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NewSage Press, Inc.
PO Box 607
Troutdale, OR 97060

Phone 503-695-2211

Toll Free 877-695-2211




ISBN 0-939165-55-4
Book 160 pages
DVD 30 Minutes
click to order Life Touches Life

Whales: Touching the Mystery
By Doug Thompson

Ever since his first contact with a gray whale while surfing as a teenager in Southern California, Doug Thompson has had a passion for whales. For more than thirty years he has traveled the world as a whale naturalist, guide, and activist.

In this package set of book (160 pages) and companion DVD (about 30 minutes in length), Thompson shares the unprecedented interaction between humans and the Gray whales of Baja's San Ignacio Lagoon. This is what Thompson calls "Touching the Mystery."

His book includes stories of whales he has met and the thrilling mystery of interacting with these gentle giants. Thompson also writes about the hidden lives of whales, their mysterious migrations, and the modern threats they face in the world's waters.

He chronicles the efforts of human champions who helped end whale hunting and initiate whale watching in the United States. For the future of whale and human, Thompson offers solutions for a healthy economy based on whale watching rather than whale killing. Thompson weaves a fascinating story of personal accounts, his own and others, along with factual information on the world of whales. The DVD of whales and humans sharing friendship will shift your perceptions forever about what we might learn from other animals.

Author’s web site:

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  • Chapter Two
    Between Whales and humans
  • Chapter Three
    Keepers of the Lagoon
  • Chapter Four
    Whale Watching Camps
  • Chapter Five
    Protecting the Lagoon
  • PART 2:
    Gray Whales
  • Chapter Six
    A Brief History of Whale Hunting
  • Chapter Seven
    Indigenous Whale Hunting and Whale Watching
  • Chapter Eight
    The Global Warming
  • Chapter Nine
    Modern Threats to Whales
  • Chapter Ten
    Whale Eco-nomics: A Future With the Whales


A camp visitor hugs a friendly whale.



As wonderful as it is to touch the whales and kiss them and hug them, it has also been wondrous to just watch them in the open waters.


In 1972, Francisco "Pachico" Mayoral became the first person known to touch a friendly Gray Whale.



Introduced to the whales by his father at age ten, Ranulfo Mayoral is a top naturalist and guide at San Ignacio Lagoon.


San Ignacio Lagoon is a birder's paradise as well as a whale watcher's.


Humans can be as playful as the whales.


"Why do whales living wild and free in the ocean, seek encounters with humans? Doug Thompson shares his thirty years of experience studying gray whales in remote Baja, Mexico lagoons, and with his book and DVD explores the mystery of this extraordinary interspecies connection. And he shares, too, his love for the whales, the place, and the people. It is an inspiring story, and illustrates how conservation of wild life, the economic well being of the local people, and the often life-changing experience of those who become involved are, together, weaving a message of hope for the future of the whales--and for us all.

—Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE
UN Messenger of Peace


Author Doug Thompson has spent thirty years with cetaceans--studying, conserving and educating us about these fascinating mammal 'cousins.' Like Jacques Cousteau and other activist/naturalists, Thompson's stories in Whales: Touching the Mystery, call us into a complex and fragile underwater world with other species who have so much to teach us about social skills, communication, and finding balance within our blue planet.

--Brenda Peterson
Sightings: The Mysterious Journey of the Gray Whale
(National Geographic Books, 2003)

“Ecologist supreme, credentialed naturalist, writer, award-winning documentary film-maker, photojournalist, lecturer, hot storyteller...above all, a man at peace with the planet.”

--The Orange County Register


Doug Thompson's writing is provocative and informative...not only our best read feature columist, but the only one to warrant fan mail!

--California Riviera Magazine

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Introduction: A Calling from the Whales

When I began leading whale watching trips as a young man in 1977, I did not realize my life would be so profoundly affected by San Ignacio Lagoon, the whales, and the local people. The day I had my first physical contact with a Gray Whale, the lagoon was calm and the warm sun soothing. I had five people in our sixteen-foot, aluminum skiff, which we launched from our ninety-five-foot vessel, The Searcher. We had just anchored after a two-day trip from San Diego.

As we slowly cruised within the mouth of the lagoon, whales were breaching, spy hopping, and spouting. Sometimes they would get within fifteen or twenty feet of our skiff. This alone was thrilling. Then it happened. A mother whale and her baby began to circle our skiff, coming closer with each pass. We kicked our small outboard engine into neutral so the prop was not moving. We knew it was a good idea to have the engine running to let the whales know where we were in their acoustic world. After about ten minutes, the mother slowly headed straight toward our skiff with her baby by her side. Every historic account I had ever read warned that a boat caught between a mother and her baby was dangerous. We did not engage the prop for fear of hurting the whales. Everyone looked at me and I realized I had no idea what was going to happen next. I flashed on the thought, All these people have signed up for this trip after hearing me give a presentation on whales. I did describe the trip as an adventure, but I never said or thought it might be dangerous.

Now we were within arm’s length of a full-grown mother whale about forty-five feet long and weighing some sixty thousand pounds, and her two-thousand pound baby. Just then the mom stopped next to the port side of our skiff and the baby moved just off the stern with his head almost in the skiff. Everyone waited for me to say something, do something. Even the mother whale, her massive body right next to the boat with her head tilted up, looked at me expectantly. Within moments I decided, This way of dying is far better than being flattened by a car on the freeway.

I reached out and touched the mother. She submerged a little and then came right back up, seeming to want more. So, following my heart, I reached out and tried to hug her. It was pretty hard to hug the whale, but I gave it a good try. Everyone in the skiff had been sitting motionless, watching in silence. Then, as if deciding within moments that it was safe, they moved to the sides of the skiff and began stroking the mother and the baby.

After awhile we looked up at one another. We all had tears in our eyes. This was a surreal world we had entered—one where two unlikely species reached out to one another. Touching and hugging whales in the wild did not fit into our realities, yet there we were communing with the whales! In turn, the whales seemed aware of just how vulnerable we were, and they were careful not to rock the boat or move us around too much. We had stroked and touched the mom and baby for a good twenty minutes when I realized we had drifted about a mile from The Searcher in this remote desert lagoon. The encounter ended when the mom moved about ten feet away from the skiff and somehow signaled her baby that playtime with the humans was over. The baby then moved next to mom and off they went.

While motoring back to The Searcher, everyone began talking at once, yet we could not quite express what we were thinking and feeling. Somehow we had slipped into another dimension and we were not sure what to make of this. No one took photos even though we all had good camera gear with us in the skiff. By the end of our stay that season, everyone on board had a friendly encounter with a whale. And every trip after that, it just got better.

This was not the first time I had come eye-to-eye with a great Gray Whale. Some fifteen years before that first trip to San Ignacio Lagoon, a chance encounter bound my life to the world of whales. I was thirteen years old, surfing off the coast of Huntington Beach, California. On that particular day it was unusually calm, and I had been waiting for quite awhile to catch a decent wave. Finally, I felt a swell and turned to look for the wave that might carry me to shore. Suddenly a huge spout of warm, pungent water blasted through the glassy sea and sprayed me. Startled, but too fascinated to be scared, I sat motionless while this whale, maybe forty feet long, surfaced. She forcefully sucked in air through two blowholes the size of saucers. This was my first time hearing a whale breath, a sound I would never forget. Then the whale rolled slightly to one side and looked straight at me with her deep, dark eye the size of a softball. In that moment all thought, and time itself, disappeared. I held my breath and stared back, face-to-face with a Gray Whale. After what seemed like a long time, she pumped her tail slowly, turned in a half circle, and glided away. I was alone again, and despite my youth somehow I knew I would never be the same.

That day was the beginning of a relationship with whales and the ocean that has lasted my entire life. Nearly every meaningful lesson I have ever learned and every inspiring person I have ever met, has been because of my connection with whales. The quest to learn more about whales has led me on many adventures to international waters—from New Zealand to Hawaii to Alaska, and most important, along the Pacific coastline of North America following the Gray Whales. I am a whale enthusiast of sorts, convinced these creatures can transform the way we humans live. They certainly have changed my life, and it is my passion to share the excitement of being in the presence of one of earth’s grandest creatures.

Some people have been privileged to enter the world of another species. Jane Goodall with the chimpanzees and Farley Mowat with the wolves immediately come to mind. Each altered their way of living to better fit the rhythm of their chosen species, and each was fundamentally changed in the process. As a result they garnered tremendous insight into the worlds and intelligences of other species. These insights have enriched human understanding and appreciation of other animals.

These individuals have been a tremendous inspiration to me in my own efforts to enter the world of the whales. Though I have not been able to live in the whales’ world for extended periods of time, I have witnessed and experienced friendly, interspecies interactions between whales and humans for thirty years. I have been privileged to know others who have studied the whales, or who have lived their whole lives on the shores of San Ignacio’s Baja birthing lagoon. And I have spent time with thousands of whale watchers whose lives have been changed simply by the sight or the touch of whales. They have all taught me many things about the whales, and about being human.

What I now know without a doubt is that whales demonstrate a profound intelligence and social capability far beyond what humans previously have considered. Just because we do not understand whales, their languages, or their cultures does not mean these do not exist. Humans simply have yet to extensively study or comprehend the world of whales. Science knows little about them, but this does not give us the right to dismiss the whales’ importance until we can “scientifically” prove their significance or intelligence. It will take generations to unravel many of the mysteries that surround a whale’s life. In the meantime, we must figure out a way to co-exist with them, respectfully, and ensure that whales have a secure future on the planet.

I have written this book to share the wondrous world of whales as well as to heighten people’s awareness of modern threats encroaching on whales and the oceans. Every year I follow the Gray Whale migrations apprehensively, wondering how many will make the journey safely from their Baja birthing lagoons to the Arctic feeding grounds. At times I am astonished and saddened by the obstacles we humans place in their paths: lethal underwater sonar testing, shipping lane threats, the ravages of overfishing with nets, toxic pollutants, and the growing fallout from global warming. Their watery world is at great risk.

For most of the last nine hundred years, humans have hunted whales commercially. To this day there are a few rogue nations that continue to hunt whales despite protests from the majority of countries. As of mid-2006 the debate over resuming international whaling has heated up. In this new century the majority of cultures worldwide understand that whales are of much greater value alive than dead. However, some countries still see whale hunting as a viable industry, particularly as some whale populations rebound. What I see in this new century for whales and humans is a grand opportunity for humans to make livelihoods from watching the whales rather than hunting them. And beyond the economic discussion, whales offer humans emotional, psychological, and spiritual wealth—unquantifiable riches that could extend far into the future.

We have assailed the whales with different threats for hundreds of years—chasing some species of whales to the brink of extinction. Yet despite it all, in the last couple of decades the whales have been trying to make friendly contact with humans. What we do with this in the near future could mean the beginning or the end of this remarkable relationship between whales and humans. We face a tremendous challenge and opportunity to find ways to share the oceans with the whales. I hope this book will further the discussion on how to live side-by-side with the whales—to find ways to share the earth more magnanimously. Then there will be room for the mysteries of the whales to unfold.

Doug Thompson has spent most of his life as a marine naturalist leading expeditions as well as educational programs to heighten the public’s awareness about the perils facing the oceans, marine life, and in particular the whales. As a young man he worked as a commercial fisherman while attending college. It was not unusual for Doug to show up for class with unusual sea specimens tied to the top of his jeep. His lifelong love of the ocean and its creatures resulted in Doug leading more than one hundred long-range natural history expeditions, from Mexico to New Zealand, hosting some of the world’s most influential leaders and decision makers.

Doug has also written natural history television programs, including a collaboration with children’s entertainer, Sheri Lewis. For many years, he wrote “The Offshore Log,” a regular column about the ocean environment, published in California magazines. He is the Director of Expeditions for The SummerTree Institute, a nonprofit environmental education organization. For more than thirty years Doug has led annual expeditions to San Ignacio Lagoon to experience the friendly Gray Whales of Baja.  Doug is also the founder of DolphinWorks, providing lectures and natural history experiences for businesses. Doug lives in Southern California with his wife, Robin Kobaly, and their family.

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