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Taryn Kiekow Heimer’s Blog

The Magic of "the Friendly Gray Whale"

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Posted March 1, 2012

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I just returned from a magical place where gray whales still reign supreme. Imagine the sight of hundreds of whales dotting the ocean as far as the eye can see. Imagine the sound of hundreds of whales breathing on a quite night.  Imagine the feel of a giant whale breaching next to your boat or curiously approaching your outstretched hand.  


Such a place may seem unimaginable, but it exists at Laguna San Ignacio: a pristine lagoon off of Baja California, Mexico where each year hundreds of gray whales swim thousands of miles from their Arctic feeding grounds to mate, give birth, and nurse their calves.  This place is so special that the United Nations declared the lagoon—which serves as essential habitat not only to gray whales but also to a number of sea turtles, migratory birds, and other species—a World Heritage site in 1993.

NRDC has been working to preserve this extraordinary place for years; since 1995, we led a successful campaign to stop Mitsubishi and the Mexican government from building a colossal salt works factory that could have threatened this invaluable ecosystem. NRDC worked with local coalition partners and the International Fund for Animal Welfare to mobilize renowned scientists, responsible government officials, and outraged citizens from around the world to oppose -- and the United Nations World Heritage Committee to investigate -- the salt works project in Laguna San Ignacio.  We also generated more than one million petitions of opposition – an unprecedented number enabled by the dawn of the internet age.  As a result, Mexico’s President Ernesto Zedillo canceled plans for the Mitsubishi salt works in 2000.  Since then, NRDC has been working with local communities and other environmental groups to secure permanent protection for the lagoon and surrounding lands.

NRDC also takes a group of visitors to Laguna San Ignacio every year to experience the magic.  I had the great fortune of visiting the lagoon last week with an amazing group of people.

We experienced the joy of watching the whales wave their flukes.  

Gray whale fluke

The beauty of seeing their heart-shaped spouts.

Gray whale spout

And the awe of looking into their eyes.

Thumbnail image for Baja Eye

It would be impossible to experience this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon and remain untouched.  The whales inspired love, joy and gratitude.  For several eager young ladies on my trip, the whales also inspired pure happiness. 


For me, the whales inspired a sense of purpose and a reminder of why NRDC works so hard to protect their health and habitat.  Seeing these gentle giants up close and personal was the experience of a lifetime – and truly magical.

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Carrie MapesMar 2 2012 05:39 PM

Imagine stumbling upon a groovy new friend amidst the whale mist and sea spray.

isabel wiattMar 2 2012 06:25 PM

thats me!!!!! that was the best trip ever. That was my 3rd time going and every time I go it gets better and better.

isabel wiattMar 2 2012 06:38 PM

teryn is very groovy

Taryn KiekowMar 2 2012 06:44 PM

Thank you Carrie and Isabel! It was an absolutely phenomenal trip and delight to meet you. You are wonderful ambassadors for the whales...spread the love!

Paris McCawMar 4 2012 12:47 AM

Oh yeah that's me!! Totally

diane nelsonMar 6 2012 11:20 AM

I will be leaving on Saturday for Guerrero Negro, Baja California sur to visit the gray whales for the second year in a row. How magical it is to look into their eyes!

JaneMar 10 2012 08:25 PM

Love the pictures and videos!

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