National Geographic : 1971 Mar
The California EAREIN whale/ a small out gray whale V board mo comes back torboatinScammon comes back Lagoon, on the bar ren, dune-rippled coast of Mexico's Baja California. Suddenly, less than 100 feet away, an awesome creature the size of a Greyhound bus rises vertically from the slate-colored water. Its gaping mouth reveals the baleen, a comblike mass of horny plates hanging from the upper jaw. Through the baleen stream gallons of muddy water. Long ribbons of eel grass dangle from the mouth. The spectacle is reminiscent of a prehistoric monster as portrayed by an imaginative artist. And that, in a way, is what we are seeing: a California gray whale (Eschrichtius glau cus), once perilously near extinction but now protected by international agreements and staging an impressive comeback. In the few seconds before our whale slides from view, we get a good look at the long tapered head with eyes set far back near the corners of the mouth. Colonies of barnacles 396 and lice pock the front third of its 50-foot long cigar-shaped body (page 411). These, combined with the mottled and scarred skin, create a grayish appearance, hence the ani mal's name. Sometimes it is called the desert whale be cause its winter mating and calving grounds lie along a desolate stretch of Mexico's Pacific shore, some 400 miles south of the United States border. Each year it makes a round trip of at least 8,000 miles between chill Arctic and warmer Pacific waters. Cruising mostly along the coast, the gray re veals itself to thousands of people, permitting The Author: A Montanan educated as a biologist in Wisconsin, Dr. Theodore J. Walker did not see salt water until World War II, when he served aboard a U. S. Navy destroyer in the Pacific. Later, as an associate research oceanographer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at La Jolla, California, he took up the study of gray whales. Twenty-three years of firsthand observation have led him to many new and sometimes controversial conclusions about the behavior of these wondrous marine mammals. He now makes documentary films on natural history for television.