Pachio's Grey whales

Trip Start Dec 03, 2012
Trip End Aug 25, 2013

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Flag of Mexico  , Baja California Sur,
Friday, March 8, 2013

Pachico was the first human to be chosen by the whales for friendly contact. Out fishing one day, a huge whale swam towards his boat and to his astonishment came close enough to look him on the eye. The whale persisted, swimming around the boat and rearing its head until eventually Pachico reached out and touched it before it vanished into the depths. Today that friendly contact has spread among both whales and humans, generating what must rank as one of the top wildlife experiences in the world - petting a wild grey whale mother and calf.

Pachio's son, Jesus, now runs the only locally owned whale watching tour operator in San Ignacio lagoon. His small camp consists of 4 cabanas, shared compost toilets, showers and a dining-come-meeting area made from recycled tyres and rammed earth. From the huge windows we watched a dolphin hunting just metres from the shore and spotted the spouts of whales in the distance. Pachico's eco-camp is set in a pristine biosphere reserve where the beaches are crunchy underfoot from the mass of shells that have accumulated, uncollected, atop almost identical fossil shells in the the rock beneath. We also found dried seahorses and box fish, skeletons of pelicans, dolphins and whales, coyote footprints and flocks of Brent geese. The desert nights were bitterly cold, and we were grateful for the thick blankets Pachico's provided. In the remote, unbroken darkness it felt like we could see each and every one of the billions of stars in the night sky

Getting to camp is an adventure, entailing at least a day's drive first through lava-strewn cactus desert, then salt pans and sand dunes, the last hour on unpaved road. Getting into the small whale watching panga for the is also an adventure, wading knee-deep through icy seawater. But nothing compares with the adventure of first seeing the giant backs sliding along the horizon and then towards the boat, and finally surfacing right underneath, spraying salty mist over everyone in the boat.

Up close these animals are awesome. You can see their outline deep underwater, faintly at first, then the white of a fin, tail fluke becomes clear. Finally with a huge sigh and a spray of water the massive head very gently rests just within reach of the tiny human hands reaching over the edge of the boat. Then with another whoosh it sinks down again and disappears under the boat.

No-one knows why some of the whales do this (about 10%2525) and why they particularly encourage their calves towards people. We saw mothers twice the length of our boat supporting calves on their backs, on the surface of the water, and swimming together to the edge of the boat to be patted and stroked.

What does a whales' nose feel like? Surprisingly soft and smooth, in between massive bristles and patches of sharp barnacles. Their skin is so tough and strong I wonder that they can feel us touching them at all, but for whatever reason, they keep coming back more - and so did we. 

 We were able to stay at Pachicos for four nights, giving us three whole days on the water, with magical encounters ever day. At first Izzy said there was no way she was touching sometng that big, and she was scared they would tip the boat over, but once the first calf looked at her that was it, she was at the edge of the boat splashing and calling them with the rest of us! Somehow the whales know to be gentle. They come to the edge of the boat for pats, enjoy the warm water from the engine at the back, scratch themselves on the bottom of the boat ( everything rocks!) and even lift up part of the boat with their head or back (everyones sits very still!) but in the 40 odd years of close contact with people there have only been one or two instances, early on, of whales attacking a boat, in response to a calf being hurt by an engine.

We were also able to watch the whales spyhopping, where they stick their noses out of the water, posibly to cool down, possibly to look around, and also saw some mightly breaches, where a whale throws its whole body out of the water. As well as the whales we all enjoyed having some company (gets a bit boring talking to the same three people) in the communal dining area, and catching sweet little desert mice to play with. A huge variety of birds, including white pelicans and american oystercatchers kept us entertained when there were no whales, and we saw coyotes foraging far of on the mud flats. All in all our favourite location so far!
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jons on

thanks for the pictures - impressive experience
i had to write a short essay recently on (sperm) whale diving (why they do not seem to experience the bends), and was fascinated by the biology - beautiful animals. I picked up somewhere that whales have been given the status of nonhuman individuals - perhaps mostly politically motivated to aid their protection, but it's easy to think of them as intelligent and benevolent creatures.
I don't recall you saying what kind(s) of whales you saw
now, back to biochemistry - the urea cycle hurray
thanks for the story

Elisabeth Devoghelaere on

Amazing! I've never been the adventurous type but your writing makes me dream.

I've got some lovely news for you all: Ella-Rose was born on 9th of March 2013. We're doing well and are getting to know eachother.

Take care!

Love to you all

Nathalie on

We're all in awe, it can only be a once in a lifetime experience! It is difficult to understand how they can like us as we seem to make life really hard on them by spoiling their habitat and some of us are even hunting them. They show enormous compassion.

Have another great day!

beattie_family on

thanks for your comments! I've just posted a new video of the whales that gives a good impression of how close they were, and how big

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