The Magic of "the Friendly Gray Whale"

I just returned from a magical place where gray whales still reign supreme. Imagine the sight of hundreds of whales dotting the ocean as far as the eye can see. Imagine the sound of hundreds of whales breathing on a quite night.  Imagine the feel of a giant whale breaching next to your boat or curiously approaching your outstretched hand.  

Such a place may seem unimaginable, but it exists at Laguna San Ignacio: a pristine lagoon off of Baja California, Mexico where each year hundreds of gray whales swim thousands of miles from their Arctic feeding grounds to mate, give birth, and nurse their calves.  This place is so special that the United Nations declared the lagoon—which serves as essential habitat not only to gray whales but also to a number of sea turtles, migratory birds, and other species—a World Heritage site in 1993.

NRDC has been working to preserve this extraordinary place for years; since 1995, we led a successful campaign to stop Mitsubishi and the Mexican government from building a colossal salt works factory that could have threatened this invaluable ecosystem. NRDC worked with local coalition partners and the International Fund for Animal Welfare to mobilize renowned scientists, responsible government officials, and outraged citizens from around the world to oppose -- and the United Nations World Heritage Committee to investigate -- the salt works project in Laguna San Ignacio.  We also generated more than one million petitions of opposition – an unprecedented number enabled by the dawn of the internet age.  As a result, Mexico’s President Ernesto Zedillo canceled plans for the Mitsubishi salt works in 2000.  Since then, NRDC has been working with local communities and other environmental groups to secure permanent protection for the lagoon and surrounding lands.

NRDC also takes a group of visitors to Laguna San Ignacio every year to experience the magic.  I had the great fortune of visiting the lagoon last week with an amazing group of people.

We experienced the joy of watching the whales wave their flukes.  

Gray whale fluke

The beauty of seeing their heart-shaped spouts.

Gray whale spout

And the awe of looking into their eyes.

Thumbnail image for Baja Eye

It would be impossible to experience this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon and remain untouched.  The whales inspired love, joy and gratitude.  For several eager young ladies on my trip, the whales also inspired pure happiness. 

For me, the whales inspired a sense of purpose and a reminder of why NRDC works so hard to protect their health and habitat.  Seeing these gentle giants up close and personal was the experience of a lifetime – and truly magical.

About the Authors

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Senior Policy Analyst, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Land and Wildlife Program

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