Ojo de Liebre Lagoon, the ending point for thousands of gray whales who just completed the longest migration on the planet, is a magical place. Even days after our visit, our minds are still trying to process all that we saw and experienced. It was truly a privilege to spend a few hours with these magnificent creatures, and each one of us has been changed by our extraordinary morning in the lagoon.
When we first decided to travel the Baja Peninsula last August incorporating the gray whale migration in with our trip and the kid’s homeschool became a top priority. However, we really wanted to make sure that we visited with these magnificent creatures in the right way. We didn’t want to take part in a large whale watching tour or feel in any way like we were exploiting the whales. Especially since we are talking about mothers and their new babies that need space and respect. So, we spent many hours on the Internet trying to find a guide that offered tours that would fit our desires and needs as a family with young children. We were really excited when we came across Shari Bondy who has been leading boat tours into the lagoon at Ojo de Liebre for over 20 years. Shari and her daughter Sirena are experts when it comes to gray whales and their behavior. Most importantly they do an excellent job of respecting the whales while leading really intimate trips into the lagoon. They provide excellent information that they have gained from their many years of observing California gray whales from up close. Shari and Sirena were both very comfortable guiding a tour with children and they made our kids a top priority when it came to experiencing the whales. I will always hold a special memory of being the only boat in sight while a mother whale choose to come over and introduce her baby to our children. We couldn’t have hoped for a better experience!
Five of Hearts:
Ojo de Liebre was a great place. It had protected land that was nice to look at, and camping site #10, where we spent the night, had a great view of the ocean. We saw birds, so many of them that they looked like a big cloud in the sky.
It was cool driving through the salt flats on the way and learning about how they make salt. It was also nice that there were no hotels, houses, or anything that was city-like around the lagoon. It was windy during the day, but at night it calmed down.
It was great to walk to the dock when it was high tide. We could see the whale boats we would ride in the next morning and look down and see plants in the water below. There was water running to the ocean when we walked to the dock and cool rocks and plants around it.
It was cool sleeping in a palapa, which kept the wind out. When you walked around the sand was all squishy and shells were pushed into mounds. There was a nice crescent moon that night.
We got in a boat and it took a long time. We then saw mama and baby whales and stopped the boat. Then the captain held me over the side of the boat so I could touch a whale. I can’t describe what it felt like, but it was like a soft material, smooth like a balloon. It was exciting and kind of weird, and it is something I would do again. The baby whale kept trying to reach up and play with me. I think the whale was thinking, “Oh my gosh, a human just touched me!” Touching the whale was my favorite part of the whole trip.
I got sprayed by whale. I was eating my muffin in the bottom of the boat, and then it sprayed me. It was huge, huge, huge! It was so funny. I said, “AAAHHH” to the mama. I saw the baby, and it was so cute.
I went to the whale watch expecting a one-sided experience, taking in the beauty of the whales while not giving anything in return. However, I could not have imagined how reciprocal our visit would turn out to be.
It is truly an act of generosity on the part of the whales that so many of them embrace the human visitors out in the lagoon. In the same place where whalers almost hunted them to extinction over 150 years ago, mother whales now lift their babies to peek at the people inside the boats instead of trying to smash the vessels to pieces. If the roles were reversed and some species had almost wiped out mankind, I doubt we would be so forgiving.
I was astonished at how much curiosity the baby whales showed towards the people in the boat, especially the younger Fives. Seeing a young whale is thrilling for humans, and I am convinced seeing young humans is equally interesting to whales. As excited as our kids were to tell us they touched a whale, I can imagine the baby whales excitedly telling their mothers, “Mom, I touched a human!”
Of course, it is not all play for the baby whales. We were able to see “Swimming School” in action, where mothers have their young ones swim against the incoming tide to increase their endurance. Just as our kids need some play time after working hard in school, interacting with the boats seemed to be the leisure time of choice for the baby whales.
I can’t help but wonder how much of a mother’s eagerness to have her baby play with the human visitors is tied to her knowledge of the long, dangerous migration to come. As the whales swim for 20 hours a day to make it to the north coast of Alaska to feed, dodging huge shipping barges and ambushes from pods of killer whales, things must seem bleak. The memories of happiness and wonder in the Ojo de Liebre lagoon and the visits with the strange human visitors there might just help the babies keep their faith in the beauty and wonder that life can offer as well.