Any day that begins with blessings by whale snot and ends with projecting the filter-feeding feet of barnacles onto several big screens is a good day.
By 10:00 a.m., the pangas that had departed National Geographic Venture for Bahia Almejas were in the middle of cetacean soup. Gray whales were spouting in every direction, and spyhopping like 40,000 pound versions of Whack-A-Mole. Our little boat – just over half the length of a fully-grown adult gray – rocked in the waves as whales surfaced and dove around us, and at one point we were lovingly nudged by a whale directly beneath our hull. The baptisms by whale breath were a bonus. Given the amount of post-Valentine’s Day courtship that was taking place among the giants, eau du gray sneeze could fare well as a very eccentric perfume.
There was a slightly less appealing scent-sation (yes, this is why we’re naturalists) awaiting those who ventured onto Isla Margarita later that afternoon, foreboded by vultures hovering near the beach. The body of a male California sea lion had recently washed ashore. Victim of a shark attack? Or something more sinister? It certainly provided space for our group to get a close examination of such a large and powerful sea mammal, returning life to the desert environment even after death.
What else awaits in this desert? Peculiarly small, slow, and silent hummingbirds which on closer examination are not birds at all, but rather cleverly-disguised hawk moths; a fascinating collection of marine detritus (including sea turtle shell fragments and a dolphin skull); and at least two rattlesnakes who were rather less shy about making their presence known. To top it off, our first-ever group of Baja global explorers were shown their very first deceased whale on their very first Zodiac cruise. The whale donated a sample of barnacles and whale lice which were lovingly placed under microscope and projected as a live feed video during the pre-dinner recap that evening. This is what we call portion control. Honestly, though, who could make a day like this up?