"Wonderland" / 12 February 2012
2012.02.07-19 - 1530 hours - latitude N 24 degrees 28 minutes and longitude 111 degrees 47 minutes - Bahia Almejas - we're on our way south after obtaining a host of whale photos including two fluking at once; adults with young ones with their blow holes and even several breaches [humpbacks leaping partly out of the water]. The weather is fine with a brisk northerly wind propelling us in excess of 5 knots. At this pace we'll arrive in Cabo San Lucas in approximately 24 hours [154 Nautical miles as the Frigate bird flies].
Food for thought as we depart Magdalena Bay: We encountered numerous small outboard motor powered boats that have been modified to accomodate "whale watchers". Although this area is relatively isolated it is a very popular spot for whales. How much harm, if any, is this type of ecotourism doing to whale behaviour? The constant sounds of the motors surely interfere with whale vocalisations and the boat operators aren't always sensitive to whale space and project their craft very close to a surfaced cetacean.
There are ecotourism programmes world-wide. No ecosystem, aside from the ocean trenches, is inaccessible to operators and the prying eyes of tourists who in todays recreation market are seeking unique experiences. This means the Antarctic islands; The Galapagos, Tierra del Fuego; and even the remotest rain forest has been invaded by novice naturalists. Is this good, bad or of no consequence? In the best of all possible worlds [which unfortunately we do NOT live in] we would have representative ecosystems of abundant area to provide virgin habitat for all species in their food webs. That would still leave tracts of remote land where ecotourism could maintain a thriving business. It might even leave some land left over to develop sensibly.
However we are entering a century that we are the recipients AND contributors of excesses in environmental abuses leading to destruction of habitat and dwindling species numbers due to exploitation. There are so many examples that it would take a tome to include all of them. Yesterday we highlighted the plight of sharks in Magdalena Bay - the tip of the world iceberg concerning the carnage of cartillaginous fish!
Our world as Alice states, as she encounters the insanities of "wonderland", "Things are becoming curiouser and curiouser!". Pipelines get placed in the pristine north. Polar bears are invading rubbish tips as their natural food supplies diminish. Rain forests are denuded of their slow growing hard woods and are replaced by ill conceived industries and fly by night farms. In this mix ecotourism was born. A child of substitutions. We ask potential environmental rapists[perhaps too strong a phrase] to cease and desist selling shark fins, sea cucumbers, trees, exotic animals and sea life and replace that with promoting that which once was exploited and now is protected for monetary gain!
In a decade of the "lesser of two evils", ecotourism just might be the stop gap we need until such time as we can evolve into a species that is an integral part of their ecosystem and NOT the spoiler/exploiter he is today. We'll highlight some of the better and worse ecotourism projects in a later article. Until then do express yourself on this topic as we have more questions than answers.
The novice vaka sailor learns very quickly that without the uli, na i uli in Fijian, that the double hulled vessel goes no place, but round in circles or pushed this way and that subject to the winds and currents. Our Polynesian forefathers understood this and developed a very responsive steering paddle without the aid of any metal at all! No nails, wires, bearings or wheels simply hard wood, a knowledgable carver and an equally skillful "mataisau" - boat builder. The Uto ni Yalo is no exception. No metals went into making its uli. The paddle itself is laminated and carved traditonally. The "ball and socket" joint that permits a freely moving paddle has a durable plastic cup that along with the ball on the joint permits almost frictionless multi-directional movement while turning. The uli is attached to the crossbeam by sturdy ropes knotted and tied in such a way that no internal movement of the paddle is allowed.
Imagine a 72 foot vaka often using three sails to increase speed being steered by hand! No automatic pilot only human power. In heavy seas and increased velocity it often takes two strong sailors to keep on a steady course especially where a passage might be narrow with dangerous rocks and reefs.
Such is the case as this is written. We are proceeding with caution through Canal De Rehusa [Rehusa Channel] with Punta Santa Marina on our port side [left]. Breakers have been sighted. The wind is at a slight angle to the vaka. LeeAnn, an experienced sailor is at the uli communicating directly with the skipper who stands at the bow and shouts commands which he expects to be followed immediately. Experienced hands are on all stations and skipper has ordered everyone on deck and in life jackets.
The drama of the moment has been enhanced by the presence of the largest agregation of whales we have sighted since entering Bahia Magdalena. We estimate that extrapolating a census by counting blows,breaches, fluke and flipper sightings that there must be well over 150 whales of all ages in this isolated and shallow channel. Perhaps it's the counter currents that they are attracted to. Their food supply could be in greater abundance or simply due to the erratic sea conditions where no motorised boat will go giving the whales an environment of no extraneous sound.
Tension mounted as vaka after vaka in full communication with each other reached the whale concentrations. Some excellent video footage was collected. We were in such close proximity to these gentle giants that Filo got her first whiff of whale "blow! [a smell somewhere between rotten fish and sea bird guano!] Don't expect any greater detail or explanation.
Just as we seemed to have run out of whale excitement, the type of pathos created on Reality TV began. Skipper was barking commands fast and furiously, often three or four in 15 seconds. Kele and Jim, as mentioned earlier in the article, doubled on the uli, with navigator Seta right behind. In complete control Skipper remained on the bow anticipating changes in currents, tidal influences and listening to the other captains comparing observations. LeeAnn, harness hooked in, braved the railing to get some action video of the water and sister vakas. Ben, who had just completed the evening meal, guarded the contents of three pots still on the stove. Later he proudly said that nothing spilled in the maelstrom where tides met currents energised by contrasting winds and further complicated by the deep water beyond.
To watch the crew of the Uto ni Yalo respond to potential dangers in such a "PROFESSIONAL" way is a tribute to our captain for preparing them and to the FIVS and Colin Philp for selecting them. The uli and its human counterparts worked as a team. With each command of a change of course the uli handled expertly by two young men did not fail to keep the vaka on course and out of danger.
A rudderless vaka would have been at the mercy of all the factors mentioned earlier. Perhaps those elements in our society today who have strayed from their course could use an uli of their own.
tabu soro mai Viti.........................our journey gets exciting!