by Dr. Steven Swartz, Laguna San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Program — a project of The Ocean Foundation
Dr. Steven Swartz returned from a successful winter gray whale research season in Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California and shared his team’s experiences this winter rewarding “random acts of ocean kindness” and fostering “Blue Marble” awareness as part of the Laguna San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Program’s Outreach efforts.
For the second consecutive year Laguna San Ignacio hosted record high numbers of gray whales (some 350 adults at peak of the season), and record numbers of mother-calf pairs, which were looking very healthy, which is reassuring coming off of the lean times of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when global climate change was affecting food availability for gray whales in the Arctic. All of this suggests that the whales are finding the Laguna San Ignacio marine protected area as a comfortable winter aggregation and breeding habitat, thus achieving the goals and mission of Mexico’s Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve, of which the lagoon is a part.
As part of our outreach to the local ecotourism community and to the whale-watching visitors, we presented 200+ Blue Marbles to whale-watchers from all over the globe, to eco-tourism operators, and to students from the local high schools. We told them that by taking their time and expense to visit Laguna San Ignacio to experience and learn about the whales and other marine life that call this unique ecosystem their home, they provided an economic value and (in the case of the ecotourism operators and students) an educational resource that supports and justifies maintaining this ecosystem as a protected wildlife area rather than turning it into an industrial salt plant, phosphate mine, or some other non-conservation friendly entity. And, that was in our view a “Random Act of Ocean Kindness” worthy of a Blue Marble. We made it clear that they were custodians of their Blue Marbles, and they had the responsibility to pass them on to others that in their judgement had committed other “Random Acts of Ocean Kindness.”
But we did not stop there… Laguna San Ignacio is famous for its “Friendly Whales” or “Las Ballenas Misteriosas.” Since the 1970’s, some wild, free ranging gray whales have made a practice of swimming up to whale-watching boats to meet and greet the passengers, allowing the whale-watcher to pet them and rub them on the head. Those that meet a gray whale up close and personal this way have been sincerely touched, and come away with an enhanced appreciation for the whales, and the ocean. In the 30+ years this phenomenon has continued, the whales have impressed thousands of human visitors to Laguna San Ignacio, and by so doing have promoted conservation and protection of the whales, and perhaps more importantly, the conservation of the Laguna San Ignacio ecosystem and similar unique marine protected areas throughout the world.
Thus, in our assessment, the gray whales have collectively committed “Random Acts of Ocean Kindness” by the thousands. Therefore, we awarded “Blue Marbles” to the gray whales of Laguna San Ignacio, as a symbol of their commitment to encourage humans to take marine conservation to heart and to encourage ocean conservation worldwide.