El Rey de las Ballenas

Saturday night, I am watching a documentary called “El Rey de las Ballenas” (The Whale King). It was produced by MC4 Grenoble, a French company, in 1987 and is about Mariano Van Gelderen, a man born in Bahia Blanca in 1945.

He arrived in Puerto Piramides at the beginning of the 70′s and started the first tourist whale watching in 1973, onboard his little boat. The man is bigger than life. In fact, watching him you can’t help but feel that trapped under his skin resides an old whale soul. His physique more agile, more at ease in the water, than on land. He doesn’t hide it either. He often used the forklift from the tracker that pulled his boat out of the water to lift himself out of his boat.

He talks about the whales with passion, with love. His hands gracefully describing their dance, the way they move. He talks to them. He swims with them. He learns from them. And he teaches with them. He became a pioneer on the practice of whale watching, giving conferences all over the world. Most importantly, he taught thousands and thousands of people about the whales and the respect for Nature.

From the beginning of the century, people started to come to the peninsula for 2 reasons: salt and kill seals and sea lions – their fat was used for machinery and in lights. Afraid of venturing on the water, whales were spared. But the carnage led on the land almost drove the sea lions to extinction. They would raid beaches, armed with sticks with nails and crush their skulls. Mariano remembers those days with irony. The peninsula was known to no one when the animals were killed. It is only today, now that we care for them and show their beauty to the world, that the peninsula has become a major destination, sustaining thousands of jobs.

His most precious wish, his dream, is revealed in a touching scene, with his daughter, his voice whispering: “Como te quiero chiquita, como me gustaria que el dia de manana quieras a las ballenas como yo quiero a estos animales y quieras la naturaleza que es tan importante“ (Oh my little child, the love I have for you. I only wish that tomorrow you love the whales as much as I do. To love Nature is so important).

That night, I fell asleep to the sound of whales, thankful to people like Mariano, who spent theirs lives reconnecting our relationship with Nature.

The next morning, I took my kayak and paddled to the sea lion colony. The memories of that evening with them still fresh, I wondered if they would grant me with the same playfulness. I also wanted to be reminded that those days of killing were over.

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