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LEFT TOP, mother and baby swim closely while the calf is educated in gray whale ways in the lagoons of Mexico and while making the precarious trip north to the Artic feeding grounds.


LEFT BOTTOM, tourism is strictly regulated at Mexican birthing lagoons. Here, in San Ignacio Lagoon, whale watchers board a handful of small motor boats called “pangas,” which will only come close to the whales when the cetaceans initiate contact.


BELOW, showing off its pint-sized baleen, this baby gray whale appears to be fl ashing a mighty grin. When the young whale reaches its northern feeding grounds, the baleen will be used to strain small crustaceans out of mouthfuls of mud scooped up from the ocean fl oor.


than a harpoon-filled classroom, now the mothers teach lessons alongside a handful of small boats filled with wide-eyed tourists or scientists. Astoundingly, the mothers typically ignore the hu- man presence.


“What’s even more amazing is that the moms actually push their newborn babies toward the boats,” said Peavey. “They actu- ally initiate interaction, which is totally unique.” Spurred on by growing hunger, the mothers move their calves out of the lagoons and introduce them to the ocean in early spring. Mom and baby swim together, nearly touching, and stop from time to time to nurse.


Condor Express captain Mathew Kurto came upon a pair years ago in the Santa Bar- bara Channel that seemed particular- ly interactive. The calf approached the boat, circled and cruised under its bulk, seeming to ask for a play-


mate. Finally, Kurto said, the mother pushed her barnacle-covered snout against the hull and pushed the boat backward gently but forcefully. Then she collected her charge and continued north, where an abundance of food awaited thousands of miles away. 


“I’ve got whale mojo,” Oki laughs. If the gray whale was sending a message, it chose the right human to receive it. Oki began researching gray whales and joined the effort to halt plans to construct a salt mining facility in southern Baja California along a lagoon used annually by mother gray whales to birth their calves and teach them the rudimentary skills of survival. “Fortunately it was a success- ful effort,” says Oki.


Gray whales caught Oki’s attention in the last decade, but she has fought to save cetaceans̶whales and dolphins̶for much longer. In recent years she has merged her art and conservation efforts into a sharp tool for protecting whales. In 2004, she started the Origami


Whale Project to raise awareness about commercial whal- ing, an industry that kills thousands of whales each year. She created a curtain of 1,400 colorful origami whales, each paper whale represented a whale lost to the whaling fleets of Japan and Norway.


The curtain now contains 32,000 whales, the number killed since the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling in 1986. The impact is stag- gering. While on display in February 2008 at Whale Day in Maui, the project drew thousands, some of whom wept for the symbolism of the paper whales.


Perhaps more important, however, is the impact on the thousands of individuals from around the world who have folded origami whales to contribute to the project. Each contributor is now personally connected to the issue of whaling. “It’s really empowering for people,” says Oki. 


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