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  • Writer's pictureCedar Koons

The Moment of Ahhh

In February I visited Baja, California to see the grey whales. I traveled with three dear family members. We stayed at a camp on the coast of Magdalena Bay and gathered at an outdoor cabana for our meals. Nights were cool and days were warm and except for a bit of wind, the weather was perfect for being on the water.

Each morning our boat captain, Ebbe, who spoke very little English but knew the bay extremely well, came to pick us up in his small boat and take us out into the bay near to where it flowed into the Pacific. There we would see dozens of whale blows misting the surface. When we came close to where the whales were congregating, Ebbe would turn off the outboard motor. We'd hear the breath of the whales as they surfaced near us, seemingly curious to interact. Some would swim under the boat and rub their backs against its hull before surfacing so close we could reach out and touch their massive heads and gaze into their soft, horselike eyes.

Hours went by watching and waiting on the whales then delighting in their company, taking pictures of them, and marveling at their size, swiftness, and our lack of fear. Other small boats would join and from all of them, you could hear people making sounds of deep pleasure along with chatter in Spanish, English, and half a dozen other languages. Everyone wanted to touch the whales and since the leviathans didn't seem to mind, we all did. I heard one young woman repeatedly calling a giant she was kissing, "Baby" and speaking tenderly as if to her child. The whales stayed close for long interactions before diving and disappearing, only to return perhaps seven or eight times for more.

The whales were also interacting with each other, rolling on their sides and waving their flippers, then diving together, perhaps mating. When they parted they usually waved their gigantic tails and sometimes hurled themselves into the air giving the humans a thrilling sight of their huge bulk. After a time, when they didn't come back, we would travel back to camp amid flocks of pelicans, cormorants, and gulls, to rest up before dinner. These were days spent in awe, wonder, and gratitude. I felt I had been in the presence of the Creator.

Grey whales are baleen whales that eat small crustaceans. They grow to 49 feet long and weigh up to 90,000 pounds. They live their lives less than 30 miles from shore and come to sheltered bays off the Pacific to mate and give birth before returning to the coast of Alaska for summer feeding. Once hunted to near extinction, their numbers have slowly recovered in the North American population despite threats from ship strikes, ocean pollution, and hunting. As part of their traditional hunting, Native Alaskans killed 744 in 2023. A separate population off the coasts of Korea and Russia is gravely endangered and perhaps only 200 individuals remain. Besides us, orcas are their only other predators.

This trip was like a pilgrimage for me. I was deeply comforted by my interactions with these gentle giants and I will never forget the moment I first made eye contact with a whale, up close and sustained. While I cannot know much about what their lives are really like or even how I can support their continued existence, I feel like I met and grew intimate with a relative who deeply matters to me. I am grateful to the Mexican people for preserving this habitat for the friendly whales by protecting it from overfishing, development and other human uses. I am grateful for the aaah moments I experienced there that I found profoundly healing and restorative.


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