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After Decades of Separation, Descendants of Laguna Ojo de Liebre’s Namesake Return

By Shari Bondy

March is gray whale month here in central Baja as the mothers and calves in the lagoons prepare to head north to join the rest of the gray whales who are already migrating. The Baja peninsula benefits from the economic boost that whale watching provides as thousands of tourists visit the lagoons each year.

dsc03118Laguna Ojo de Liebre, also known as Scammon’s Lagoon, received an unusual visitor this past week – Charles “Chris” Scammon, descendant of Captain Charles Melville Scammon, the infamous nineteenth century whaler for whom the lagoon is named. It was Chris Scammon’s first trip to the breeding and calving grounds where the California gray whale was once hunted to the brink of extinction. Due to major protection efforts, the grays made a remarkable comeback, and now some of them, known as “friendlies,” actively seek out human interaction. The official count this year, from the census taken in early March, is 2,712 gray whales in Ojo de Liebre – a world record for a single area.

Scammon, 67, had never before traveled to the lagoon that bears his name. “It’s been a 40-year quest,” he said in a recent interview, “I grew up hearing about my famous ancestor. My mother always wanted to come here, but she never made it. Finally I did.” When asked if he was nervous about “meeting” the whales, he replied, “I’m excited to be here. I don’t know if they will sense who I am or not, but I am ready to see what happens.”

He was not alone in his pilgrimage to the lagoon. In addition to his wife, Janet, and son, Alex, Chris was part of a unique traveling school that teaches high school students how to make inspiring documentary films. He hound that the Good Traveling Semester Program, based in Scammon’s hometown of Nevada City, CA, travels to Baja California every winter to study, learn, and film. Directors Debra and Tom Weistar first invited the Scammons to accompany them about four years ago. “We’ve been bringing students to Ojo de Liebre since 1994. When we learned of Chris’ family connection, we saw the opportunity to tell a compelling story.”

The whales did not disappoint. “This has been a fantastic trip,” Chris told us, “on my first trip out in the boat, a mother and calf played around the panga for quite some time. They seemed to let everyone in the boat touch them except me. I was a little disappointed at first, and wondered if it was a coincidence or not. But then the mother let me touch her, and it was wonderful.”

When asked if he would come back, Chris Scammon replied, “I will definitely come back.”

It was an honor for me to be a part of this project and guide Chris, his family and the school group. It was a very emotional few days at the lagoon and peace was made, forgiveness granted, and a new relationship forged between whales and the Scammon family.

The Good Traveling Semester Program students and staff return to Nevada City, CA at the end of the month where they will begin post-production work on Soul Migration, their new documentary.   For more information on the film and the semester program, visit here.

To see more information about Shari and her work in Bahia Asuncion, visit her personal blog here.

 

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