Eye To Eye With a Giant
By Angelika Ludwiczak
Lopez Mateos is a small fishing town of barely 2,000 inhabitants, located on the calm and shallow waters of Magdalena Bay. It is also a place where real magic happens every year, when thousands of gray whales come here to mate and give birth to their babies. A unique spectacle, which we, as humans, are able to admire. But it wasn't always this way. During the 18th and 19th century, people saw whales as monsters living in the dark abyss of the ocean, creatures that were nothing more than a source of fat. Whale oil lit up our houses and played a huge role in the industrial revolution. But it also brought these animals to the edge of extinction. In the waters of Magdalena Bay, fisherman used to call gray whales ‘devilfish’ because of their aggressive behavior when hunted. Back in the day they attacked and sunk many ships, trying to protect their calves from whaler harpoons. With intense whaling over years, people led them to a brink of extinction. But when commercial whaling was officially banned in 1986, the remaining few hundred gray whales that survived could finally find some peace. Since then, their numbers have been constantly rising, totaling over 20,000 individuals in the east side of Pacific right now. And most of them still visit Magdalena Bay every year and seem to have left the past behind. Right now, this bay has become a sanctuary that offers one of the most amazing experiences ever - being eye to eye with beautiful, gentle giants.
When we enter the bay, we see dozens of spouts on all sides, it looks like the water is boiling - I count at least 23 whales within eye reach and it feels so beautiful that I can't stop the tears. These whales are not only no longer aggressive towards people, but also show particular interest in interacting with us. Gray whales tend to be very interested in the above the water world and have an amazing behavior called spy hopping. They seek contact with people, approaching boats so close that we can touch them. And they seem to like being touched, staying longer on the surface while being pet, and leave disappointed when no contact is made. At one point we got a whale shower – a huge animal surfaces so close that its breath touches my face. What can I say...I got blown by a whale!