as she can, while she can. Clever girl.

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jauregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2013

A Whale Tale

This memoir by Blair Batson was first published in Janice Kinne’s Journal del Pacifico

Blair and Pinky

I came down to Baja one February to escape the cold grey of Oregon and hang out with my family.  My sister Bryan – who owns and operates Todos Santos Eco Adventures with her husband Sergio — was excited she had arranged for us to come at the perfect time to see the grey whales in Magdalena Bay.  I was excited we had yet another entertaining way to spend a day in paradise while waiting for Sergio’s killer margaritas to appear at dusk.

I had been whale watching in Oregon before, and found it hard to recommend: Go out in a large boat with a bunch of strangers in the rain, get mildly seasick, look for whales for about 2 hours, finally catch a glimpse of one swimming 50 yards off, pursue it until it disappears, then call it a day.  Oh yeah, and get totally drenched and freeze to death.  I was glad I could look forward to better weather.

On the appointed day, my family goes out onto Mag Bay in a 40-foot open boat.  We putter along for a while admiring the smooth open water and arid landscape.  After about an hour, the panga driver starts turning the boat around.  Sergio, who can always spot wildlife a mile away, gets an intense look on his face.

“Ballena!”  We all turn in the direction Sergio is pointing.  And there is the unmistakable shape of a grey whale fluke disappearing into the bay – about 50 yards away.  I’m thrilled.  We’re all thrilled.   It’s like a Sierra Club calendar cover shot.  We hoot and holler and jump up and down as best we can without tipping the boat.  I am completely satisfied with the trip, as I have never seen that classic image in real life – and so close.  Awesome.  And I’m still dry and warm.  I’m thinking Todos Santos Eco Adventures might want to expand their business to Oregon.

The panga driver cuts the motor back and we start sort of drifting around in the middle of the Bay.  I’m thinking a margarita might be nice to celebrate our sighting.  Then I hear again: “Ballena!”  On the right side of the boat about 10 yards off, we see a whale flipper sticking out of the water, turning – as if the whale is flopping onto its back for a rest.  Sergio says it’s a juvenile – probably 40 feet long – the size of our boat.  Gulp.  Where’s Mom?

The next thing I know Bryan and Sergio are diving towards one side of the boat where we can see the juvenile just five feet under the surface a few feet away from us.  Holy smokes, he’s big!  The panga driver starts banging the boat and Bryan and Sergio are singing and calling out like they’re calling their cats:  “Hey Ballena; here ballena.  Come to mama; come to papa.  Here ballena.”

Well, I think, crazy’s what I’m good at, so what the hell?  I throw myself along the edge of the boat, leaning out as far as I can over the water:  “Here Ballena.  Hey baby.  Come here, cutie.”  A moment later, I am gobsmacked when the little sweetheart lifts his huge head out of the water — right under my outstretched hand!  I almost dive in the water to embrace him, but somebody’s got a firm hold on my jeans from behind.

Blair and Pinky in Magdalena Bay

I pet and scratch his head and back and coo and laugh.  As Bryan points out, he really likes it when you scratch his chin and barnacley parts.  She calls him Pinky.  So I keep petting and scratching and cooing, wishing the moment would never end.  My baby stays with me a good long while and then, finally, turns and looks me straight in the eye with a sweet smile to say thank you and farewell.

At that moment, gazing into that beautiful eye, I know.  You may think that angels have wings.  But I’m here to tell you they have fins and flukes and are covered with barnacles.  I have never had such a feeling of peace and connectedness with any of the many sentient beings I’ve encountered on this planet.  That sweet young whale radiated total kindness, beneficence and fun.  Anthropomorphizing?  I don’t think so.  Ask my family.  Pinky was generous.  He let everyone love him and pet him and feel that amazing connection, the grace of encounter.

This is all by way of saying that if anyone suggests you spend a day or two whale watching with Todos Santos Eco Adventures – as opposed to say, another day of walking on the beach, eating at all the fabulous Todos Santos restaurants, or drinking mas margaritas with your pals – you might want to seriously consider it.  It’s not Oregon.  Just sayin’.