Benjamin, my driver, was not a man of many words….. That was fine by me, as my Spanish didn’t stretch to any meaningful conversations anyway. In addition to this is was 5 o’clock in the morning and still dark when we set off along the Panamericana in a Southerly direction.
The reason why we had to make such an early start was that at this time of the day there is rarely any wind and only very few waves on the Pacific Coast. The place we were heading for was Los Organos – another unassuming and dusty fishing village
with a picturesque graveyard for wooden fishing vessels and a very welcome seasonal visitor : the humpback whale.
Although featuring not very high on the typical patient list of veterinary surgeons, aquatic mammals always hold a special attraction for the members of my profession. This might be because their way of life is so contradictory – why stay in or go back to the sea if your are breathing with lungs and not with gills ? Another reason is that all of these species – seals, dolphins, whales – are generally considered to be friendly (not always true) or even cute (also only true within limits).
The fact is though that during decades of organising evening and weekend courses for veterinarians in the South of England, the best attended event I witnessed was a presentation on “Veterinary care for aquatic mammals” . The room was so full that a lot of delegates had to sit on the floor or lean against the wall throughout the presentation.
I wonder if any of these colleagues then ever treated a harbour seal or a porpoise……..
Back in Los Organos a group of dedicated young marine biologists are giving visitors the opportunity to see humpback whales close up, providing you manage to turn up for an early start and …..you get not too affected by seasickness.
Following a brief introduction (when unbeknown to me my life west changed its owner …….)
the team split and while we were making our way across the pier to the boat, the other guides were climbing the hills behind the village.
It was adviseable to enter the boat quickly as the roof of the pier was doubling up as an over-night resting place for a whole colony of pelicans and quite a few of them had their rear ends strategically well placed over the edge of the roof…..
Armed with binoculars and their smart phones, the land party were our eyes and they guided the skipper to the places where they had seen signs of whales.
This could be spouting of sea water through the whales’ paired blowholes, it could be their dorsal fins while swimming or their tail fins when diving or – most impressively – a jump.
Not much of the latter for us today, but following the use of an under water microphone and listening in on the sounds of both whales and nearby sea lions, it took the team not very long until we spotted some dorsal fins breaking through the surface and we managed to drive the boat alongside some of these huge animals.
Over the following two hours we were lucky to spot and to identify quite a few of these gentle giants, but compared to September their numbers were much reduced as some females and their calves had already made their way South for the feeding grounds in Antarctica.
Back at the pier, the pelicans had woken up and had lowered themselves (not an easy maneuver for a pelican) to the pier itself where they were now patiently waiting for their share of this morning’s catch.
Benjamin must have managed to get some breakfast as well and with if not a lively but then at least a rudimentary conversation we set off to our second destination today – the legendary Cabo Blanco Fishing Club.