Gray whales are the longest migrating whale in the world. The whales migrate 14,000 miles from the Bering Sea by Alaska hugging the coastline of Canada, Washington, Oregon, California, all the way into the San Ignacio Lagoons in Baja de California.
Mother whales and their calves are provided safety in the lagoon providing calves the opportunity to grow strong and learn behaviors that will help them on their journey north. The migration from the Mexican waters back to the Bering Sea are filled with many dangers. The most dangerous impacts are caused by humans including entanglement in fishing gear, boat strikes, and pollution from plastics and toxins. The migrating mother and calf also have natural predatory interactions with orcas pods who feed on gray whale calves.
While in the Mexican lagoons gray whale calves will be introduced to small pangas full of whale watching tourists. This is where the human and whale interactions first begin for the calves. The mother whales will push their calves up to the sides of the small boats where tourists bend over the side of the boat to scratch the calves barnacle filled faces and leaving both human and whale with a smile. The lagoons management practices are looked upon as the gold standard for sustainable and responsible whale watching around the world. This area provides a very unique experience for human and whales to interact with each other physically. This is the only known place where gray whales and humans interact so closely.
During the migration this year approximately 22,000 gray whales will be viewed by whale watching boats and their onboard tourists along the Pacific coast. Each whale watching operation takes out between 20,000 to over 100,000 tourists per year. Boats range in all sizes and provide different viewing experiences. As part of the expedition along the Pacific coast, the Through Their Eyes project is focusing on the best practices of whale watching. Guidelines provided by Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. are established to protect whales while viewing. We want know how these best practices are used to help protect whales and their habitat, while providing an educational experience for tourists.