By Ben Wheeler
STUNNED and delighted tourists can be seen getting up close and personal with huge 50ft long Californian gray whales off the coast of Mexico.
Stunning birds-eye footage shows a small fishing boat gently approaching two whales, which could win a prize for being the friendliest on the planet, before getting close enough for those on board to pet and stroke the animals.
The video was taken in San Ignacio Lagoon, located in the Mulegé municipality of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur by award winning marine life photographer, filmmaker, whale researcher and conservationist Jeff Pantukhoff, 59, from San Clemente, California.
“San Ignacio Lagoon is really one of the only places in the world where you will experience this type of amazing interaction with California gray whales,” said Jeff.
“There are no other species of baleen whales that actively seek out human interaction like this where they approach boats so closely that you can reach out and touch them.
“There are anywhere between two and four-hundred gray whales in the lagoon when we are there in March and next year will mark my 25th season leading trips there.
“For a lot of my guests these trips are life changing, just as they were for me and I have gained several supporters who have now been doing this for the last ten years with me.
Jeff, who runs The Whaleman Foundation, a non-profit research, education, conservation, and wildlife film production organisation dedicated to protecting our oceans, detailed some of the important work that Whaleman undertake.
“I founded Whaleman in 1995 with the primary mission of raising public awareness while educating key decision makers on issues that affect dolphins, whales, porpoises and their critical habitats.
“We’ve since written, directed and produced seven films on the critical issues facing sea life and their environment along with numerous public service announcements, presenting these to the likes of the United Nations and US Congress.
“Along the way we’ve had a number of the worldwide stars join us on our quest as spokespersons including Hayden Panettiere and Piers Brosnan.
Jeff had an important message for the general public about the importance of his work and the role everyone can play in protecting our oceans.
“What most people do not realise is that our oceans are under severe threat from warming sea temperatures, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, eroding habitats, the loss of over 50% of the world’s coral reefs, over-fishing causing a reduction of over 90% of commercial fish stocks and the list goes on and on but there is hope,” he said.
“Given the chance, our oceans and the life they contain can rebound but it is going to take all of us to consciously make the choice to make a difference in our daily lives from choosing what kind of cleaners and shampoos to use, pesticides, single use plastics, the type of car you drive.
“Making the right choices in your daily life can have a huge impact on the health of our oceans, our planet, and all life on earth, including our own so the time for change is now!”
California gray whales are found mainly in the shallow waters of the North Pacific Ocean, they are frequently observed travelling alone or in small, unstable groups although large aggregations may be seen on feeding and breeding grounds.
Gray whales are bottom feeders, sucking sediment and amphipods that are their prey from the sea floor. Both the average and maximum lifespan of these marine mammals is unknown, although researchers have estimated that they can live up to 80 years of age.
Thanks to conservation efforts by the likes of Jeff and The Whaleman Foundation, gray whales have been removed from the US Endangered Species list after a successful period of population recovery with their numbers now totalling an estimated 26-thousand.
For more information see The Whaleman Foundation website