gray whales

Point Cabrillo Light Station

Painting of the Light Station
by Lynne Prentice

I started by leading bird walks at the Point Cabrillo Light Station in 1996, and ended up as president of the non-profit that operates it. I'm still on the Board of Directors.

My favorite time of year to be at the lighthouse is now. March is when the gray whales are migrating back to Alaska, which can be a hazardous 6000 mile journey.

Below is a photo of Orcas attacking a gray whale. A few years ago, people witnessed just such an attack in front of the lighthouse.

Point Cabrillo and the tall ship, the Lynx
by Harold Hauck
That's a Coast Guard cutter on the right

The 3rd Order Fresnel Lens is back in service
in the Lighthouse
 Thanks to Bruce Lewis for the video.
This is also the time of year when the Harbor seals give birth, often on the rocks only yards offshore from the lighthouse. Within two hours of being born, the baby follows its mother into the ocean, frequently reappearing in the cove just to the east of the lighthouse.
Harbor Seal and Pup by Ron LeValley


Another guest blog from Tanya: Petting Whales

Tanya wrote this after her first trip to San Ignacio Lagoon, one of the gray whale birthing lagoons on the Pacific Coast of Baja. These lagoons were discovered in the 1800s by whalers who nearly wiped out the species. One of the lagoons, is named after Charles Melville Scammon (1825-1911) who was a 19th-century whaleman, naturalist, and author. He was the first to hunt the gray whales of both Laguna Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio Lagoon

The lagoons were discovered in 1852 and by the early 1860s had been 'swept clean of whales.' 

Read more by clicking on this link 

The good news, is they are back and apparently have forgiven us as a not-so worthy species.

Petting Whales
Tanya Smart

This story is really about fulfilling a very long dream so be warned.  It is sappy and probably long.  Just thinking about the amazing phenomenon of the friendly whales makes me cry. 

On every trip out (into the lagoon), there was one spot where a whale spy hopped each day. We decided this was the sentinel whale who announced to the others that we were coming. The first trip out we didn’t get to touch. The whales were feeding (so much for the books that say they only eat in Alaska). We tried to tell ourselves that we weren’t disappointed (really) that we had been closer to whales than ever before (and it was magnificent) and besides we got to have lobster for dinner that night. However, we woke up the next day just hoping that maybe, maybe, maybe—. Our hopes were realized. A mom and baby came up to the boat and we all got to pet the baby. Petting a whale for the first time—how does one describe it?!  Amazing, magnificent, humbling, fascinating, joyful, mind boggling?  All of these words fall short. I tried to stay composed, but then rather lost it. The naturalist came to see if I was OK and I said “never better.”  Then the boat captain came forward and gave me a huge hug. “Thank you for loving the whales.” Needless to say, that didn’t make me stop crying.

From there it only got better. The next day we had a Mom and Baby stay with us for an hour. Mom actually got under the boat upside down, and held the boat on her stomach and her baby on her flipper so we could touch it. We touched, scratched, hugged, kissed, got snotted on, got bubbled on—you name it. Rinsing whale nose stuff off your glasses is not a bad thing. Whale spit in your ears makes you laugh. Watching Mom deliberately make sure EVERY PERSON on the boat touched and scratched her baby was amazing. We talked about it later: why was she doing this?  Here’s a big brained animal that has a huge energy demand—migration, pregnancy, birth, nursing—and she is using precious energy and time to make sure we touch her baby. It was clearly important to her and it was pretty clear we were fulfilling her agenda. The baby was just enjoying him/herself.

The next day the Mom and Baby took their time checking us out, but once we got Mom’s approval, the Baby (we called “Bumper” since he liked “bumping” the boat) came steaming in and wanted throat pleat scratches, tongue scratches, gum and baleen scratches and belly rubs. If it weren’t for my dogs waiting back home, I’d still be there.  Mom kept an eye on us for about 20 minutes, occasionally moving her offspring away from the motor. We must have proven trustworthy as after that she backed off and took a snooze while we babysat.

Our trip was with Kuyima Ecotourismo. This company is owned and operated by Mexicans and staffed primarily by the local people of Baja Sur. In this way, the ecotourism benefits the people who are saving the lagoon from development. They were happy to see us even if we were Americans whose government was building a wall (between our countries.) The Kuyima camp is comfortable, clean and respectful of the fragile desert environment. We kayaked in mangroves, beach-combed on shell beaches and hiked on salt flats, walking over local burro and mule tracks. The coyotes are not tame, but not terribly afraid either, even when you fall down while trying to take their picture. The organization for San Ignacio Lagoon is amazingly efficient and respectful. Only 16 pangas (small boats) are allowed in the whale watching area at one time so the different companies cooperate. Each boat is limited to 90 minutes in the area. No mobbing of whales, no feeling that what you are doing is hurting them at all.  It is completely up to the whales to be friendly or to ignore you. We were ignored by some, and others saw us coming and practically charged the boat. 


Brent (Tanya’s husband) took more than 300 photos (not counting the ones he deleted each night). I couldn’t throw any away—even the out of focus, out of frame photos show the amazing phenomenon of forgiveness. I’ve come away thinking that Momma Whale knows exactly what she is doing when she brings her precious baby up for a rub. Touch is important in Cetaceans. By letting us touch her baby; maybe she is bonding us to them and training humans to respect her species. 

How do you breathalyse a whale?

This is too funny. This picture is of a miniature helicopter taking a sample of the 'blow' of a whale so scientists can analyse what all might be in whale-exhalations. Good project, and worthwhile, I'm sure, for whales other than gray whales. This picture was taken in the Sea of Cortez, just over that mountain range from San Ignacio lagoon. You now know as well as I do that if they'd take a jeep ride to the other side, they could fill their petri dishes with as much misty whale snot as they could ever want. I may still have a sample left on my camera lens. One of the baby whales actually took aim and fired when he/she saw a camera.

Thar she blows!

Got an itch?

Another picture from Baja. I was in the other panga when I took this picture. I know it looks like the whale has either been hit in the head by the little boat, or is trying to consume it bow first, but she's really just using in for a 'toothpick.' Or her baleen itched.

Gray whales are baleen whales. Orcas, dolphins, and Sperm whales are in the toothed whale family. Baleen functions like a giant sieve. The whale vacuums up microscopic organisms from the sea floor, and pushes the water and sand out through the baleen with its thousand pound tongue. What's left is dinner.