It used to be that if you went on a whale-watching adventure, you'd be lucky to see even a blow. Now, especially in Baja California, Mexico, whales are getting closer to humans than ever, which is allowing us to see how similar whales actually are to humans. In an insightful article by Charles Siebert in Sunday’s New York Times he discusses his experiences with the very friendly gray whales in Baja and argues that these new insights into the behavior of gray whales are forcing humans to “reconsider and renegotiate what once seemed to be a distinct boundary between our world and theirs”. Siebert remembers watching a mother whale and her calf breach from afar, and then, surprisingly, pursue the boat. The whales came right up to him, even allowing him to touch the newborn. They performed what could only be called a show, as the whales turned, flipped, and wove around the boat. And, as the grand finale, his boat was lifted up out of the water on the mother’s back. Whales have now come to consider humans as “safe” and trustworthy, he argues, even after all the harm humans caused them in the past. Siebert proposes that whales have “behavioral flexibility” and are giving humans another chance.
Good news for gray whales! Their numbers are on the rise, according to scientists monitoring the annual gray whale migration along the California coast. Whale counts during this migration have revealed an increased number of calves traveling with the various family groups heading north to their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic. Actual numbers have jumped from 945 in 2005 to 1,018 in 2006. Ironically, this reproductive success may be attributed to the effects of global warming - the melting of polar sea ice allows whales to travel farther in search of food.