Book Report

September 3, 2018 Edition

Sightings, the Gray whale’s Mysterious Journey, by Brenda Peterson and Linda Hogan. National Geographic. 2002. 286 pp. $14.

“ The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious” said Albert Einstein. What a great quote to start for an article that has been difficult to write. There is still much we don’t understand about whales; those gigantic mammals who, in pre-history, once lived on land.

A Native American writer and a journalist/nature writer collaborated to give us this book full of facts, mysteries, and stories of our gray whales, their annual marathon migration to the Baja to have their young, and their friendly interactions in the Baja lagoons, with humans, who were once their worst enemies.  We use to hunt them down and slaughter them relentlessly. It’s amazing they seem to have forgiven that and are so nice and friendly to us now. Because we now read of, or even experience this newfound kinship between humans and whales, we are puzzled with today’s friendly interactions, ashamed of previous years of cruelty, and proud of our present guardianship of these giants. It is difficult to understand the history of humans and whales. The ancient past, our present friendship, and perhaps we decide that we just cannot understand these friendly whales. This is when we may better look the other way, and ask what are humans, anyway?

“Las Ballas Amistosos translates into Whales, seeking out humans. It is said, “...friendly whales will find you, you do not find them.” In the past, we have almost completely exterminated many species of gray whales.

Charles Scammon, a whaling captain in the last century, is famous for several reasons. A lagoon in Baja now carries his name. It is said that he trapped thousands of female and baby whales there by blocking the opening, and that the waters then ran red from the slaughter. And yet, not so very many years later, humans seem to be forgiven.

A century ago, whales were called ‘devil fish’, and those men who hunted and slaughtered them were considered brave heroes. On old maps whales are drawn as horrible sea monsters.

Because they were slaughtered with such vigor, many species of whales were almost exterminated. They were considered an endangered species, and put on the “endangered species” list. Their numbers then rose quickly; they were taken off the list, but hunted again, and then of necessity, put back on the list. Environmental groups now speak for whales.

Surely whales have memories. Why, beginning in this century, did the whales in San Ignacio to approach humans in friendship? Why do they trust humans now? Maybe their ancestors didn’t do such a good job of telling the tales of the slaughters? The ancestors of today’s whales were land animals, who returned to the seas fifty million years ago. We may ponder evolution; the mystery of our own ancestors who once lived in the seas, and then try to understand the very ancient past. I wonder, will we someday evolve back to the sea?

My own memory is of a female whale, swimming closer and closer, and then lying parallel to our boat, much bigger than our boat, and lying quietly, so very close. I easily stroked her back, still lying there quietly, with her dinner plate eye moving and watching my hand move. The memory is still a source of goose bumps and wonder.

“Whale watching takes on a whole new world of meaning when the whale is watching you,” says Dr. Sylvia Earle.

You can find this interesting and informative book at El Caballo Blanco bookstore in Loreto, B.C.S., or online.

Jeannine Perez El Caballo Blanco Bookstore in Loreto