Friday, 25 January 2008

Having a whale of a time in Todos Santos


One of the more magical elements of the “Pueblo Magico” of Todos Santos is the arrival of the grey whale migration, which usually peaks in early February, but started this season in mid November. I have to admit I am not entirely sure why the whales make it down this far, since the calving lagoons are quite a bit north of here (around Guerro Negro). Perhaps they too enjoy the warmth and the sunshine before heading back to the grayness and cold of the North?

Whales have an ability to draw loving attention from almost anyone who sees them. Just the sight of their vaporous spout, drifting backlit along the sea, is enough to make people drop what they are doing and look. When they decide to perform and leap continually out of the water, close to shore, there are usually shouts and sighs of “Ahh!” across the beach.

Realtors are very aware of the universal, mystical appeal of the whales. They have a saying “See a whale, make a sale”, and it is not all in jest.

Quite why these lumbering creatures illicit such a reaction, I do not know. Part of it is indeed their size, which seems so out of the ordinary that we are entranced. But then we don’t celebrate such largeness in all things. The term “beached whale” when applied to a large person sunbathing on a beach is not usually a term of endearment. The fairy dust appeal of the spouts loses something when you get close enough to smell its odour of rotting fish, and up close, the smooth sides of the whales are pocked with barnacles and other debris.

I suspect that the appeal has something to do with their gentleness (for all their size, they don’t attack other fish for their food, and content themselves with tiny amphipods that no-one really cares about), their apparent embodiment of family values as they swim lazily along in pods, and their seeming indifference to all the strife around us. Whales are, well, just serene, and maybe we wish that we could be too.

Of course, being humans and anything but serene, our attempts at connection and hence maybe sharing some of that elixir are intrusive. There are many whale watching trips offered and, driven by the insatiable demands of the public, and despite regulations that prohibit it, these boats approach far too close and finally disturb the whales. The latest abominations are powerful jet skis that time-starved tourists can use to go bother them directly and quickly with maximum noise. Being whales, though, they very rarely take revenge.

There can, however, be real danger in watching these creatures. The photo at the head of this posting was taken last year from one of the prime whale watching spots on the beach here, by La Poza Lagoon. The whales come within 50 feet of the shore, probably attracted by the fresh water seeping through the sand and the creatures that thrive in this brackish environment. One day after I took this photo, the place I was standing was swept away as the lagoon breached, and one person drowned.

No comments: