Magdalena Bay, Baja California

Mar 06, 2019 - National Geographic Sea Bird

For the past two days, we’ve watched the whales. We have longed to see them behave in a way that makes us ooh and ahh, and we have had the incredible opportunity to place our hands upon them. Imagine… These completely wild animals approached us, and in an instant, no longer were they separate from us. We, in this magical moment, became a part of nature, a part of something bigger than ourselves.

It happened repeatedly, and in a matter of two days, it became almost expected. How easy it was to forget that in the memory of these animals are the shadows of people who would wound their calves, in order to keep the parents close by, so they might have the chance to harvest them. It is in the memory of these incredible beings that most of their kind was wiped from the face of Earth. One cannot help but wonder if the opposite were to have been the case, if the whales were the ones who killed with rampant disregard for our lives, for our very existence, would we be as gracious now that the killing has stopped?

More and more scientists are accepting that many animals are self-aware, that they have feelings, and the whales are on the top of that list. Yet there we were. When we reached out our hands, these whales—victims of inconceivable atrocities—lifted their heads and allowed us to make contact with such genteelness, such curiosity, it was so easy to forget how special the exchange was. It was a privilege and an opportunity to learn and to experience the wildness that the naturalist Aldo Leopold once said is inherent in all of us, and necessary to our own survival.

Soon we will be back in our homes, back in our offices, and maybe, just maybe, in a moment of frustration over our jobs or our place in life, we will remember the moment when the whales let us into their world. We might use this experience as a catalyst to participate in other adventures, to once again satisfy the need for this primal experience. Maybe it kindled a memory within our own souls from a time when we too were wild. Maybe we need to be reminded that even as we sit within the concrete walls of our workplaces, we need the wilderness, we need to be in contact not just with whales, but with trees, with flowers, with squirrels, with nature. Maybe, the whales allowed us this connection to remind us that we too are a part of nature. Whatever the reason, the whales have changed us. We will never be the same again.

Afterward, we kayaked along mangroves. We felt the sand between our toes as we walked the pristine dunes. We watched, as line after line of cormorants flew overhead. So many memories of this experience will be recalled with a sense that this was no mere vacation. We have touched the whales, and the whales have touched us as well.

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About the Author

Steve Morello

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Steve Morello has had a long and colorful career in the natural history world. Born in New Jersey he was lucky to be able to summer on the shores of Cape Cod. Whether it was exploring the tidal pools, snorkeling along the beach, or hiking in the dunes, it all came together to instill in him a deep connection to the natural world. It was no surprise that he would return to the Cape as a whale researcher in his adult years. It was on the Cape that Steve first became involved in guiding, and for 15 years acted as naturalist on whale watching boats in the Gulf of Maine. Steve worked with groups creating environmental education material for school programs and soon found another one of his passions, photography.

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