Baja California, Mexico – The Kiss of The Devilfish

All is forgiven

It is amazing that the whales are so trusting and friendly. In 1857, American whaling captain Charles Melville Scammon found the Baja nursery lagoons and must have felt like he’d won the jackpot. The whalers would drive their boats between the mothers and calves, bringing the angry mothers close enough to harpoon. They were an easy but dangerous target, overturning boats and causing the death of some of the whalers, giving rise to grey whales being dubbed ‘devilfish. They were said to cause more deaths than any other whale.

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Charles Melville Scammon’s crew aboard the ship Nightingale – Plover Bay, Russia

Their fearsome reputation wasn’t enough to save them, and the carnage continued until there were hardly any whales left. Seventeen years after discovering the nurseries, Scammon himself wrote, ‘The large bays and lagoons where these animals once congregated, brought forth and nurtured their young, are already nearly deserted.

There was some respite while the whalers went elsewhere, but then came industrial whaling and numbers plummeted again. When the grey whales became protected in the early 1930s, there were so few left it seemed inevitable they would become extinct. But the long recovery of the species began, and numbers in the lagoons started slowly growing.

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A baby grey whale seen at San Ignacio Lagoon – Mexico

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Francisco `Pachico’ Mayoral

The local fishermen used to avoid the whales because of their reputation as dangerous, but in 1972 something remarkable happened. Francisco `Pachico’ Mayoral, a fisherman from San Ignacio, was working in the lagoon when a grey whale surfaced by his panga. It remained close, following his boat for almost an hour; eventually Pachico reached out his hand and cautiously stroked it. And so the friendly relationship between the grey whales and humans was born. “It’s incredible that they are so trusting,” said Mark. “Whales used to be seen with harpoon scars. And yet they seem to have forgiven us.”

Pachico died in October 2013. “He was a legend,” said guide Ruby who worked for him for many years. Today, rather than fear the devil fish, the fishermen introduce them to avid visitors from around the globe for what is arguably the world’s greatest wildlife encounter.


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