National Geographic : 1971 Mar
where high salinity gives babies added buoyancy and abundant food enables mothers to make milk to suckle their young. Most cows, however, prefer the lagoon entrances, and some calve at sea. Scammon did not comment specifically on the mating habits of gray whales. But again, from personal observation, I believe that three whales a cow and two bulls-are involved. The function of the second bull has never been fully explained; presumably he helps stabilize the cow as she rolls on her side and presents herself to the male for the act of mating (pages 402-403). Nobody has witnessed the birth of a gray whale, but there is a possibility that photographer Bates Littlehales came closest to the experience. Before we left La Jolla on our Baja California expedition, Bates set out one afternoon to make aerial photo graphs along the migration route. After he had received his color transparencies from the proces sors, he telephoned me from his hotel. "I think I've got a picture of a whale giving birth," he said. "Come over and look at it." The picture had been made from low altitude near the Coronados, the island group off Tijuana, and showed a cow floundering on her back. I believe she was in labor, with what seemed to be about half of a baby protruding tail-first from her abdomen. Unfortunately, the thrashing of the whale roiled the water and obscured the details. We who follow the gray whale take such frustra tions in stride. We take comfort in the knowledge that the animals in ever-increasing numbers again roam the Pacific, free of the harpooner's threat. When Scammon and others of many nations hunted them, perhaps 25,000 existed. By the 1930's the species had been all but wiped out, and little hope was held for its recovery. Now, thanks to international protection, esti mates of the total population range as high as 18,000. My own guess would be about 6,000, based on the frequency of sightings and the relative abundance of whales in the lagoons during my seasons of study there. And the studies go on, so that each year we know more about these gray leviathans. But despite the efforts of scientists, whales are likely to remain-in part, at least-what Herman Melville called them: "portentous and mysterious."  "Moby Dick Parade," residents of southern California call the procession of grays that moves southward along their shores each winter. Telephoto lens captures the dive of this migrant, about a quarter of a mile offshore from San Diego. An average of 40 to 50 whales, sometimes as many as 75, file by in a day. On the trip northward, the herd usually swims farther offshore. KODACHROME BY NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHER BATESLITTLEHALES© N.G.S.