Thursday, February 5, 2009
Guerrero Negro Part 3: The Whale Count
We woke up to go whale counting with census people from the reserve. I was overwhelmingly tired, and more so knowing there was no bathroom on the boat – so no caffeine with breakfast. To boot, I had these black circles under my eyes that until today, I have never seen in the mirror. I don’t believe you’re supposed to get those on vacation.
We were picked up outside of the bunkhouse by a vanload of people, some of whom were employees of the reserve. Bridget and I occupied the last two seats in the packed vehicle and headed off to the boat dock, deep inside the salt company.
We arrived, and hopped out of the van next to a giant mountain of salt. Subconsciously expecting it to be cold, I put on a few extra layers before getting out of the van. It didn't occur to me immediately that I had to shake the feeling of the landscape being covered in white, there was no snow to be found. Snow or not, it wasn't as warm as you'd hope the southern Baja would be this time of year.
We began to load ourselves into one of the two boats the census was using that morning. Each boat would start on a different area of the reserve, meet in the middle where each of our areas transected, and head our separate ways to finish the count. As we were preparing to climb aboard, one of the salt company’s employees approached us and handed us a hefty sized rock, about the size of a grapefruit. He explained it was a whale’s eardrum they had found as they were trying to find a transmitter that had fallen off another animal, somewhere else in the reserve.
The boat was started up, and we headed off into the lagoon called, “The Rabbit’s Eye”. It was brisk, and the chilly water made it more so. We were rosy cheeked, bundled up in layers, and ready to spot some grey whales.
For the first few hours of the trip, the whales were sparse and fairly far from the boat. We could see them surface, sometimes with their calves, and blow water into a fine mist that hung in the air. Many of the whales were merely floating at the surface asleep, only a portion of their backs showing as they slept.
Once we headed out of the lagoon and into the mouth of the ocean, we could see and hear whales in the distance, spouting water, poking their snouts to the sky, breeching, and often behaving playfully – jumping as high out of the water as the length of their massive bodies.
We saw over 60 whales, some quite close to the boat. The prize for me, however, was a pair of dolphins that caught up to us and rode along with our boat for quite a while, staying right under the bow and then plunging forward, leaving me with a tail splash of water in my face, and smattering my camera lens with salt water droplets.
Back in town, we had a nap and did some market shopping for batteries, hot sauce, and more pork rinds. We ate a late dinner with the other biologists, as we always do, and opted for an early night. Tomorrow, we head to another lagoon in the salt works to catch Dowitchers and Red Knots with our cannon nets. It’s going to be another long, dirty, Spanish profanity-filled day of trapping birds in the sun. I need more rest than I can ever recall.