Whale Monitoring: Building a Conservation Society in Baja

Posted on Tuesday, Mar 15th, 2016
Magdalena Bay gray whale. Photo credit: Logan Carter

To work with ROW Sea Kayak Adventures is more than a job. It’s a lifestyle. It is a lifestyle with a huge sense of commitment, and with the power to give meaning to life. It’s about serving others. I’ve experienced this directly while working with SKA, and I’ve also seen every SKA guide embrace this mission. It’s part of our life. As Gandhi said “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” and what better way to do so than in nature.

To be a guide is to have a life of service. Immersed in this life of service, you are aware of the impact this attitude has on everything that surrounds it; the trip, other guides, our guests, and the environment. The quality of the service is more than a company's strategy; it shapes a company's philosophy in a huge way, and thus defines the core of the spirit of our trips.

Within the framework of providing superlative service, we also strive accomplish ROW's, Sea Kayak Adventure's parent company, mission of “Sharing Nature – Enriching Lives." Our goal is to  provide unique experiences that change lives, and leave a positive impact on our guests, ourselves, and the places we visit. But also, our mission takes into account the impact we can have with some of the guests we get every year at one of the best places on Earth; the gray whales of Magdalena Bay.

Last year we introduced a program involving our guests to help monitor the gray whales that spend their winters in Magdalena Bay. By having our guests become more aware of whale behavior, and helping to identify individual whales, we are able to enhance their understanding about the whales, while obtaining valuable information about the whales. This also opened the door to help our guests learn more about the conservation efforts that are needed to protect this species. Aside from watching the whales (which is very fun in and of itself), our guests are able to gather data that serves as a basis for scientific research in population dynamics. Most importantly, these experiences set the stage for our guests to be more connected with the whales, moving them from being mere spectators to keen observers more invested in the future of the whales’ survival.

As a result of this group effort, we created our first catalogue of individual whales in Magdalena Bay. We shared this data with the University of La Paz which is in charge of the study of the population dynamics of Baja's gray whales. With this information, we can be more aware of the conservation status of this fascinating species.

To speak about the connections our guests forged during this program is important and relevant because it is one of the basic cornerstones of the sustainability that everybody is talking about right now. We were able to present the results of our prototype of monitoring the gray whales with our guests at the National Congress of Zoology in Mazunte, Oaxaca last November (2015). The goal of this congress was to reunite researchers, students and nature lovers to exchange, analyze and evaluate the advances made in the last years within the conservation and management of zoological diversity of Mexico.

At this congress, beyond exposing numbers of sightings and relevant data (which are also important), we made a bigger emphasis in the importance of the effect these activities have on connecting people to their natural heritage. This happens to be the basis of natural interpretation, and the core of our trips. I had the privilege to assist in a discussion with one of the best natural researchers we have today, Wallace J. Nichols, who made a clear emphasis in the need of these type of emotional, physical and psychological connections with nature.

We live in a very complex time in which our individual and collective needs change constantly. Nevertheless, our demand of experiences in nature has been accentuated in the last years. Our connection with nature has to be stengthened. This year (2016) has been declared the sustainable tourism year for development with the goal of contributing to a better understanding of cultures, and to promote the conservation of our natural heritage as humans.

For us, it’s another opportunity to make the best effort to continue with our service to our guests and nature. This type of adventure tourism goes a step beyond; it not only tells guests about conservation efforts, but actively involves them in these efforts. It takes our motto of "Sharing Nature - Enriching Lives" to the next level by connecting people to nature, giving them a purpose in its preservation, and therefore enriching their lives. As Muhamad Ali said “The service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth”.

And you, how do you think we can better serve our environment?

 

Here are some of the testimonies of our prototype project from last year:

"It enhances the experience a lot! We have a better understanding of what we are seeing and it provides a better context to the life of whales." - Cathie Christie

"It’s excellent to include people more in the observing program. Your information was great... It’s a necessary thing!" - Béatrice Bälli

"I thought it was an amazing experience!" - Julie Fiske