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“Pic of the Week”. January 18, 2013. Gray Whales, Magdalena Bay, Mexico

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Gray whales are well known to those living near the west coast of North America.  Every spring they migrate 7,000 kilometers north to the plankton rich waters off Alaska where they feast and put on a thick layer of blubber.  This sustains them during their 2 month fall migration south to several bays off Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, including Magdalena Bay at the southern most point of their journey.  In these waters they mate and the following year females give birth in the same bays.  A few months after arriving in Baja they begin their migration back to Alaska, somehow knowing the ice has receded and their food source will again be plentiful.   The last to join this migration are females and their young calves.

Gray whales are massive, growing to 15 m (50 ft) in length and weighing up to 20 tons.  While they are commonly seen at a distance, especially as they migrate, to encounter one very close up (close enough to touch!) is an unforgettable experience.  Such was the case with this whale and her calf (not in the top picture but present in the second one below) when I visited Magdalena Bay for a kayaking/whale watching adventure.  The whale and her calf approached our boat and for about 10 minutes interacted with us.  In the top photo you get a feel for the size of the whale, as she raises the end of her massive tail to gently dive under our boat.  What you can’t appreciate is the bumpy feeling as she rubs against the boat’s bottom with her back.   She certainly could have capsized and hurt us if she’d wanted to, but was incredibly gentle for such a massive creature.  The second photo shows both mother (Left) and her baby (Right), only 2 meters or so from us.  It was an incredible experience!  While touching them I learned that whales have incredibly bad breath and cool, rubbery skin not unlike the feel of a wet tire.

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