I just arrived home from a pilgrimage to the birthing lagoon of the gray whale in Baja. I had heard rumors about mother whales there who introduce their calves to humans, much as we take our offspring to meet other species. This image had lived in my imagination for several years, increasing its ranking in my bucket list. But my watery imaginings didn’t begin to match the experience of being in their presence—the power of a whale’s eye view.
I never imagined how actively the whale moms would pursue us, a few humans in a ponga boat half their size. I could have never anticipated their eagerness as they bee-lined for the boat, babies close behind. They gently rubbed against the boat bottom, spouted in our faces, came close enough to be stroked. Babies stuck their nozzles out to invite petting and practiced their “spy-hopping” (or rising vertically from the water) so close that we see the hairs on their faces. Some moments it was like sitting in a pot of whale soup. But this is just the beginning.
My first thought is that they wanted something from us, like other wild creatures who have been “tamed” and seriously disturbed by being fed. But this has always been strictly forbidden in the lagoon, and access to the whales is limited. There’s a small window of a few weeks (just after birthing and nursing and before hitting the Pacific ocean for a long and serious migration to Alaska) that these giant moms reach out to humans.
The resulting connection has possibly saved the species from extinction. Whale watching is now more economically sustainable than whale hunting. Once this very lagoon was a full of the blood of slaughtered whales, and offspring died of starvation. Once nearly extinct, now gray whales are thriving.
This is the power of interspecies communication. But this is just the beginning.
In the moment when I stared into the whale’s eye, for that instant, and for days after, I felt something of the mysterious depth of things. The enormous power of that net that holds us all, the one that defies words or explanation. And it is still with me here in my land-locked world. The sense that we are all connected to all of life. The longing to remember this deepest of mysteries as I go about my daily life, invisibly connected with all that is.