El Vizcaino Lagoon (World Heritage)

The lagoon of El Vizcaíno and the adjoining coastal lagoons extend over 25,468 km² and are an annual destination for gray whale populations that come here to mate and give birth to the calves. It is the breeding ground for seven species of sea turtles.

El Vizcaino Lagoon: Facts

Official title: El Vizcaino lagoon (whale sanctuary)
Natural monument: Laguna Ojo de Liebre since 1972 whale sanctuary, also a sanctuary for migratory birds and wild animals, since 1980 including the Lagunas Manuela and Guerrero Negro, since 1979 Laguna San Ignacio sanctuary for pregnant whales and whale calves; Total area of ​​3709.50 km²: Laguna Ojo de Liebre (2279.94 km²) and Laguna San Ignacio (1429.56 km²)
Continent: America
Country: Mexico
Location: Lagunas Ojo de Liebre (near Bahía Sebastián Vizcaíno) and San Ignacio (near Punta Abrejos), on the west coast of Baja California, between the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean
Appointment: 1993
Meaning: a very important winter quarters and »nursery« for gray whales, important breeding ground for three of the seven species of sea turtles found worldwide
Flora and fauna: Dunes around Laguna Ojo de Liebre and others with Abronia carterae, Lycium californicum and Larrea tridentata; on the northern Pacific north border of mangrove forest with Rhizophora mangle, Zostera marina and Salicornia bigelowii; Particularly occurrences of gray whales and bottlenose dolphins, in the Laguna San Ignacio also of California sea lions, as well as hawksbill, hybrid and green turtles

The “born again” gray whales

He appears with a loud snort: a huge, gray head pushes itself out of the water next to the small boat and sprays the occupants with a fountain of water vapor. The pair of nostrils at the top of the head are wide open and draw in new air. And then the unbelievable happens: the gray whale stretches its entire head out of the water and looks around attentively. It looks like a mottled gray rock overgrown with lichen, a creature from another, alien world. But this “spectacle” is over after a few minutes, and the mighty whale dives slowly, turning its head and carefully pushing its tip against the side of the boat. There is loud cheering, the cameras are forgotten, and everyone tries to touch him. Just stroking his encrusted head once fills many with a feeling of happiness. The visible white and yellow crusts turn out to be barnacles and “wall lice”, small crustaceans that settle on the whale and allow it to transport them through the sea. Only when the excitement subsides does one discover that the fingertips were cut when touching the sharp-edged barnacle skeletons.

The brief encounter seems to correspond to the paradisiacal ideas about the basic trust between humans and animals. A giant marine mammal comes, or at least it seems, swam to the people of its own accord and seeks peaceful contact with them, even though it could smash the small boat with a blow of its tail.

Towards the end of December, the gray whales appear in the warm bays on the west side of Baja California after their long migration from the icy arctic waters of the Bering Sea and the Chukchi Sea. In the protected waters, the whale cows give birth to their calves after a 13-month gestation period. Sucked with particularly high-fat milk, these grow up quickly. They playfully circle their mothers, and with age, their curious excursions become more and more extensive. They have to train their muscles, because at the beginning of March the long journey home to the nutrient-rich arctic waters begins.

Nobody knows yet why some gray whales seek peaceful contact with humans in the lagoons of El Vizcaíno, as they were mercilessly hunted by humans for decades. The early American whalers called them “devil fish” because, unlike other large whales, the mothers furiously defended their calves when they were attacked.

The population in the North Atlantic was already extinct when the American whaler Charles Melville Scammon discovered the previously unknown throwing places on the Pacific side in the shallow lagoons of Vizcaíno Bay in 1856.

Over the next few decades, the whalers made rich prey in the lagoons of Ojo de Liebre, Sebastian Vizcaíno and San Ignacio. Since mainly mother animals with calves were killed, the number of gray whales dwindled so quickly that 20 years later Scammon wrote: “The large bays and lagoons in which these animals once gathered are almost completely deserted. The huge bones are scattered on the beaches and are bleached by the sun, and you will wonder whether this mammal should not be counted among the extinct species. ”

However, in recent years the whales have started to return to the coastal waters of Mexico. According to payhelpcenter, due to the international whaling agreement, the few survivors are strictly protected. In the meantime, they have multiplied so much that the population of the East Pacific gray whales can now be regarded as saved.

Anyone who has been lucky enough to observe gray whales and see them jumping into the air several times in a row, clapping their flukes loudly on the water or turning around during a mating game, probably fully agrees with the words of whale researcher B. Scheffer: » They have opened our eyes to the distant limits of strength, beauty and grace that life can achieve.

El Vizcaino Lagoon