Whales and other
Marine Mammals of
California and Baja

Tamara Eder
(Lone Pine)
Sperm whales can descend to 10,000 feet below the surface of the sea. One blue whale measured in at 110 feet, and another weighed 200 tons. There are eighty-one known species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, and the gray whale migrates (round trip, one year) 12,400 miles. And if you thought your last pregnancy took too long, try the killer whale's, which is a year and three months.

All these facts are to be found in Tamara Eder's highly competent and excellently designed book on the whales of California and Baja. The pages are color coded, so that if you are looking for baleens, you can go to the gray whale, or one of the six rorquals, or the two right whales, in a trice.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, whale oil waxes used for "lamps, lipsticks, soaps, shampoos, cooking goods, ice creams, crayons, glycerin, lotions, machinery lubricants, candles, leather processing, varnishes, and adhesives." There was also baleen for "umbrella ribs, corsets, whips, window shutters, fishing rods, dress hoops, hairbrushes, and shoehorns."

The great times of depredation of the whale were not wholly in past centuries. Slow whales like the right whale and the bowhead were done in during that period, but starting in 1925, with the invention of "the explosive harpoons, high-speed whaling vessels and floating whale-processing factories" faster whales like the fin, blue, humpback, and minkes began to disappear.

It's all a scandal of course, the usual greed of a few men to feed off what was thought to be the endless cornucopia of the sea. Fortunately, we tree-huggers have made some progress, and whale-watchers flock to places like Fort Bragg, Monterey, Balboa, Guerrero Negro and Magdalena Bay to see these strange creatures breach, lob-tail, spy-hop, fluke, rub and blow their minds.

Speaking of blowing minds, once when I had become entangled in the arms of strong drink, I made up a fine canard about the wily Japanese, who --- I assured my flaky friends --- through clever manipulation of genes, had bred the gray whale down to aquarium size. For a couple of hundred dollars, I claimed, you and I could purchase a pair of these miniature whales, each about six inches long, who, in our very living rooms, would swim about in a standard fish tank, blow their little spouts and, once properly trained, breach as much as a foot in the air.

Because of my convincing air, my guests, besotted with excessive drink or other mind-altering poisons, believed totally in the whole long line I played out for them, had visions of aquariums filled with tiny hump-backs, humping about the seas of our expansive if colorful minds.

--- Ignacio Schwartz

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