Jose Sanchez, marine biologist, ecotourism guide, expert on the “friendly whales”

by | Nov 10, 2021

Jose Sanchez—a naturalist trained in marine biology, and an expert on the so-called “friendly whales” of San Ignacio Lagoon in the Baja California region of Mexico, having led ecotourism trips there for 25 years—recalls growing up in a family that prized nature and wildlife, regularly taking outdoor outings to explore and enjoy those things. Sanchez relates how he turned this early passion into a professional path, studying marine biology at what’s considered Latin America’s top school, going on to join a marine mammal program, but before long, ecotourism lured him away from academia. Specifically, he says, he became enchanted with the California gray whales–the ones that migrate from the Arctic (some, from Russia, Sanchez notes) to the Lagoon for mating and birthing. Then, after giving birth, the mother whales not only allow humans near their

babies, but in some cases, bring the calves over to folks sitting in the pangas, or small boats, allowing the calves to be touched or petted. The Friendly Whales. Remarkable as this phenomenon is, Sanchez explains how it’s striking in another regard: there was whaling taking place in the Lagoon as recently as 80 years ago, so it’s thought that older whales in this area might be survivors of the end of that last whaling period. Which means one has to reconcile the friendly whales permitting humans in pangas getting very close—the way counterparts in similar boats did so mere decades ago, but wielding harpoons. Sanchez discusses the notion of the whales in San Ignacio Lagoon having forgiven the humans—one of the instances in the conversation where he was careful to note the possible anthropomorphism of his observations—and the related pivotal moment where a fisherman in the Lagoon, named Francisco “Pachico” Mayoral had the first genial encounter with a whale, a powerful moment thought to have occurred in 1972. After nearly a quarter century leading trips in San Ignacio Lagoon, Sanchez and his family recently launched a company, Pure Baja Travels, which specializes in expeditions to the Lagoon, to commune with the friendly whales. (,,



ALSO: I also spoke briefly with Matt Shelley, the organizer of Punks for Paws 2, an all-day extravaganza of punk music—featuring 14 bands—happening Saturday Nov. 13 at Pinellas Ale Works in St. Petersburg, with the proceeds going to Friends of Strays Animal Shelter. Shelley explains that he assembled the first Punks for Paws in 2019 spurred by two passions: punk rock (he’s a musician, playing in Arcane Arcade, one of the bands on the Nov. 13 line-up), and animal welfare, noting he’s a big fan of Friends of Strays, the shelter located in St. Petersburg. Punk for Paws 2 details: Doors open at noon at Pinellas Ale Works, 1962 1st Avenue South, St. Petersburg, and the show is expected to run thru midnight. Tickets are $10.  (,,

COMEDY CORNER: Brian Regan’s “Whale Noises” (

MUSIC: Rebekah Pulley’s “Talking Animals Theme,” instrumentals

NAME THAT ANIMAL TUNE: We didn’t play “Name That Animal Tune” today.


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