San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja California, Mexico, is part of the largest wildlife refuge in Latin America and home to countless species of marine life: harbor seals, California sea lions, northern elephant seals, four species of endangered sea turtles and more. But it's the gray whales that get all of the attention -- and sometimes give it.

Northern Pacific gray whales, once hunted nearly to extinction, have made a remarkable recovery in population, partly due to the protection offered in San Ignacio Lagoon. The lagoon, recognized by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as a World Heritage site, is the most important breeding ground and nursery of the eastern subpopulation of these whales.

With careful management, the Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino -- the name encompassing the entire area of which San Ignacio Lagoon is part -- is thriving. Overfishing, evaporation salt production and uncontrolled tourism are problems that the Mexican government has successfully worked to mitigate over the last several decades.

As a result, San Ignacio Lagoon is a dream destination for whale enthusiasts. As shown in the video below, it's not unknown for mother and calf pairs to come close enough to touch -- it is legal to touch the whales in San Ignacio -- and appear to be very curious about what sort of fish these skiffs might be. In this case, the mother whale "lifts" her calf to the water's surface; was she helping her baby breathe, or giving it a better look at the delighted tourists?

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