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From The HelmsMistress: Turtles, Whales and Boobies…oh my!

One of the coolest parts of our journey thus far is the opportunity the girls have had to learn about the ocean’s many creatures through live interaction supplemented with presentations by those who are actively researching them and working towards conservation.  Growing up in San Diego, my education on ocean animals came from visits to Sea World, but just think of the experience cruising kids get by observing the animals in their natural habitats and even having the opportunity to help marine biologists with sightings and conservation! 

The “turtle girls” as they became known on the Baja Ha-Ha, are turtle researchers who are working with UPWELL, a non-profit organization focused on protecting endangered sea turtles.  They took special interest in educating the kids during the Ha-ha – teaching them about turtle conservation through games and activities on the beach and even running a Q&A session on the VHF radio just for the kids.  As cruisers, we hit some remote locations and we found out we could become a part of the turtle spotting mission by recording our sightings and registering them with UPWELL – girls get your binoculars!  We didn’t spot any turtles on the Ha-ha – possibly because they are so recluse and very likely because we were all a bit preoccupied with “figuring this cruising thing out” at the time, but we have seen several since – both in Baja and on the Pacific coast.  We had another presentation just the other day during which we could ask about turtle behavior we have seen and I was reminded of the need to send in our turtle sightings and photos from Caleta Partida.  We still hope to help out with a baby turtle release while in Mexico, but in the meantime will keep our eyes peeled for turtles during our travels.

We are in the height of Humpback (whale) activity in Banderas Bay with mothers and calves seen frequently swimming side by side.  The bulls are coming into the bay to compete for a suitable mate and with that comes much more “excitement”.  For boaters, this means running with your motor on and being on the lookout for groups of whales performing all sorts of acrobatics.  I love watching them….from afar.  Having just returned to the anchorage yesterday, I was preparing lunch in the galley when I spotted a huge splash on the horizon.  “Whale breaching at 9 o’clock!”  I shouted to the girls.  Once everyone got their clock orientation down, we all saw this humungous creature launch his entire body out of the water and land on his back with an enormous splash.  I’m going with male, but could be entirely wrong, regardless it is just a remarkable sight even at a distance!  For the most part we see spouts followed by the very characteristic humpbacks, and repeated behavior such as pectoral fin or tail slapping which can go on for minutes and be heard from quite a distance away.  I sit at anchor constantly scanning the horizon until my eyes are watering often confusing a bird on the surface or a white sail in the distance for what I hope will be a whale sighting.  Their magnificent presence never seems to get old.

One of about a thousand pictures I have with a tiny spec of whale on the surface…time to break out the telephoto lens

We had an opportunity to hear about the local programs that are working to protect the whales – ECOBAC and RABEN.  ECOBAC is a Mexican non-profit organization working on research, protection and conservation of the whales, while RABEN is the team trained to rescue whales from entanglement in fishing gear.  We now know that should we ever find ourselves close enough or have the correct telephoto lens on the camera (good luck) that we can send photos of the underside of their tail to assist with identification and tracking of these massive creatures.  We were also encouraged to see that there are laws that dictate how far your vessel must be from the whales and that there are precautions around the bay warning any newcomers to observe without disturbing them.  Right in the anchorage we have active fishing nets being put in place as they have been for years prior to cruisers’ arrival here.  Banderas Bay hosts an intersection of whales and other large pelagic creatures, lush fishing grounds, cruisers, and tourists – we all have to strike a balance in preserving this beautiful bay for the future generations.  Out of the ashes of global warming and overfishing, we MUST fight to strike a balance that benefits man and beast.

Taken with an iPhone less than 100 yards from our boat. This is a mother Humpback actually nursing her calf. The calf is the second black bump in the picture. Female Humpbacks actually have nipples under their fins for the calf to suck on while they lay still in the water(logging), resting with just half their brain turned on.

Last but not least are the boobie sightings.  Not sure what others are seeing in nearby touristy of Puerto Vallarta, but I’m talking about the birds…. of course.  Who ever knew birds could be so exciting?  Certainly not me.  One of the first things you witness upon arriving at the anchorage are birds that literally dive bomb in a direct vertical plunge into the ocean with a nimbleness that puts most Olympic divers to shame.  Unless I’m on the lookout for whales, I am usually alerted to their presence by the “SMACK” sound in the water nearby.  I look up to see a splash and eventually a little brown and white head emerges, shakes off the water, and flies away, tucking in its blue feet as it goes.  I didn’t believe we would see the famed blue-footed boobies until visiting Isla Isabel (AKA the Mexican Galapagos), but those feet were indeed a bright turquoise blue – no doubt!  I confirmed that they come from the nearby Marietas Islands we navigated around just before entering the bay on new years eve.  I’ve also grown to love watching the pelicans with their awkward appearance and much less graceful PLUNGE into the water.  Who knew?!

The girls are becoming little marine biologists in the making – I think it must be inevitable for cruising kids.  They are persistent about accurately identifying the fish they find – presently debating whether it is a box fish, porcupine fish or puffer fish who frequently visits our boat in the marina. My kids are not shy so to hear them ask questions during the presentations and share stories in an effort to learn more about the world around them inspires me and gives me hope for the future.  We’ve all made efforts to live a little “greener” while out here and admittedly still have some work to be done.   When you see these amazing animals in their natural habitats, you understand how important it is to preserve that habitat for the future.

 

For more information please check out these websites to see their amazing efforts to help the animals.

www.upwell.org

www.ecobac.org

www.rabenmexico.org


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