By Susan Call
Spring in the desert is always surprising, especially to those folks from other regions who look for the decrease in freezing days and the tentative bloom of trees and flowers.
Since we are blessed with blue skies and warm days almost all year long (yes, I know, sometimes too warm!), we seek other signs that it is spring. These might be the near-perfect temperatures as well as the masses of wildflowers we are treated to if the weather has cooperated. But one of the most unique surprises of our springtime can only be enjoyed off the coast of Baja California, where the annual whale migration can be experienced.
I was privileged to go on a tour of the west coast of Baja in the first week of March, when we drove through forests of Boojums, Cardon cacti, and elephant trees, on our way to meet the whales. The trees and the other plants were magnificent, displaying their greenery in a desert that otherwise looks very like our northern Sonoran desert. But seeing the whales was a spectacular treat.
We drove as far south as Scammon’s Lagoon, which provides the shallow water (relatively speaking) that makes a perfect nursery for the baby whales born there every spring. The water has a higher salinity, making it easier for the babies to float as they develop their “sea legs;” plus it is warmer, and the shallow depth provides some protection from the larger predator whales. It is no wonder that the California Gray Whales have selected this location for the end of their yearly migration from the north toward Alaska and the Bering Sea.
People ask if we saw whales: with over 2500 whales in a lagoon a bit larger than the geographic size of greater Tucson, that was a given. We went out in small boats, maybe 15 feet long, with a skilled captain who knew how to handle the boat even when a whale tried to surface below our skiff, raising it about a foot out of the water. Unlike Ahab, however, we suffered no mishap, and we were told that such an encounter was very unusual.
Then too, the whales seemed to cluster to the boats, exhibiting as much curiosity about us as we them. The mother whale would loiter about ten feet from our boat while the baby whale, perhaps ten to twelve feet in length, swam alongside our boat close enough for us to touch him (or her). It was difficult not to anthropomorphize these magnificent mammals of another species, for it truly seemed that the whales wanted to communicate with as, especially when we got a look into the creature’s eye.
What an experience this all was! With the number of birds and plants that we saw in addition to the whales, we had a splendid trip. And that’s not even mentioning the delicious seafood and hospitality of the Mexican people that we enjoyed everywhere we went. I could easily go again another year.