Saturday, April 07, 2007

Laguna San Ignacio from Space

Apropos of the new paperback edition of Miraculous Air, for the travel bookseller Longitude Books, I just finished a couple of paragraphs on Baja California's Laguna San Ignacio, one of the nurseries for the gray whale.

Of all the spectacular places, and all the mind-opening things I saw in my travels through this nearly 1,000 mile-long peninsula, the most sublime was the vast, sand-ringed Laguna San Ignacio when it was filled, literally filled with gray whales. Having spent the summer feeding in the plankton-rich seas around Russia and Alaska; in early January they begin arriving into the warm shallow waters of Baja California’s inner bays, where cows give birth to their ten-foot-long half-ton calves. The adults range from 39 to 46 feet from nose to fluke-tips, that is, the length of a four-storey building laid on its side. They may weight as much as 30 tons. Amazingly, these monstrous creatures are so docile that not only do many allow small boats to approach them, but they also like to be touched. This is what happened the first time I went out on the water in the small skiff called a panga. Some three miles from shore, the driver slowed the engine to a burble. All of a sudden, not ten feet from the prow, a massive snout rose up out of the water straight as an obelisk, perhaps twenty feet high. Covered with barnacles and clumps of lice that looked a gelatinous pink in the sunlight, thick rivulets of water rushed down; the skin, a dark rubbery-looking gray, glistened. The line of the whale’s mouth curved slightly as if in a rueful smile, and the baseball-size eye, only inches above the water, swiveled in its socket. Then the whale turned, slowly, and opened its jaws, revealing a comb of flax-yellow baleen. It stayed like this for perhaps thirty seconds. Then, noiselessly, it slipped back down into the lagoon.

And apropos of that, check out this amazing view of Laguna San Ignacio from space.